Tag Archives: Free Speech Coalition

AEE 2019: The Evil Angel Legacy

by Rich Moreland, February 2019

This post is the first in a series installments on the 2019 Adult Video News (AVN) trade show. The Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE), as it is also known, was first held in Las Vegas in 1998 and has continued annually since.

Photos in this post are courtesy of Evil Angel and 3hattergrindhouse.

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During my first day at the AVN trade show, I had a passing conversation with writer Tod Hunter, whose work I regard highly. He mentioned that I should check out the Evil Angel booth where a large billboard-like poster was on display in celebration of the company’s thirtieth anniversary. Tod added that I’d find it worth a look, especially the upper left side of the picture.

How right he was. But more on that corner in a moment.

Hal Freeman and John Stagliano

When I got over to EA, I spent a few minutes with John Stagliano. Saying “hello” to Evil Angel’s founder is always a pleasure. John is a force in the industry, a trend-setter who shoots what he likes and creates a market for it.

But that’s only the half of it. John is also a “freedom fighter” in the manner of Hal Freeman decades ago. Both men battled in court to preserve their right to express their art as they saw it.

Freeman’s case (1988-89) effectively legalized filmed pornography in California. Years later, John’s dust-up added to that history because it involved not actors having sex for money, but the content of the film. Ostensibly fought over obscenity charges, his case evolved into a higher cause centering on free speech and how it applies to the internet. Eventually, all charges were dropped and the modern porn industry took another step into the light of mainstream culture.

Everyone involved in the adult biz today owes a debt to Hal Freeman and John Stagliano. What we see around us in this industry was not always as it seems now. To put it another way, all of us must remain vigilant because ongoing and enduring rights of expression are precious.

Widely Regarded

Having covered that little bit of history, now back to the poster of the EA dignitaries. Though they are directors mostly, a particular individual stands out.

Christian Mann.

In writing for XBIZ in 2014, AVN Managing Editor Dan Miller pointed out that Christian Mann was “a 34-year veteran of the adult business” and “widely regarded among the most prolific and passionate executives in industry history.”

AVN notes that Christian was “the recipient of AVN’s First Amendment Defense Award in 1991,” a proud industry honor.

What’s more, Christian was no stranger to porn’s courtroom battles. “He was indicted in 1989,” AVN continues, and “withstood a federal obscenity trial in Texas and was eventually acquitted of all charges.”

Sounds a little political, right? And it should because it was.

Talking with Christian, AEE 2013

For six years, Christian Mann was Evil Angel’s managing editor and I’m fortunate to have known him. On one of my visits to the West Coast, I remember sitting in his office talking about the state of the business as he saw it. That day Christian reminded me that John Stagliano establishes market directions in porn. He shoots what is personally pleasing to his tastes, as I’ve mentioned above, and unabashedly puts it out there for all to see.

It’s worth noting that in 2012 Christian passed along to me a copy of EA’s Voracious which is one of the finest adult movies ever produced and shot on two continents. (My ten-part review of the film begins with a nod to Christian and John. The post can be found here.)

Serving honorably on the Board of the Free Speech Coalition, Christian’s sense of fairness and honesty distinguished him. His brilliance was widely recognized in the industry.

A Fight of Another Sort

The last time I saw Christian Mann was at the AVN show in 2013. He walked with a cane and was in obvious discomfort, a red flag, I thought, considering my memory of his robust energy.

When I visited the EA suite at the Hard Rock Hotel, Christian was upbeat as usual, but related that he was seeing the doctor when he returned to LA.

Christian passed away the following year after a heroic battle with cancer. He was fifty-three.

So, returning to my opening remarks, I offer thanks to Tod Hunter because he indicated that I’d have an emotional moment when I spent a few minutes with the poster. I did.

You see, Christian is with us in the upper left, a little dim because he is watching from afar. By the way, he is not the only EA personage celebrated in the display who is gone. Jake Malone, David Aaron Clark, John Leslie, and Bruce Seven have also departed.

But it is Christian Mann I remember so well and Tod, I suspect, knew that.

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Prop 60, Part One: No More Debate

by Rich Moreland, February 2017

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Everyone knows by now that California voters rejected Proposition 60 last November. So, no condoms in adult film going forward!

But questions linger. How important was Prop 60’s defeat and what does it say about political activism in porn?

At the AVN trade show I decided to ask around.

Answers varied, as did opinions, and a sampling appears here.

First, however, performer Casey Calvert provides some background on the issue that has roiled the adult industry.

