by Rich Moreland, February 2015
An engaging smile, captivating eyes, and razor-sharp smarts describe Ela Darling. She a rarity in adult film, a formally educated pornography feminist.
Unfortunately, I am a day late and a dollar short, as the old saying goes, Ela and I are meeting for the first time at this year’s AVN trade show. Because my book on the history of feminism in adult film was recently released, her thoughts and experiences are not in it. The best I can do is rectify that oversight here.
Born in California, Ela is a late twenty-something who spent her youth in Texas, completing her undergrad degree at the University of Texas at Dallas. Growing up in the Lone Star State had its moments, but this blonde honey decided life beyond the southwestern plains offered her more.
“I got out of Texas as quickly as I could,” she says, and headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana for a Master’s in Library Science. She was twenty-one.
At twenty-two she was a working librarian and did some non-nude bondage stuff for extra cash. Fetish opened a door and Ela made her way into “porn-porn,” as she calls it. She was now twenty-three, old enough to understand her sexuality and what she wanted out of it.
Image drives a career and Ela’s is a classic. Her look has always been the “girl-next-door” with a bit of intellectual nerdiness thrown in, perfect for a bondage model: the quiet girl in the corner who gets off on being tied up.
A couple of get-to-know-you questions tells us Ela’s family is very supportive of her career, she’s a Harry Potter aficionado, but not a sports fan. “If it’s not played on a broomstick, I probably don’t know anything about it,” she says with a twinkle.
Moving right into her feminism, Ela prefaces her remarks with an inside peek at porn’s working environment.
“I try to be the best performer that I can be,” she says matter-of-factly. Rather than being adversarial regarding her fellow professionals, Ela believes in collaboration. The porn employment market is competitive and “we need to support each other, we need to raise each other up.”
Ela’s feminism is her empowerment. “I engage in [my porn career] by choice. The work I do gives me financial independence, personal independence [and] sexual independence. It gives me a lot of liberation, I feel good about what I do.”
She believes that feminism allows adult film women to have control over their sexual destiny and how it is expressed. “If I want to do something because I want to do it [and] it’s fulfilling to me, that’s awesome. It doesn’t matter if someone else isn’t into it.”
Ela diverts a moment to comment on her BDSM work at Kink.com, the San Francisco internet giant of BDSM where feminist porn models love to shoot. Their views are important because the public can interpret bondage as humiliating and degrading to women.
“People think the porn I do at Kink is glorified rape, but I don’t agree because it’s clear that everyone is consenting to this [what is put on film].”
In the mind of this Golden State native, the type of sex, hardcore or “insane BDSM,” does not matter. If there is no consent, it’s rape.
For the record, Ela Darling began in the business doing girl-girl and has recently added boy-girl to expand her name recognition and pump up demand for her image. If anything, she has taken her ride through pornoland on a slow train, this is year five of her career and the pieces are falling into place.
Help Them have a Voice
Unlike some girls in the industry, Ela does not escort. “I don’t have anything against escorting,” the liberal-minded lass says, “and I respect women and their hustle. Whatever they feel is right for themselves, I think is awesome.”
Rightly or wrongly, escorting does have an impact on the business because porn shoots and acts of prostitution are often conflated in the public mind. That said, performing in a porn scene and soliciting are not the same animal, though it is convenient for some people to perceive them as such. How does Ela see the difference?
Men sexualize women all the time, Ela points out, but if a woman tries to use it to her advantage and collect money as a result, she suddenly becomes a whore. There is a power imbalance at play that is further aggravated by society’s attempt to trivialize and infantilize women.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with prostitution,” Ela says, “but what I do is not prostitution. It’s for the sake of entertainment. The legal definition is different.”
What Ela means is that money [her pay] is exchanged through a third party [the studio] and does not go to satisfy the desires of her co-star who is also paid by the studio. Legally, the shoot is governed by 2257 regulations [federal laws to prevent child porn] and the product made is sold for a profit. The director and crew, who are in charge of the script, lighting, location, etc., are also paid. And most important, all performers have updated blood tests to prevent the spread of STDs, a protocol that is remarkably successful.
None of these factors apply to prostitution.
Ela returns to the importance of porn performers making personal and political statements with their bodies and calling their shots on screen.
Women in the adult business are controlling their “sexual destiny,” Ela declares. “To try to take that away from us is to take away a lot of power that we inherently have.”
“Reclaiming that power is a big step in personal freedom. Personally, the further I go in my career, the stronger I feel, the more liberated I feel. My independence and solvency get better the more I engage in my work. Implying that anything I do must be bad or negative,” she says, is “taking away my autonomy.”
Like all of us, porn performers want recognition, not condemnation.
“Why don’t you talk to me and acknowledge me as a person and the fact that I’m doing this is actually great for me,” Ela continues. “If you would only consider my perspective, rather than deciding that because I do what I do, I no longer get to have a voice.”
Ela then acknowledges other sex workers as if they are shadows hovering around us.
“These are women who don’t have a voice, they can’t speak for themselves. Help them have a voice. Give it to them and hear them and listen to them.”
Ela Darling then hammers home the real disgrace. Do not try to speak for porn performers, put words in our mouths, “or assume that we are victims.”
“I’m not a victim, I’m okay . . . I’m so okay!”
Ah, Ela, I wish we had met earlier. Your words would be forever recorded in the pages of Pornography Feminism.
It is a pleasure to know you.
* * * * *
In the second part of our interview, Ela talks about shooting bondage scenes and working for Kink.com.
Ela Darling is represented by Star Factory PR. They can be reached at 818-732-0191 or via email at Info@StarFactoryPR.com