Tag Archives: Belle Knox

Feminist Porn Visits Goucher College

by Rich Moreland, November 2014

 

Renewing acquaintances is a reminder that as we move forward, our wisdom and perspectives hopefully travel with us. In the commercial world of adult film where careers are short and movies are churned out with unrelenting rapidity, change is slow, but it does happen. On Tuesday November 11 at Goucher College in Baltimore, I had the opportunity to check in with a feminist filmmaker I first met almost six years ago, Tristan Taormino. Sponsored by the college’s Feminist Collective, Tristan’s speaking engagement filled an on-campus lecture hall.

Tristan Taormino Photo source unknown

Tristan Taormino
Photo courtesy of tristantaormino.com

I wanted an update on feminist porn and Tristan did not disappoint.

After chatting about how she broke into the business through shopping a proposal to make an educational film on anal sex for women, Tristan’s main purpose was to familiarize her young audience with feminist pornography. Indeed, I started researching my book on the subject years ago and realize that today’s college students may be unaware of the genre’s existence.

Tristan considers herself to be a third wave feminist because, as feminist performers and directors in the business today affirm, the second wave was heavily anti-porn. In the post-1980s when the third wave gave every woman sexual options denied her a generation ago, attitudes began to change. Today young women perceive adult film to be a choice and building a career porn is more normal than ever before.

The “Cinema Verite” of Porn

Explaining that performers get into porn for a variety of reasons, among the most obvious a love of sex, money, and a portal to another career, Tristan added one that may have surprised the audience, the combination of pain and pleasure performers get from certain types of shoots. Having written that feminism and BDSM porn often walk hand-in-hand down the adult film Yellow Brick Road, I could not agree more. It is, however, further affirmation that today’s adult film woman is in control of her image on-screen and if being sexually submissive or dominant is her preference, she feels emboldened to go that route without shame.

To emphasize that today’s porn girl can get down and dirty on her own terms, Tristan reminded the audience that she resumed her directing career in 2005 with the notion that she could remake gonzo, the “cinema verite” of porn, into a female-friendlier genre. The owner of Smart Ass Productions stated that in its earliest form, gonzo was “mean sex with a jackass feel,” really nothing more than a “circus.”

Tristan as Sex Educator Photo courtesy of Tristantaormino.com

Tristan as Sex Educator
Photo courtesy of tristantaormino.com

There are minimal production values in gonzo and the performers often look directly at the camera, bringing the viewer into the scene. One of the most popular gonzo takes is the girl on her knees in an oral scene, eyes staring up into the camera. In the overly predictable formula, lots of choking and gagging with the pop shot leading to the inevitable facial is the standard fare.

How to make that more female acceptable and honor the choices of women who like to perform in gonzo shoots became part of Tristan’s mission. And, she has been more than successful, leading a vanguard of women filmmakers who have scored adult film awards in what Tristan describes as “the best-selling genre in porn.”

Tristan honored Candida Royalle as the first feminist pornographer who “proved that women do like porn.” No argument from anyone on that. But expectations were limited. In the 1980s, Candida’s FEMME Productions held on to the belief that women wanted to see sex embedded with a storyline, what porn calls a “feature.” Today, feminist views have expanded.

A fan of “reality porn” where the plot line is vacated (check out her “Chemistry” series), Tristan believes that adult film is closer to the audience now because of the behind-the-scenes interviews, frequently added to DVDs under the title “extras.” Porn performers have “fascinating stories to tell,” she said, and “anything is on the table” in her BTS segments.

Cast of the "Chemistry" series Photo courtesy of puckerup.com

Cast of the “Chemistry” series
Photo courtesy of puckerup.com

From an on-screen perspective, porn is a woman’s world and Tristan reinforced that notion with the typical porn mantra that “women are the stars, men are disposable.” In fact, men are traditionally regarded as mere “props.” To expand their larger reality for the viewer, the feminist director also interviews them. Feminist porn works to change how men are perceived and today the “disposable” image is fading.

Reiterating that porn performers love to have sex, Tristan’s filmmaking devotes some attention to maledom rough sex. However, she points out that female performers choose what they want to do, often influenced by their personal fantasies. In this context, combining pain and sex is honored, but only if it is consensual for everyone.

Consent and Respect

In wrapping up her presentation, Tristan updated the feminist porn definition. It has expanded in the last few years. Here are some of the newest considerations.

Tristan's signature film Photo courtesy of Puckerup.com

Tristan’s signature film
Photo courtesy of Puckerup.com

Consent, respect, and a safe working environment, long-standing feminist traits, are more important today than ever before. This standard has reached beyond the feminist model into porn studios that may not necessarily think of themselves as feminist in that regard. Though feminist filmmakers take the next step by actively seeking the “participation and collaboration of the performers,” Tristan said, most Porn Valley cinematographers have not come on board with that.

Today feminist porn also emphasizes consent when delving into the power exchange that shows up in BDSM and rough sex filming. Though such images may be misconstrued as humiliating and demeaning to female performers, Tristan admits that she cannot control the way her filming is interpreted. The viewer needs to remember that every woman in feminist porn is calling her own shots, especially in the dominant/submissive scenes she may prefer.