Measure B to Prop 60

The ruckus over Prop 60 began a few years ago in 2012 just when she entered the business, Casey remembers. The political dustup then was Measure B that required condoms for filmed sex in LA County.

img_0515-2“My first porn shoot was in November 5, 2012. Measure B passed in LA County on Nov 6, 2012, and I watched it on TV and thought, ‘What the fuck did I just get myself into?'”

Little changed, actually. The law was never really enforced, Casey points out.

“They don’t have the money to make sure porn stars are wearing condoms. LA as a political entity and a public service entity is stretched so thin,” the native Floridian explains and adds that the law is still around but is “unenforceable as written.”

Undeterred, the Aids Health Foundation’s  Michael Weinstein, who was behind the initiative, turned his attention statewide. Next came AB 1576 that did what Measure B advocated, Casey continues, and it, too, failed in the state legislature mainly because of cost.

Finally, Weinstein went the ballot route in the election and collected enough signatures to bring his proposal before the voters.

However, it expired at the ballot box because it was flawed.

“The issue with Prop 60 was less about condoms and more about enforcement and how every private citizen in California could sue a porn production company if they watched a movie shot in the state without a condom,” Casey says.

2017-01-18-07-18-13-3Evil Angel owner John Stagliano agrees.

“Prop 60 was a horribly written law,” he says, pointing out that it established Michael Weinstein as “the porn czar” with the power to “prosecute cases and collect his expenses from the state.”

Despite the proposition’s shortcomings, effort and planning was required to ensure its demise.

Political Unity

Unwilling to take chances, the industry fought the initiative. Ela Darling, the current President of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) comments, “APAC and the FSC (Free Speech Coalition) and a large number of performers did everything they could to defeat Prop 60 and we won, we got it!”

Casey Calvert reminds us that this was “the first time that porn stars actually rallied for a cause and we owe a lot of that to the Free Speech Coalition.” She talks about industry people using twitter and doing interviews to get the story out.

“I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post which I heard was very impactful . . . I also spoke on the radio,” Casey adds.

Ela and Casey give performers Julia Ann and SiouxsieQ and Free Speech Coalition’s Eric Leue much credit for organizing and leading the charge.

John Stagliano steps up to put Chanel Preston on the worthy list. “Chanel did some great interviews . . . She was very effective and active [in defeating Prop 60].”

And, everyone thanks California’s Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian Parties and the LGBT organizations for speaking out against Prop 60, a rare instance of political unity.

Activism

Ela talks about the lobbying in Sacramento.

2017-01-18-09-23-25-2“We spoke to legislators, we spoke to Senators . . . anybody who would give us time. Quite a few did. I got to be the voice of the industry to speak to the caucuses and the Democratic convention in Long Beach. It’s been a really big grassroots effort,” she says. Porn people even “led a protest through Hollywood.”

“I’ve never seen the industry aligned so strongly on anything like they did on Prop 60. It was refreshing, it was empowering, and amazing.”

Performer Derrick Pierce presents an unvarnished view of the campaign.

The FSC built a winning coalition of ” both talent and producers and production teams.” People “who are typically fragmented in nature” were on the same political page, Derrick remarks, because “even though we are socially amongst each other we don’t really function in that capacity.”

He characterizes the industry’s victory as a “David versus Goliath” fight.

In doing his part, Derrick went on Facebook to check postings from major media outlets where he found lots of comments.

“I literally went through every negative or misinformed comment and rebutted it. And who knows, maybe it reached five people, but that’s what was needed from every person who had a vested interest in this.”

But he had his doubts. “I’m glad that it was defeated though I was thinking that we were going to get screwed.”

Derrick interprets the victory as more than just a defeat for  poorly written law and its sponsor AHF.

“It wasn’t so much that prop 60 and us moving to Vegas or another place was necessarily the problem, it’s that it set precedent. That’s huge because, there’s no more debate.”

In other words, should similar issues arise with CAL/OSHA and safety regulations,”Now you just have to implement what’s already been said.”

Know the Process

Next Derrick sticks a dagger in the heart of deceit.

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“I would love to see what Weinstein’s real issue is. I know what he’s written and some of the things he’s said and I know who his donors and backers are.”

Moreover, the top male performer understands what spurs politicians and reformers.

“Anything to do with the adult business is a wonderful soapbox. You stand on it and preach to the people this is immoral, we have to protect these people [porn performers] that don’t know any better.”

He also calls out talent to educate themselves.

“Half the people don’t know what our testing process is. You should know because if you’re going to argue the point then you should know what the hell it is we’re doing. [Most performers] don’t know how many tests are done on us every two weeks . . .and they should.

