Hot Girls Wanted is billed as a documentary that follows several amateur porn stars, mostly:
Tressa / Stella May
Jade / Ava Kelly
Rachel / Ava Taylor
Michelle / Brooklyn Daniels
Karly / Lucy Tyler
as they start work in the porn industry through model management company Hussie Models, run by Riley Reynolds, whom most of the girls live with.
I think producer Rashida Jones (yes that Rashida Jones) set out to make a film showcasing how the porn industry exploits young women by luring them in with promises of money and fame and treating them like objects. She certainly succeeded in that regard and the film is a harrowing account of the sketchier aspects of the industry, from disreputable companies and directors, to abuse-themed sites whose models don’t appear to have given full consent.
What Jones also succeeded in doing was exploiting these girls herself with a film that is more interested in her agenda of demonizing porn and sexual immodesty than telling these girls’ stories. She also made a film whose promotional materials are essentially just a billboard for anyone who worked on the film. I guess the message here is that while the porn industry can certainly be exploitative, that doesn’t mean Hollywood isn’t either.
The theme to the film, if you pay attention to what the girls are actually saying and not the sad music and distraught family members, is that it isn’t so much that the porn industry exploits young women as it is that society exploits young women and the industry is merely one arm.
When pressed for her reasons for getting into porn, Karly / Lucy Tyler talks about the scare tactics in her sexual education where only the consequences of sex were discussed, juxtaposed against porn where people are having sex and enjoying themselves. She goes on to explain that when kids aren’t taught about sex within a relationship, the only place for them to learn is from the very non-representative world of porn which can skew their perceptions of what sex is or what it can be. You can use this to damn the porn industry, but the porn industry isn’t supposed to be teaching kids about sex, the educators are, the schools are, and they are failing. It’s like not making a soldier go through basic training and expecting them to learn from playing video games and watching war movies, and then blaming the movies and the games when the soldier has misconceptions. While you might think it fucked up that the programs designed to educate and protect students are doing exactly the opposite, and worth following up on, the filmmakers apparently did not.
They did however let Jade / Ava Kelly chime in:
“I’ll never forget how they did it in my class, are you ready? They’re like this is what happens when you have sex with someone. They get a paper and they put a glue stick on it and they stick two papers together. A few minutes later they peel them apart. They’re like ‘these are still two separate papers, correct? But there’s pieces of this one stuck on this one, and pieces of this one stuck on that one. And it’s always gonna be that way.'”
The camera then cuts to Karly / Lucy Tyler nodding, as if to convey to the viewer that these girls are dirty, and worse than that, aware of their own moral failings and guilty because of them. I’m really curious as to what this scene looked like uncut. Ironically, both of these girls give generally positive reviews of their experiences in porn throughout the film and are still in porn as of its release.
At one point, when flashing through a bunch of scare tactics bullshit news stories they play a clip from The View where one of the hosts talking about how Belle Knox had started viewing porn at age 12, framing it as “it just goes to show you how much more available it is online” Karly / Lucy Tyler also talks about how all her friends were having sex in middle school (typically ages 12-14).
Um, again, does no one want to ask why we aren’t educating children whose sexualities begin to develop as they go through puberty?
If your purpose is to tell the stories of these women, that’s a pretty good thing to explore, but it also transforms the narrative from being anti-porn to one that acknowledges that the ill repute of some sections of the porn industry is really a reflection of the ill repute of some sections of society. Hell, the themes extremely prevalent in porn, male domination, the exploitation of women, in short, rape culture, are reflective of the themes of the world we live in. If you read between the lines you can see how some of the girls are reacting to expectations for women that they don’t agree with.
When Rachel / Ava Taylor talks about her motivations for getting into porn she says “I didn’t want to go to college, meet someone in college, marry them, stay in my hometown, have a bunch of kids…and live there happily ever after. And then die there.” It’s a good point about how rigid societal expectations create tremendous pressure for women, but Rachel’s resistance to starting a nuclear family is also apparently a storyline the filmmakers deemed not worth following.
Hussie Models Manager Riley Reynolds certainly has some unsavory qualities, but he also brings up a few good points. He tells the girls that their families are going to find out, and that “everyone watches porn.” So…if there are clearly people who want to watch it…and clearly people who want to do it…why can’t we make this industry safe and less exploitative? But this isn’t the question the filmmakers set out to answer, that being ‘how does porn exploit young women?’ which is certainly a good question to answer, but also misleading if presented in a vacuum and as representative of the industry, which it is.
