Netflix Doco Binge – Porn! (‘Hot Girls Wanted’ and ‘After Porn Ends’)


Don’t give me that look, you clicked on the article. Netflix currently hosts a couple of documentaries about this tawdry subject, the impact on those involved and the psychology surrounding it. Needless to say, if you go hunting for these films you’re going to be exposed to some adult content. Now, Hot Girls Wanted and After Porn Ends.

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This is the more recent, heavily promoted film is distributed mostly via Netflix. Hot Girls Wanted (Dir: Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus) comes to us from comedy actor Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) and garnered much support at Sundance, and started out as a look as to why men consume so much online pornography. When they found that younger girls were the most popular searches in this field, the film-makers changed their mission statement and started focusing on the 18-19 year olds who are entering the industry.

There are compelling questions to be asked of such subjects about why they want to pursue this career, how they anticipate it affecting their lives and what opportunities it offers them. Unfortunately this is a movie with a mission, and that mission is to cast pornography and everyone involved in it (as a producer, actor or consumer) as debauched and immoral. We’re not naïve enough to think that the sex industry isn’t exploitative and damaging to young people who get involved in it, but this documentary treats these facts not only as a shocking exposé but a the be-all, end-all of the business.

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The main focus is on one particular girl who is new to the amateur porn business, who appears to have entered the industry for the money and party atmosphere. Before long the impact it’s having on her relationship with her boyfriend and parents see her quit and head back to the real world. What we are shown about her journey is that every girl entering this world is a naïve victim and every male involved is abusive and exploitative. Stats about search terms, styles and trends are splashed on the screen with something approached horror movie music, or paired with grainy footage of debauched sex acts where women are cast as submissive to male whims. One case of a girl showing herself as a skilled marketer is directly followed by the main characters going through her past work and pointing out the most shocking acts she’s participated in.

There’s no reason to assume that what we see in this film is false or misleading, and every documentary has their own agenda or angle they’re pushing, but when it’s so forced and treated with such one-sidedness as this film it’s almost human nature to resist. This is an alarmist view of pornography, and one that focuses on the whats and never the whys. The only comments we get from the people involved about why they’re there is the money, with such obvious conflicts like boyfriends, family and prospects getting little in depth discussion. It feels more like a ‘Scared Straight’ program than a documentary, looking at exploitation, loss of finances, family breakdowns and risk of disease (which, in spite of many mentions, only culminates with a cold sore).

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If you have an exceptionally uninformed person who you want to freak out, then this movie has value for you. Otherwise it offers little new information and gives a rather bleak viewing experience.

Rating: FOUR out of TEN

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A much more balanced range of experiences is presented in After Porn Ends (Dir: Bryce Wagoner). Whilst the previous film looked at newcomers this movie talks exclusively to retired performers. Their past experiences are on the table while they talk about their present lives and the impact being in the adult film industry has had on them. Experts (producers and historians) get their time in the spotlight to talk about the industry as a whole, and they take the opportunity to hang a banner warning that regardless of your motivations for entering the pornography industry it’s a stigma that will never, ever leave you. So the message is there, but it’s not the driving force behind this investigative piece.

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Most of the tales hang heavy on the viewer. Male star of 1,300 films Randy West comes across as desperately lonely in his later years, with little to occupy his time that revisiting his collection of movies. His stories about no longer being able to form a connection with the women he knew, and not knowing how to build a relationship with them, is depressing to say the least. Some girls talk about the emotional trauma they suffered in the long term, and the feeling of repulsion they felt for themselves at the time (often taking refuge in drinking or drugs) and their efforts to educate young girls to keep them out of the business.

These experiences are balanced out by some of the positive ones that take up the earlier parts of the film. Some women recognise their role in popular culture, featuring in iconic movies and partaking in the sexual revolution of previous generations, and speak with pride of their careers. Asia Carrera is one of the more engaging speakers in the film, being an active member of MENSA (the high IQ society) and having a significant role in opening the mainstream industry up to more racial diversity. She talks about how work as a porn star boosted her self esteem, never made her feel exploited and, when her husband died in an accident and left her a single mother, her fans turned out in force in provide financial aid through donations.

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Although this is a more balanced look at the world of mass produced pornography, without much evidence of the subjects being lead one way or another, the overall final impression is not a happy one. Even those with overwhelmingly positive experiences, who have retired and begun anew, cannot escape the shadow of the adult industry. Carrera is even challenged by a worker at her child’s daycare who learned about her online. Loneliness, trauma, addiction, regret and a bad reputation seem to be the most likely outcome for anyone who seeks to make some quick money in front of the camera.

There isn’t anything exceptional about the way this film is put together, it’s more just a series of accounts told through talking heads and stock footage. That in itself makes this an interesting topic. Don’t expect to feel very happy by the end though.

Rating: SIX out of TEN

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