by Montgomery Jones, Aviv Rau, Mariah Hall, Courtney Fulcher, and Jazmin Martinez
Hot Girls Wanted is a documentary that gives its audience a glimpse into the world of amateur porn, looking into the day to day lives of young women in the industry. It’s been on the media’s radar, thanks in part to producer Rashida Jones, who has spoken in interviews about how this film gives a unique opportunity to delve into the basic operations of amateur porn companies and how being in porn affects of the lives of the young women who act in these videos. It looks at their health issues, family relationships after finding out, and social interactions. It definitely caught the attention of some of the girls from SPARK–a few of us realized we had all watched the film (now streaming on Netflix) on our own, and decided to have a roundtable about it. It was a long and complicated conversation, but we wanted to share some of the highlights below.
Montgomery: I don’t think that [the film] was portraying the sex industry [as a whole], just one little sliver. [The film follows] girls that [producers] get off Craigslist. Their lifespan, or their shelf span, is, like, 4 months.
Aviv: It seemed kind of nice that the girls had happy endings or, like, happier endings. But that kind of defeated a lot of the point that I felt the movie was trying to make until then of, like, [the amateur porn industry] is really shitty. But, “Oh these girls all got a chance to get out of it and now they’re happy!” But the industry still continues and they didn’t really do a good job of wrapping that up as much.
Mariah: For me, the film went in depth but [a lot of] it was definitely there for the shock factor and, like, the disgustingness. don’t think it went deep enough into the issues, so it just felt very superficial. It was more just about shocking people rather than, “Here’s how we can change this, here’s how we can stop it,” and really offer solutions.
Montgomery: I disagree with you guys. I think it went exactly how they said it would with the whole shelf span of 4 months, then you’re out. See, I don’t think this specific corner of that industry you’re sucked in for the rest of your life–I think you’re in and you’re out. Not everyone obviously gets to go home to a happy family and go back to school and stuff, but they made it sound like that usually happens. It’s like a weird summer vacation. Like, surreal.
Jazmin: They made it sound like you go in and then you can go out and not have it that bad. But then there’s nothing else after the 6 months or the year. There’s really gross things you have to do to keep going. Like, Facial Abuse and no condoms.
Courtney: Yeah, none of the sets use condoms. Also, they didn’t know anything about birth control which freaked me out!
Montgomery: I felt just so bad for these girls, honestly. One of the girls was saying, “Yeah, I’m 18, it’s easy to take advantage of me.” She says it like she’s heard it, but I don’t think she really understands how manipulative these people are. And she walked away with $2000, and she got paid, like, $35,000 or $45,000.
Jazmin: They go in for the money but they don’t realize they have to spend it on flights.
Montgomery: And how creepy was it when all the girls left and we started a whole new cycle with the new girls? It was like the end of a horror film, where you think you’re done but then it’s like, “Whoa, brand new girls start all over!” It’s like a neverending cycle. And [Riley, the girls’ manager] is there again, with his creepy self.
Mariah: The one thing that really struck me too was that [the film] didn’t address it rape or assault–[a lot of times, girls] did not give consent for things. It was not talked about, and I wish that had been addressed more, the fact that girls do have a right to say no. Even the fact that they didn’t feel like they did means that something is wrong.
Montgomery: I think the messed up part is, they’re kind of the lucky ones, in a weird way, because they got to walk away like we said. There are so many people that are in other sexual situations and industries and things like that that don’t get to just walk away. We talk about sex slavery and stuff, and I saw a lot of parallels in that world, except that it was in front of a camera. It was so manipulative because it was like, “Oh, I’m gonna be a star and I’m getting paid so it’s not bad at all.”
Jazmin: And this is not even the worst of it! Like when Rachel flew out to L.A., and she paid for it with her own money, but they didn’t tell her it was, like, Facial Abuse. She was like, “What was I gonna do?” And then she had to do it. Then there was this other scene where she was like, “You have sex with these gross men that you wouldn’t have sex with in real life.” Then they cut to a part where she’s like, “I didn’t know if I could say no.” And that was awful!
Montgomery: And it’s just so weird because they’re a lot of our ages. A lot of it comes from boredom, loneliness, this kind of feeling that they need to get out and this is just a quick way to do it. I feel like a lot of us have felt that way before. I didn’t mean to be pitying them, but I just felt so bad the entire movie. Everything Riley was saying, I was like, “Ugh! You’re such a pig. You’re disgusting!” And he just had that stupid smirk on his face. I was like, “Oh, shut up! Get out of my face.” … Because we’re in that generation where crossing over from the sex industry to the mainstream is more common now–it’s a little bit more accepted. So I’m not dissing–I don’t know so much about the porn industry. By all means, if you are protected, if you’re not being abused and all that, if you wanna do it I don’t care. But it’s these young girls that are being recycled and used for their [youth]. And [the porn directors] kept saying, “Don’t wait for her to say yes, just go.” Okay, that’s rape. That’s not funny, that’s not cool. It made me so angry.
Jazmin: I think that’s also part of the problem. When men watch this and internalize the power, they think sexualizing women is powerful.
Montgomery: I really think that these stories [affect our ideas about sex]. Rashida even mentions it–11 is now the average age to watch porn or whatever. But if it’s a healthy story about sex–not these weird, demented little fantasies that are, like, forcing women to do things…It just hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” It normalizes it. You’re desensitized. You’re like, “Oh, cool, that’s how you do it.”
Aviv: Definitely. And I think the big thing is what you were saying before, about things being uncensored and there not really being any clear boundaries. I mean, even if somebody looks for what’s supposedly “healthier porn” or what depicts a less awful thing, the fact that it’s so easy to stumble into a completely different niche is terrifying. And that seems like what a lot of the girls were getting into, too. They didn’t realize that they were gonna do things that are beyond just “run of the mill” porn. They ended up doing all these things that they probably never expected to, just because it’s so easy to hop from one thing to the next, and there’s no clear boundaries given.
Mariah: Like the niche porn or whatever it was.
Courtney: This movie was very scary to me. I just ended up feeling terrible for all of the girls. Really, it seemed like all of them were just young and naive and desperate to escape their hometowns. Amateur porn seems like a terrible, exploitative industry.
Jazmin: The film made me feel so sick about the state of the porn industry. It doesn’t seem like the people in it care much about protecting the participants’ health and mental wellbeing. It also gave me a better understanding of the consequences of living in a country where violence against women is constantly being sexualized and normalized in mainstream media. I want to cry and scream and punch that guy Riley and steal his puppy, he doesn’t deserve that puppy.
Aviv: What struck me most about this movie was how manipulated those poor girls are. Many of the girls in the documentary are literally fresh out of childhood–just eighteen years old–and lured into the porn industry with the promise of money and fame. From the moment they enter the industry, they are exploited by shady older men like Riley. These men capitalize on the girls’ youth physically, mentally, and emotionally, then “recycle” the girls as soon as they scout a newer, younger group. It’s kind of like some larger-than-life pyramid scheme where young girls are the currency.
Mariah: Rather than feel pity for these girls, I think it’s good to use our anger at seeing how this exploitative industry can be made more safe for the women working in it. It’s seeing films like these that help spark a revolution to end the abuse they face. One thing that I liked about it as well is that it kind of brought it back to the consumers. The porn industry is making films that are wanted by society. It brings us back to the larger issue of society of dehumanizing and sexualizing girls and women. Women of color are especially fetishized. Unapologetic fetishization and dehumanization is something that porn makes very apparent.