The main story follows Tressa / Stella May as she goes from 18 year old who used porn to leave her shitty hometown to girl who says porn is what she “loves to do” to girl who is coerced out of porn by her mother, father, and new boyfriend. It’s not so much a story of redemption as it is a story of Tressa / Stella May being controlled by the various people in her life from her mother tearing apart her room the day she left to her mother pressuring her to tell her father to her boyfriend likening her career to prostitution. If you watch it with a shallow lens, it’s a pretty basic redemption story, but if you actually listen to what she says, and what the other girls say to her and about the industry, her story is actually about people constantly shaming her for doing porn and her eventually caving to it.
The middle of the film is essentially the turning point, where reality is supposed to set in after these girls have experienced the high of entering porn. Tressa / Stella May talks about the difficulty of getting work after she’s no longer seen as ‘new’ and about how she wants to continue with porn. The film cuts to statistics about how many new girls have to accept “niche work” (while scary music plays) after their first few shoots, which is ironic because, as we find out later, that “niche work” often prioritizes model consent and well-being more than mainstream porn. (For a lot of places this is because things like BDSM are on sketchy legal ground and they need to show very emphatic consent, usually via pre- and post- interviews talking about the shoot.)
The very next scene follows Tressa / Stella May as she describes this ‘niche work’ to her boyfriend over webcam. The ‘niche work’ in this case is bondage. Rather than outline what exactly that means, the filmmakers rely on the mainstream perception of the word as a scare tactic to convey that this girl’s life is careening on a path to ruin. It’s important to remember that up until this point, the only times Tressa / Stella May has felt bad about herself or her chosen career is when the people in her life have made her feel bad about it. We don’t get any nuance or any real words out of Tressa / Stella May or her boyfriend, other than his discomfort with the whole premise. The filmmakers just give the viewer ‘ooh, bondage, scary’ and move on.
After that we switch back to Rachel / Ava Taylor doing a shoot for a company called ‘Virgin Manipulations’ where the premise is essentially older men coercing young virgin girls into having sex. Throughout the shoot we get shot after shot of Rachel / Ava Taylor looking sullen and disinterested, as though she doesn’t want to be there. Her much older male co-star is the one who describes the shoot and he does almost all of the talking, which is really weird if this documentary is supposed to be about telling the stories of these girls. (It isn’t.) You know what’s really empowering? Letting a man talk over the woman you’re supposed to be profiling and never actually asking her opinion, instead relying on brief out of context shots to convey what you want to convey. Why didn’t the filmmakers ask her for her impressions? Why didn’t they ask her how she felt about the premise of the shoot, about coercion? We have no idea what her feelings are at all, which is really fucking stupid in a documentary that is supposed to be about her. All we get is the following after the shoot:
“That last part I fuck hated. There is absolutely nothing sexually arousing about that at all. And I mean, like, a lot of porn is like that, where you’re just like, this is so just work right now.”
We’re left to believe that Rachel / Ava Taylor was coerced into doing a shoot that she didn’t want to do, fulfilling the ‘exploited young girl’ narrative, but without any context this quote is meaningless. What did she hate, the position, taking a facial, having to sit there with cum on her face while the photographer takes photos? What about the other parts? Were they good, okay, also bad? How does this compare to other scenes? It’s so weird that in a documentary about a young woman, her opinion is so unimportant to the filmmakers.
People attempting to condemn porn often fall into this trap, highlighting instances where the sex in porn is more like work than pleasure. But sex work is sex work. It’s a job, and there are portions to every job that are not enjoyable, that are routine or mundane or boring or “just work.” Porn is also often built to strictly satisfy the male gaze…there is very little thought given to women, either the ones performing or the ones watching, and Rachel / Ava Taylor proves that if you actually care to listen to her, she has some pretty good things to say:
“Everything is the same shoot, like it’s always your first time and you’re just like ‘well I’m dumb as hell and I need $500 and I’m just gonna get this random dude that I would never have sex with in real life and have sex with him and say things that I never say and do things that I never do…
And…it’s like all about the guy getting off, like the girl’s just there to help. As long as you have boobs and and a vagina and an ass. That’s all that really matters, they don’t care about, like, who you actually are.”
