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Feminist Porn Producer and Free-Speech Advocate Candida Royalle Dies

Royalle believed "freedom of expression is especially important for women's rights."

Candida Royalle/FacebookCandida Royalle/FacebookCandida Royalle is the kind of sex positive, free-speech-friendly artist and advocate that was once (and is, alas, again) relatively rare in feminist circles. After building a career in the '70s porn scene via such vehicles as Thoroughly Amorous Amy and Fascination, with Ron Jeremy, Royalle—born Candice Vadala—moved on to the writing, producing, and directing side of the adult entertainment industry. Her goal was to give XXX-rated films a woman's perspective and to make erotic movies that couples could watch together. 

"She was laughed at for thinking women's perspectives on sexuality were important, but everyone stole that idea from her," said porn actress and sex educator Nina Hartley to Adult Video News (AVN) last week, after it was announced that Royalle, 64, had died from ovarian cancer. "She started the 'couple's porn' phenomenon, which continues to this day." 

Whatever you personally think of the kind of erotica Royalle made, there's no denying that she was a trailblazer, a savvy entrepreneur, and something of an iconoclast—a self-avowed feminist willing to push boundaries when it came to then-cherished feminist beliefs. Around the same time Royalle founded her production company, Femme Productions, in 1984, prominent feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine McKinnon were testifying before legislators that porn was abusive by nature, that it led to violence against women and sexual aggression against children, and that most women in sex industries were products of coercion and sexual abuse. 

Meanwhile Royalle was making XXX-rated movies with the likes of sex-industry notables like Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera, and Veronica Hart. This was when the center of the porn industry was in New York City, not Los Angeles. And "it was very taboo for a woman to direct a porn film," Royalle explained to an Australian interviewer in 2004. "I would say that it all changed in the 90s."

Femme Productions put out 18 films between 1984 and 2007, 13 of which were directed by Royalle. She described the Femme film aesthetic as "sensuously explicit," featuring "high production values, non-formulaic eroticism sans the gynecological close-ups and obligatory 'money shots." The sex they featured was explicit, but the films also had story-lines that revolved around more than just contriving a way to get people into a room for sex. The most popular of Femme's features include Three Daughters (1986), which received a perfect rating from AVN, and Sensual Escape (1991), featuring Sprinkle and Hartley. But critical appreciation continued throughout the next few decades: My Surrender (1996) won lead performer Jeanna Fine the AVN's Best Actress award, and Stud Hunters (2002) received five AVN nominations, including best director and best editing. In the '90s, Royalle struck a deal with adult-goods company Adam and Eve to distribute Femme Productions titles, along with a line of vibrators.

In addition to being sexy, some of the films were more comedic, some more romantic, and some more political. Royalle described a 1992 effort, Revelations, as "a very political piece about what life would be like without the freedom to express ourselves creatively and sexually. It was my response to the right-wing attacks on the adult industry and the apathy of consumers buying and renting adult movies but not standing up for their right to do so." 

In 1992, Royalle aso founded the (now defunct) nonprofit Feminists for Free Expression (FFE), which described its mission as "working to preserve the individual's right to read, hear, view and produce materials of her choice without the intervention of the state 'for her own good.'" 

The group opposed speech-censoring legislation; defended free speech in court cases, on college campuses, and in the media; and opposed the book, movie, and music banning efforts that were popular at the time. Royalle and FFE's other leaders believed that "freedom of expression is especially important for women's rights" and that the suppression of sexist messages "will neither reduce harm to women nor further women's goals." From the group's Facebook page: 

Censorship traditionally has been used to silence women and stifle feminist social change. It never has reduced violence; it has led to the imprisonment of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger and the suppression of such works as The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, The Well of Loneliness, and the feminist plays of Holly Hughes. ... There is no feminist code about which words and images are dangerous or sexist. Genuine feminism encourages individuals to choose for themselves. A free and vigorous marketplace of ideas is the best guarantee of democratic self-government and a feminist future. (Emphasis mine.)

On her website, Royalle opined that "if we want to live in a world where free expression is allowed, we have to accept that there’s going to be imagery we don’t like or agree with. The best way to counter it is to get out there and create what you’d like to see yourself. Then let the public choose for themselves." She continued:

You can’t force people to choose the positive stuff, but hopefully if it’s available, that’s what they’ll go for. On the other hand, if you try to censor works of art or porn, it just becomes more desirable, like "forbidden fruit." I think it’s important to censor and prosecute people who make materials that victimize children and animals. The rest of it—if it’s with people who are adults and it’s consensual, if someone likes to be spat on and slapped, who are we to forbid them to do it? I have the choice not to look. It does concern me that so many men like to see brutal violating behavior like this, but so do some women. And look at the violence in our mainstream non-sex movies...is it any different? These are the challenges of living in a free society.

Royalle "set the standard for ethical, conscious and ground-breaking adult entertainment," Hartley told AVN. Though she championed uncensored speech and women's participation in pornography, she wasn't blind to the adult-film industry's downsides. She formed the first peer-support group for female form performers, Club 90, and spoke out against exploitation in the industry where she saw it. "She was a stickler for proper treatment of performers before it was trendy," said Hartley, calling Candida "a fierce, proud feminist." 