“Know the process and how it works so  you don’t sound like a bumbling idiot when you talk about it.”

Derrick asserts that just screaming performer rights  “doesn’t mean anything” when it comes to debating health issues.

A Reminder of Reality

Finally, Briana Banks brings up a point that may have swayed some voters. She’s happy, of course, with the outcome but there is bit of reality that may have been missed when assessing the defeat of condoms.

Briana shot for the condom-only Vivid for eight years and her movies sold well, she says. But when she put up a recent condom clip she did for her website, her fans panned the scene.

2017-01-19-04-27-29-2“My fans were disgusted. They really were. We’ve put it out there so much of not using condoms that now if you use a condom, people watching porn can’t get past it.”

But there is something else at work here, Briana thinks.

The condom is a shock because of the reality it represents.

“Seeing a condom makes them think of STDs and HIV that they don’t think of when watching a porn movie.”

Condoms remind fans of the risks they take in their own lives, Briana believes. “To watch a porn star use a condom makes them think about the reality of life in general.”

Interesting. Maybe it’s something everybody missed in this battle. Porn is just fantasy and Prop 60 was about to take that away.

For the industry, however, there could be a darker underlying message hidden within this victory. Does it suggest that some fans may unconsciously regard porn performers as expendable?

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Next we’ll look at how the defeat of Prop 60 is seen as a game changer for the industry, if indeed it is.

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The 2017 AEE Extravaganza: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, February 2017

My thanks to AVN’s Dan Miller, Brian Gross, and Jill Hagara for making my visit to the show enjoyable. Their hard work cannot be appreciated enough.

Also, special kudos is extended to my favorite PR company, StarFactory. Thank you Tanya and Alex!

star-factory-pr-2013-banner

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Seminars

Rarely do I get to attend all the seminars that pique my interest and this year’s AEE was no exception.  Nevertheless, I did make a few.

On the show’s opening day, the seminar on money was super informative.

Tasha Reign, Alan Gelbard, Lee Roy Myers, Adam Grayson, Nate Glass

Tasha Reign, Alan Gelbard, Lee Roy Myers, Adam Grayson, Nate Glass

Hosted by sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, the panel discussed turning a profit in a time of piracy. Attorney Alan Gelbard set the tone with a statement that at first seemed a capitulation but as the seminar went on, proved to be the most salient. Money can still be made in this age of tube sites and free porn, he said, and pointed out that “the music industry has figured out a way to let the piracy just be there.”

Lee Roy Myers

Lee Roy Myers

Filmmaker Lee Roy Myers of the parody website WoodRocket got it right when he insisted that everyone should maintain ownership of their content and “choose to give it away.” In reality, this seeming anomaly sells traffic to your site at a time when “less and less people are paying for porn in traditional ways.”

Evil Angel’s Adam Grayson’s assertion that identifying niche markets can turn a profit for your content through a reliable customer base made sense when thinking of porn as subgenres that capture pieces of the larger adult universe.

On the practical side to the money equation, a company like Nate Glass’s Takedown Piracy can be a great benefit to all producers in protecting their content.

2017-01-18-07-39-26Before the panel began, I spoke briefly with Nate Glass and met Chauntelle for the first time, a real treat.

Thursday afternoon offered up the seminar on the legal battles that may lie ahead with the incoming Trump administration.

After attorney Clyde DeWitt recounted the history of the Meese Commission’s pursuit of pornographers in the 1980s, Reed Lee, First Amendment scholar from Chicago and a member of the Free Speech Coalition, calmed nerves somewhat when he asserted that “history is on our side” and the “clear march of social progress is in our favor.”

Nevertheless, Free Speech Coalition’s President Eric Leue emphasized that passivity can no longer be the watchword and that everyone has a dog in this fight. In other words, support FSC.

Clyde DeWitt, John Stagliano, Eric Leue, J Michael Murray , Reed Lee, and moderator Mark Kernes

Clyde DeWitt, John Stagliano, Eric Leue, J Michael Murray , Reed Lee, and moderator Mark Kernes

Outside the hall, I had a moment to catch up with Colin Rowntree of Wasteland.com who plays both host and panelist when needed at these seminars. We talked about the possible political outcomes that face the industry.

Later that same day, another panel highlighted the increasingly independent role of women in adult.