She should have produced the fucking film because she, as a teenager (still a child in the eyes of many) has a lot more depth than the supposed adults in charge of this mess as this quote just ends up being a one-off to support the lazy narrative of exploitation. There are a lot of ways to branch off from this. How do you fix porn? How do you make more women-friendly porn? Would acting in women-friendly porn change your view of the industry? (Or maybe Rachel / Ava Taylor, tell us more thoughts.) Her comments suggest that she doesn’t want to not star in porn, she just wants to star in better porn. But all we get is “porn treats women shitty.”
The film then moved to Jade / Ava Kelly and her first shoot for Facial Abuse which is a site involving rough (brutal) oral sex where consent is questionable and I think here the documentary is at least partially on the mark. Ther are sites out there that either promote misogyny (or racism, her scene was for partner site Latina Abuse), that don’t prioritize consent, or both, and by most accounts Facial Abuse and its partner sites are of that ilk. The problem is that the documentary sells those sites as representative of pornography instead of contrasting them with other sites that also feature young or inexperienced talent and do prioritize consent, and do makes sure the models know exactly what is going to happen, and do constantly reaffirm the model’s comfort and enjoyment. (The Kink.com and Insex / Intersec sites are prime examples.) The film’s narrative again is ‘porn exploits women, porn bad,’ an erasure of the models and actresses that do enjoy their work (Sex Worker Exclusive Radical Feminism), and with that exclusion harmful to women. A more inclusive narrative would have been isome parts of porn are really shitty, how do we make the good parts and the good experiences the norm?’
(It’s also worth noting that Jade / Ava Kelly also specifically says that each of the acts within the scene “weren’t so bad,” but that the combination and the entirety of the scene were difficult. And she also says “it looks like it’s much rougher than it is.”)
I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of race play (essentially either stereotyping someone for their race, using racial slurs, or doing the opposite. In BDSM, you find a lot of black Dommes that like to control white men as a sort of historical role reversal). If you do research, you’ll hear from those that find it inherently harmful and those of the targeted race that find it helpful to be able to combat or explore stereotypes and racism in a safe space. Surprisingly, the filmmakers did get Jade / Ava Kelly’s impressions:
“I don’t judge anybody. If that’s what floats their boat, that’s what floats their boat. They’re watching it on a computer and they’re not going out and doing it to an actual girl. So look at it that way; at least it’s me acting.
I don’t look at stuff, like, that really black and white / good and bad. Good and bad is what your opinion is at the moment because X-amount of time ago I thought certain things were bad that I don’t think are bad now.”
Later on we hear from Rachel / Ava Taylor about a similar shoot in which she wasn’t told her blowjob scene was a forced blowjob scene until she’d flown out and was on set. She compares it to rape, saying she didn’t even know if she could “tell them no” or “fucking leave” and she’s absolutely right. This is an odd scene, it’s incredibly choppy leading me to believe it was heavily edited and I’m deeply curious as to what Rachel / Ava Taylor had to say. At the same time, I can understand that she might not want to talk about it. Ultimately I think it’s up to the filmmakers to respect Rachel’s / Ava Taylor’s wishes, while at the same time being as honest with the scene as possible, but they fail. It’s sold as the norm for porn, it conflates rough porn sex with rape and ultimately it, like everything else, exploits Rachel / Ava Taylor to satisfy their anti-porn narrative.
Next we hear about Tressa / Stella May’s bondage shoot which she describes as a very stereotypical hard blowjob and hard sex shoot, just with bondage. The filmmakers run a line about how “40% of pornography depicts violence against women” which has absolutely no place in an exploration of BDSM whose mantra is ‘safe, sane, and consensual.’ It’s a blatant misrepresentation. I’m actually surprised that they cut the film like that because Tressa / Stella May’s very next quote is:
“That shoot was really good (referring to a photo she’s showing the other girls), I was just, ugh, today was just so horrible though. And I still got it done. And all the guys went, cause I got hurt yesterday, they were like ‘oh my gosh is she okay?’ and then they saw me on today and they’re like ‘are you alright, like we were really worried about you.’ All that stuff and they were being so sweet about it.”
(Jade / Ava Kelly): “They’re the best”
(Tressa / Stella May): “They are.”
