Two weeks ago, the new Hot Girls Wanted documentary series from actress Rashida Jones was released on Netflix. Last week, a host of porn performers came out with complaints about the Hot Girls Wanted producers, whom they accused of lying about the nature of the project in order to obtain their consent and "outing" women as sex workers without their permission. The producers' response: If those women were really so worried about being outed, why were they speaking out in public about producers' exploiting them?
"They saw themselves, and then on Twitter, as themselves, using their own handles, tweeted out, 'Oh my God, we're on Netflix. Oh my God nobody told us. Oh my God, we're sex workers and they've just shown us on Netflix,'" Hot Girls Wanted director and producer Ronna Gradus told Variety this week. "So the great irony here is that they identified themselves as sex workers."
It was, at best, a totally tone-deaf statement. Hot Girls Wanted isn't just any documentary but one that purports to have feminist ambitions and concern for sex workers' well being. Casually dismissing the privacy concerns of sex workers who appear in the series totally betrays both alleged principles.
It's also a horseshit justification. As the women concerned with Hot Girls Wanted outing them have pointed out, the problem isn't that no one knew they were sex workers before the documentary and now they might. It's the fact that these women had chosen to limit their public sex-worker personas to certain audiences of their choosing and Hot Girls Wanted went ahead and, without so much as alerting them, used their images in a production with a much, much wider reach.
In other words: yes, these women are already "out" as sex workers on Twitter and Periscope. No, that doesn't make it OK for people to profit off of outing them to the whole world.
Legally, the producers are probably fine, of course. But the ethics of the move are another story. And for a production that's explicitly marketing itself as a nuanced, feminist look at the porn industry, how producers treated their sex-worker subjects should be a key part of the equation. Yet only a handful of professional publications have even addressed sex worker complaints about the production, while major media outlets from Rolling Stone magazine to The Daily Show have covered the series glowingly, content to let Jones and the other producers speak for sex workers.
No one involved with the film has returned my requests for comment or requests from others asking difficult questions, though they do seem plenty happy to do softball interviews with entertainment media still. Throughout these interviews, Jones, Gradus, and other Hot Girls Wanted spokespeople have refused to even address allegations that they directly lied to documentary subjects in order to secure their participation. At this point, multiple performers claim that producers directly told them this was not a Hot Girls Wanted or Rashida Jones production (a crucial point, as the 2015 Hot Girls Wanted series was considered so biased that performers say they would've refused to work on the project had they known).
In explaining to Variety why she thinks sex workers are criticizing the film, Gradus, who also directed and produced the original documentary, accused them of doing so under coercion from nefarious behind-the-scenes porn industry folk. "The industry is very defensive about people coming in and shining a light on the industry and doing stories about it," she said. "The allegations that have come out are probably the result of pressure they are feeling to stand in solidarity with the industry."
And it all comes full circle!
Step 1: decide women are exploited by the porn industry.
Step 2: make documentary with this foregone conclusion in mind.
Step 3: trick sex workers into participating.
Step 4: accuse any sex workers who object to your exploitation of being sad representations of the very problem you were trying to highlight; rest assured that no one will care what they have to say because they're in porn and you're a hotshot Hollywood filmmaker.
Step 5: become feminist darlings. Who cares about those filthy whores; you've got Trevor Noah on your side now, baby!