Royalle died last week, after a long struggle with ovarian cancer. Sprinkles told AVN that New York, L.A., and San Francisco memorials for Royalle are being planned for November.

Photo Credit: Candida Royalle/Facebook

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  • Lee G||

    Candida Royalle

    Fluconozale would have fixed that for her.

  • Lee G||

    I hereby retract that thoroughly inconsiderate statement.

    Bitter Mondays.

  • Zeb||

    I had the same thought. Is "Candida" really the name you want to adopt in that line of work.

    RIP.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Thing were different in the 70s?

  • Almanian - Micro Trumper||

    As a yute in the 70's, I can verifyu that "things were different"...

    *admires powder-blue, polyester "leisure" suit and high-heeled pimp shoes in mirror*

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Everything was just better in the 70's. It was a time when the carpeting was thick, and Burt Reynolds reigned supreme at the box office, and the pornography soundtracks were full of magic.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Carpeting was thick in the 70s. Fortunately the development of razor blades and depilatories all but eliminated that problem by the 90s.

  • Ted S.||

    Ever since I learned about the genus of organism that causes yeast infections, I can never listen to that Tony Orlando song the same way again.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    First and foremost, rest in peace, and send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us all.

    "In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death."

    But while I'm not familiar with her work, those book covers don't really scream "feminist" to me.

    Feminist porn would be more like a dominatrix whipping a man while engaging in a lengthy disquisition on the wickedness of men - including clueless feminist men. I mean, if you're into that, sure...

  • mfckr||

    Feminist porn would be more like a dominatrix whipping a man while engaging in a lengthy disquisition on the wickedness of men - including clueless feminist men. I mean, if you're into that, sure...

    Feminist ideology used to be more diversely nuanced than the sort of kneejerk SJW shit one typically sees today.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Demonstrating, as if it were necessary, the adage that pure drivel drives out ordinary drivel.

  • Mindyourbusiness||

    Call it Jezebel's Law.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    +1 Gresham

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Feminist porn would be more like a dominatrix whipping a man while engaging in a lengthy disquisition on the wickedness of men - including clueless feminist men.

    That is just stupid. The sort of pornography this woman was creating was more like fantasies for women, told from a female perspective.

  • Lee G||

    Ignore Eddie. He's just Catholic and we all know they think alike.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    What are you talking about? If I want an idea as to what constitutes feminism and what constitutes pornography, I ask Eddie.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I won't speak for Eddie, but a similar notion struck me. It does sound like this is more "porn more targeted to a female audience" than "feminist" porn.

    And, no, I don't think it's fair to conflate the two, unless you consider Harlequin romance novels "feminist literature", something I think would drive most feminists to conniptions.

  • ||

    unless you consider Harlequin romance novels "feminist literature", something I think would drive most feminists to conniptions.

    A lot of feminists definitely consider romance novels, including some Harlequin ones, feminist literature.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I won't speak for Eddie, but a similar notion struck me. It does sound like this is more "porn more targeted to a female audience" than "feminist" porn.

    And, no, I don't think it's fair to conflate the two, unless you consider Harlequin romance novels "feminist literature", something I think would drive most feminists to conniptions.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Um, I guess? If you consider feminism to be a monolithic stereotype rather than a broad movement with countless variations and nuan—

    Oh, sorry, forgot who I was responding to.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The thing is, the Liberal establishment has been doing it's best, for decades now, to make the public perception of Feminism a monithic (and moronic) stereotype.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The contrast between a feminist like Candida Royalle and a feminist like "vagina furtata" person from the a.m. links is startling, though.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, but fuck the "liberal" establishment. There are still a lot of people out there who think that "feminist" just means equal rights and opportunities for women.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    "There are still a lot of people out there who think that "feminist" just means equal rights and opportunities for women"

    Most of those people aren't politically active, since there's essentially no issue where females are denied equal rights in Western society.

  • Zeb||

    Most people aren't politically active. So I'm more interested in what those people think.

  • ||

    For me, equality is just the beginning. I like to see women take upon themselves traditionally male roles (like breadwinning and self-/household-defense). No doubt based on my own person biases and experiences, as I support myself and am responsible for myself and my household.

    Notice I said "take upon themselves". No government or individual should mandate that shit one way or the other.

    Anyhoo, whatever you want to call it, that's my brand of feminism. It's part equality of opportunity, part encouragement of women & girls who want to seek out more independence and self-sufficiency.

  • Zeb||

    Yes, that too. I may have stated it in a too limited way.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    "feminism [...] a broad movement with countless variations"

    LOL

  • lap83||

    "Feminist porn would be more like a dominatrix whipping a man while engaging in a lengthy disquisition on the wickedness of men - including clueless feminist men. I mean, if you're into that, sure..."

    Let's be real, depending on the dominatrix we wouldn't have to look farther than Reason commenters to find a market for this porn

  • Florida Man||

    This is correct. Also, can I get a women commenters of reason calendar ... for the cause.

  • Lee G||

    Too bad. That brings the number of feminists who believe women have agency to what?