Addressing social imbalances is more evident in feminist porn than ever before. Racism is one example. Tristan “rejects the way it [casting and shooting non-whites] is done in the porn industry,” she says, emphasizing that she welcomes “performers of color” on her set and puts them on-screen where they “have the power to represent themselves.”

By the way, a college speaking engagement inevitably bring ups one question from students: “How do I get into the business?” Referencing the runaway popularity of Duke University’s Belle Knox who is just nineteen, Tristan stressed that she does not hire performers under twenty-one because teenagers do not have a mature understanding of their own sexuality to perform sex acts in front of a camera. Belle is the exception. Tristan suggested that any potentially interested young person wait a few years and investigate the industry before plunging in.

In conclusion, Tristan Taormino stated that “the lines between mainstream [porn] and feminist porn are more blurred and movable” than any time in the history of the industry. Indeed, feminist porn is now “a movement, genre, and an industry,” she said, not to mention a career.

To contact Tristan, go to her website here.

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Because We Want To

by Rich Moreland, April 2014

The Belle Knox story has sparked renewed interest in who shoots porn and why they do it. The Duke freshman is all the rage, touting the idea that porn girls can be educated and make smart self-empowered decisions.

While many of her Duke classmates have luxuriated in sanctimoniously skewering Belle, the media is marketing her with gusto. The New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Howard Stern, TMZ, and an upcoming online reality show, “The Sex Factor,” are part of the seemingly endless Belle Knox saga.

I’m guilty of same, by the way, my column in Adult Industry News posted when the story first broke is available here for anyone inclined to read one more article about her.

Belle Knox Photo source unknown

Belle Knox
Photo source unknown

Make no mistake, I wish Belle the best and I’ll probably run into her sometime at an industry event. Regardless of where she goes from here, we need to remember Belle is a teenager who has come under tremendous scrutiny at a time in life when most girls are trying to figure out their own sexuality and where they want to go with it. In fact, there are some in the adult industry who believe that filming anyone under twenty-one needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps Belle shouldn’t even be on a porn set in the first place.

Nevertheless, before the Belle Knox media hangover sets in, a dose of porn reality is needed. It has arrived via Casey Calvert, whose blog post about Belle speaks volumes.

Magna Cum Laude

I have an immense respect for Casey. She entered porn in her early twenties with a maturity that supported her love of anything sexual. A two-year veteran of the industry (a lifetime by porn standards), her intelligence and on-screen performances are unsurpassed. If every girl in the industry had Casey’s work ethic accompanied by her professional responsibility, the industry would run like clockwork. Just ask any cinematographer or director who has hired her.

Casey Calvert Photo courtesy of Naughty America

Casey Calvert
Photo courtesy of Naughty America

Casey is always honest and in response to the hype around Belle Knox, she presents a cogent analysis of what the public lacks: an understanding of why people perform in the industry. Porn myths abound because it’s obvious that no one would really want to have sex on film unless they were psychologically broken, financially desperate, hooked on drugs, or too lazy to get a real job, right?

In her essay “Porn Stars R Stupid,” Casey points out that  in the popular mind, a middle class and educated Belle Knox is surely a porn anomaly. But in reality, that is a gross misperception. Having a college degree is not unusual in the adult film universe, she says, and there are smart women in the industry who espouse sex-positive feminism’s politics of pleasure.

Casey is bothered by the same question that concerned me when I first read the April 14 Huffington Post article in which Belle said she would not do porn unless she was paid. Questions about her claim to feminism and empowerment arose. Is a girl’s sense of having choices and acting on them driven by money?

A University of Florida graduate, Casey relates that she recently faced the same issue during a presentation at the University of Toronto. “‘If money were no object, do you love your job enough to continue doing it?'” she hypothetically asks, correctly suggesting Belle’s response would be “no.”

“Because Belle is seen as the voice of our profession, her answer implies that all of us are here solely for financial reasons,” Casey writes. “But that is not the case at all.”

Casey concedes that indeed “a few” performers have a history of drug use, sexual abuse, and financial need that drives their participation in the industry. She also mentions that some models are simply not very bright and porn provides a decent income that demands little intellectual output. I could not agree more.

Explaining that her career brings her immense satisfaction, the Florida native is openly sexual and loves the choices she has. No justification or rationalization needed. Casey likes who she is and is satisfied with who she is.

For the record, Casey Calvert’s magna cum laude degree offered her graduate school and career options, but the sexual kept its hold on her and she followed her bliss.

In the meantime, Belle makes it perfectly clear that lawyering is in her future; once her education is finished, so is porn. It’s the old tale of a means to an end.

Magna Cum Laude Photo source unknown

Magna Cum Laude
Photo courtesy of Twistys

When I think of the A-list porn stars I have met—Penny Pax, Chanel Preston, Dana DeArmond, Jesse Jane, and Tasha Reign come to mind immediately—Casey’s words ring true. These women are in charge of their careers and committed to the industry.

Have doubts? Listen to what they have to say. Tasha Reign defines her porn shoots as an atmosphere of “free happy sex,” while Chanel says with a smile, “I love getting gangbanged.”

Casey Calvert stands squarely with these superstars because she is the consummate adult film professional: smart, reliable, a hard worker, fair with her opinions, and gloriously sexual.

This sultry brunette speaks for a community of entertainers when she says,

“Many of us do porn because we want to.”

 

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