Jade continues to chime in, hearkening back to the degradation shoot, describing how she was okay with it because it’s just acting and asking what’s worse: her doing it on camera for someone who’s faking it, or it happening to a woman in real life at a company where “she’s been busting her ass for shitty benefits for how many years?”
We cut back to the Tressa / Stella May redemption story where her and her boyfriend end up going to a party with some mutual friends in their hometown and they aren’t there long before the conversation turns to her porn career. One of the guys there suggests they put her content up on the big screen TV and for some reason the focus is not how shitty and gross of a thing that is to do to someone, but in how Tressa / Stella May has become dirty and gross because she does porn.
Tressa / Stella May’s boyfriend: “It hurts now, like, every time I see a porno I’m like “that’s someone’s girlfriend or that’s someone’s daughter.” There is no part of this scene that allows Tressa / Stella May to have her own morality or her own bodily autonomy, it’s all about other people foisting their morality on her, whether she wants it or not. It’s telling that her boyfriend essentially describes porn stars as being owned by the men in their life and not as their own people capable of making their own decisions.
Again, the only times that Tressa / Stella May feels bad about what she does throughout this whole film is when other people judge her. Her boyfriend talks about her bondage scene describing it as “being punish fucked for money” and saying “It’s like, you’re supposed to have respect for yourself too” which is ironic because for the most part no one has respected Tressa / Stella May enough to even really let her speak, let alone to ask her for her own opinions or allow her to make her own choices.
Her boyfriend even goes as far as to call her work “pretty fucking close” to prostitution and we see a rare instance of Tressa / Stella May speaking up and asking what the difference is between porn and prostitution. The only answer we get from her boyfriend is “not much” before she acquiesces and says “I can see where you’re coming from baby.” He tries to make it all better by saying “you’re not a prostitute to me, I don’t care what other people think” which is 1. demeaning to actual prostitutes, many of whom don’t find their work morally objectionable and 2. far less important than what Tressa / Stella May thinks because, you know, it’s her body and her life.
We’re then treated to a series of photos of Tressa / Stella May and the other girls, some of them from their high school or pre-porn lives as Tressa, others from their photo shoots in what is presumably supposed to convey a loss of innocence.
The subjugation of Tressa / Stella May continues when her mom point blank asks her boyfriend “how can you date someone, like how can you…” With the implication clear, her mom and her boyfriend debate the grossness of their daughter and girlfriend respectively while Tressa / Stella May sits there trying to hide in her phone and barely contributing to the conversation.
These are the people that Tressa / Stella May is supposed to be able to lean on and trust and they’re treating her like a tainted piece of meat. And even if you have moral reservations about porn, there are better ways to convey that than asking how someone can bring themselves down to your daughter’s level to date her right there in front of her. Her mother then points out that her father doesn’t know yet, a move to further coerce Tressa / Stella May into something she doesn’t want to do, quit porn. (Or at the very least is still coming to grips with in her head.) To drive the point home, her boyfriend tells her, to her face, “I must be crazy to, to take this chance. It’s like I want you to quit.” Which, at least now he’s being overt in his desire to control her life.
Tressa / Stella May begins to cry while her mother and boyfriend continue to talk about how much they hate her career. This is sold as the beginning of Tressa / Stella May’s redemption, but she doesn’t look like someone who is finally facing reality. She looks like someone who has been broken by people who are supposed to support her. If that’s not enough, her mother talks about how much Tressa / Stella May’s career “worries, upsets, and stresses her,” and at this point I’m pretty much screaming ‘THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU, THIS IS ABOUT HER. LET’S SOLICIT HER OPINIONS, LET’S ALLOW HER TO OPINE ON AND MAKE DECISIONS ON HER OWN GODDAMN LIFE!’ It’s gross. What her loved ones do to her is gross.
They ask her what the hesitation in quitting is and she says “It’s just the money. And the ability to travel everywhere, like, that’s awesome.” She’s never asked if she likes the work or if she likes the career because, as her mother and boyfriend have clearly established, doing porn is disgusting and no one should ever like it. She texts Riley, the manager, if he has any shoots for her and then says “I’m thinking about texting him that I’m just coming for my clothes.”
“Do it. Do it.” her mother urges, practically yelling in her ear. And she does.