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    There's like 16 of us

  • A Cynic's Guide to Zen||

    You could always coin a new term to associate "woman-ness" with "pro-agency" and separate from the current brand feminism. The following is a casual attempt:

    Womagencist, Femagents, etc.

  • Illocust||

    I thought that was what the Equalist or Equality Feminist were about.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Wouldn't "individualist" kind of fit nicely?

  • ||

    We're outnumbered even by the never-nudes.

  • Idle Hands||

    There are dozens of us.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    ooooh HOW DO WE GET THE NEVER NUDES ON OUR SIDE?

  • ||

    Tell them we understand if they want to make nontraditional underpants purchases?

  • SugarFree||

    Tell them that their red underwear does effectively hide their thunder.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Offer a free pair of jean shorts with every feminist book.

  • ||

    Offer a free pair of jean shorts with every feminist book.

    As long as that book is The Man Inside Me.

  • Illocust||

    Come on ENB, join us on the dark side and abandon the feminism movement for dead. It's too far gone to be saved at this point.

  • lap83||

    This.

  • ||

    Come on ENB, join us on the dark side and abandon the feminism movement for dead. It's too far gone to be saved at this point.

    This is backwards.

    Jezebel Vader: "Candida never told you what happened to your feminism."
    ENB: "She told me enough! She told me you killed him!"
    Jezebel Vader: "No. I am your feminism!"

    If you'd ever seen a feminist strangle a man from across the room just by clinching they're hand, this would be obvious.

  • Illocust||

    Hey now, you know if you asked the empire they would say the rebels were the bad guys.

  • DEG||

    Aussie porn star Angela White has a degree in women's studies.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    No kidding? She's right up there with Anissa Kate on my "best natural bodies in porn" list.

  • DEG||

    Angela White's wikipedia entry is work safe.

    Gender studies, not women's studies, though to be honest I'm not sure there's a difference.

    In 2011, White graduated from the University of Melbourne with First Class Honours in Gender Studies.[3] For her honours thesis, White conducted qualitative research into the experiences of female performers in the Australian pornography industry.[3] She delivered her findings at the Erotic Screen and Sound conference at Griffith University in 2011.[3] Her interest in gender politics led her to spend a year studying at the prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (the Institute of Political Science in Paris, France) more popularly known as "Sciences-Po".

    "Best natural bodies in porn"? Most definitely, and yes, I rank her up there with Anissa Kate.

  • DEG||

    Oh, one thing I really like about Anissa Kate: You can tell when she really gets into a scene because she slips back into her native French.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Yeah, she has a nice voice. I also like that she hasn't covered herself in ugly ink like 90% of current porn stars have done.

  • DEG||

    I also like that she hasn't covered herself in ugly ink like 90% of current porn stars have done.

    Agreed.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    There is no feminist code about which words and images are dangerous or sexist.

    Of course there is. I've been told that "bossy" should be banned, for example.

  • Almanian - Micro Trumper||

    Too bad she wasn't able to complete "No Means No" before she died.

    RIP, lady I'm utterly unfamiliar with...

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Her goal was to give XXX-rated films a woman's perspective and to make erotic movies that couples could watch together.

    Maybe it's me, but that doesn't sound so much explicitly "feminist" as "targeted to women".

  • Hugh Akston||

    You can do feminist things that are not themselves about feminism.

  • Florida Man||

    No! Everything you do must be ideological motivated. You think you're just brushing your teeth?!? Ha, look closer, that tooth brush is strangely phallic don't you think. The dental patriarchy has been literally mouth fucking us all since childhood!

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Jeez, and I switched to an electric toothbrush a couple years ago. At the time I thought it was more thorough and efficient at cleaning, but I guess on some level, it really indicates I want a vibrator in my bodily orifices?

  • Florida Man||

    Now you're starting to get it brother!
    *Hugs MBC a little too tighly and for an awkward amount of time*

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Cereal sliding a friendly buzzer into its milky asshole.

    My fingers would have killed me had I not typed that for the sole reason of entertaining them.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    It's just a fucking shame Candida spent a sexually urbane lifetime operating under the odious patina of Feminism which seems to hold as much sway over its adherents as any faith craved by those who weep under the altars.

    Candida, you were quite the hot and saucy pizza girl- may Jesus and Mohammed give your nipples, clit, and sweet butthole all the eternal celestial ticklings and lickings. If I had a magic lamp with a Jinn in it one of my wishes would be to make the planet's hundreds of millions of millennial females as sex-positive as you, Candida. I don't think even a Jinn can spray magical sprinkles with optimal results on the sexual dysfunction of millions of avowed Feminist cunts over 30. Jinn power requires young minds that can bend to the whim of the wisher and the glitter of the supernatural genie.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Please write my obituary. Thank you.

  • PapayaSF||

    Looking at old pictures of her, I think she's in that interesting category of women who somehow get better looking as they get older. Helen Mirren is another. Usually the best they can hope for is to hold onto good looks, like (say) Honor Blackman, but some just look better as older women than they did as younger ones.

    It also turns out that Veronica Hart is still totally hot.

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