She calls Riley and he tells her that he doesn’t think such relationships last, but if she’s happy, he’s happy for her. He doesn’t try and get her to come back (or at least the filmmakers don’t show it), and respects her decisions far more than her family ever does while she does mention she has some reservations about quitting, mostly that she’ll miss the people and miss having her freedom.
Back at the house Rachel / Ava Taylor, Jade / Ava Kelly, and manager Riley are watching clips of Belle Knox. Rachel / Ava Taylor points out “she’s one of a thousand bitches who are doing the exact same thing, just because she goes to Duke…” Riley brings up that Belle Knox’s first scene was Facial Abuse, which surprises both girls. “That’s not pretty girl porn” Jade / Ava Kelly says and she continues saying “I can tell, by the way she talks…she was one of the girls that didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.” And we’re just left with that, truth or not. (I’m sure there’s a Belle Knox interview out there that can probably answer that question (or better, her writing), but to the filmmakers Belle Knox isn’t a person, just something to push an agenda.)
Next we see a post-porn Tressa, who has now told her father (who already knew about her career but didn’t want to believe it). Ironically, from the way Tressa tells the story, when she outlines her post-porn plans (move in with her boyfriend and get a ‘normal’ job in her hometown) he says he’s okay with it and doesn’t tell her what to do, which is the first time she’s gotten that much respect from a family member all film. His primary hurt seems to be, not that she did porn, but that she wasn’t honest about it and hid things from him. It may have been different in reality, but that’s the way Tressa tells the story.
Ironically, the place Tressa gets her ‘normal’ job, restaurant Redneck Heaven, is a ‘Breastaurant’ akin to Hooters or Twin Peaks where waitresses dress in skimpy clothing for the benefit of male customers. Tressa talks about how she wanted to escape her parents and find freedom and do things ‘her way’ to which her boyfriend points out “It wasn’t really your way though, you just found an easy, like ‘this’ll work,’ an easy route.” Which is really fucking weird because that statement is meaningless bullshit, (she put herself on a plane and went from Texas to Miami, sounds like ‘her way’ to me) and because she hasn’t returned to doing things her way, she’s returned to doing things her mom’s and her boyfriend’s way. Maybe the decision to quit porn is more hers than the filmmakers lead us to believe (in which case, WHY ARE YOU NOT SHOWING THAT), but it doesn’t look like it.
She does, to be fair, tell us that she often wonders “why would I want to keep going [with porn]?” so at the very least it seems she’s at peace with her decision to stop selling her body by having sex on camera and start selling her body by working in a restaurant whose selling point is half naked waitresses. And my blunt wording there is not to criticize her decision, it’s to point out that the difference is smaller than the film leads us to believe. (They didn’t describe Redneck Heaven (WARNING: AUTOPLAY MUSIC) at all and I had to look it up. This omission is REALLY FUCKING MISLEADING.) I don’t think her story is that she quit the dirty world of porn for the clean world of Breastaurant waitressing, I think she’s found a way to do something she enjoys in a way where she’s less likely to be taken advantage of, has more control, and can be faithful to her boyfriend. That doesn’t damn the porn industry as a whole, and her final words:
“It’s really not that hard to take advantage of an eighteen year old that’s fucking on camera. I mean, most girls, whenever I was in the industry, would always say yes to anything, so… If it had a dollar sign in front of it, sign me up.”
- Rachel / Ava Taylor left porn after 6 months and is pursuing professional photography.
- Jade / Ava Kelly has quit porn involving sex between two or more people, but still works in the porn industry as a camgirl
- Karly / Lucy Tyler still works in porn. (UPDATE: Lucy Tyler tweeted she has left the industry shortly before this was posted.)
- Michelle / Brooklyn Daniels still works in porn.
- Tressa / Stella May’s timeline is unclear. She now works as a restaurant manager.
This review differs from every other I’ve seen because it features a lot of actual quotes from the women portrayed in the film because, you know, these are their lives. We get a lot of the most substantial and outspoken quotes from Jade / Ava Kelly, who at 25 is the oldest woman in the film. Much like the way sketchy porn producers exploit young, inexperienced girls who don’t know how to stand up for and speak for themselves to create and sell their content, this film exploited young, inexperienced girls who don’t know how to stand up for and speak for themselves to develop and sell an anti-porn narrative.