Filmmaker Angela White said it best, “if you think porn is degrading, then you probably think sex is degrading.” Her words stressed the message of this seminar aptly named R-E-S-P-E-C-T that focused on celebrating empowered people who are comfortable with their sexuality. Moderated by Chauntelle Tibbals, the panel also included filmmakers Kay Brandt and Bree Mills.

Interestingly, an audience question led to a brief sparring over the interpretation of words. At issue was the concept of “feminist porn” which may be giving way these days to the idea of “ethical porn.”

Is the sun setting on “feminism” in the industry as some attendees seemed to hint?

Downtime

2017-01-18-09-17-39AEE is a constant round of rockin’ and rollin’, but there is occasional downtime, or to be honest, the need to take a break. I found a few minutes in the press room where the always upbeat Jill Hagara took some time for a chat. We’ve know each other for a few years now and she is a delight.

More relaxation moments came at the small Dunkin’ Donuts shop right off the casino where the convenient access for a quick coffee attracts industry people.

I talked with performer Daisy Layne after running into her earlier in the hallway.

Amber Jo

Amber Jo

A statuesque beauty named Amber Jo sidled up next to me with her java and Boston cream doughnut in hand. She’s networking, AJ said, and that began an informative chat.

Later Amber posed for my photographer and I offered to do a story on her. She’s an exotic dancer from the Midwest who has thoughts of LA and the biz. Stay tuned to see what happens with this gorgeous girl. Maybe a new star will soon be on-screen!

Setting up interviews is never easy and once again this year I relied on the best PR people in the business, Star Factory, whose watchwords are dependability and reliability. Their clients do not flake on the press.

With the help of Steve Nelson, the editor of AINews.com, I usually nail down a couple of people for impromptu interviews. This year the highlights were the previously mentioned Emma Hix at Foxxx Modeling and Kasey Warner, the star of B Skow’s Color Blind. Kasey and I are from the same part of the country which made our talk special.

Emma Hix

Emma Hix

Speaking of Skow, his productions are distributed by one of my favorite companies, Girlfriends Films. As mentioned in part one of this post, Moose, the company president, invited me to the GFFs suite for a morning coffee on Thursday, a great way to start the day.

Kudos to AVN

Eventually, a text helped me find AVN’s senior editor, Dan Miller. I first met Dan’s warm personality and infectious smile when he was with XBIZ.

We took a few minutes to discuss the passing of adult film historian Bill Margold (Dan did a wonderful obit for AVN online) and I mentioned that this year’s show was well-organized, enriching everyone’s experience from fan to media.

James Deen and Dan Miller Photo courtesy of AVN

James Deen and Dan Miller
Photo courtesy of AVN

Helping to make this year’s AEE enjoyable were some not so subtle changes in the “feel” of the show.

The club music in The Joint wasn’t nearly the volume of the past which made conversation easier–a boon when one carries around a digital recorder–the lighting much improved, and best of all, the traffic flow was smoother among the various rooms. Thank you AVN!

After experiencing the breezy atmosphere of the Sands Center some years ago, I was doubtful AVN could pull everything off in a more broken up environment. And at first it was a challenge, but the bugs have been worked out.

On the downside, there was one thing distinctly different this year: the weather. The days were cloudy, very cool, with periods of rain, the same weather pattern I left back home. The only difference, it seemed, were the trees. I’m not used to seeing rain, mist, and palm trees!

Despite that, inside the Hard Rock the action was invigorating and informative.

I encourage everyone to visit next year, or to put it another way, attending AEE at least once in your adult life should be on your bucket list.

lg_hardrock-1-exterior

 

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Modern Comstockery

With a few minor alterations, here is my column that ran in Adult Industry News a few days ago (March 22). It addresses the potential California condom law that targets the adult film industry.

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Source: Adult Industry News
by: Rich Moreland, March 2015


Michael Weinstein The recent shooting moratorium over a suspect HIV test undoubtedly has Michael Weinstein chortling. His vision of a new age of anti-porn vigilance with himself as California’s morality czar must seem at hand.

But Weinstein’s crusade is not a surprise, it’s just the latest round of American prudery that insists one standard of conformity fits all.

Weinstein’s fervor recalls a similar high-minded moralist of the Victorian Age who likely serves as his model. In 1873, Anthony Comstock became the US Postal Inspector by an act of Congress, beginning a tenure that lasted until 1915. Comstock took it upon himself to label birth control and abortion as obscene while pornography, also defined by Comstock, was rooted out unendingly.

A New Englander of evangelical protestant stock, Comstock had two methods of operation. First, his mission—the suppression of vice—was self-defined and individually carried out. He did not leave enforcement to underlings. Comstock took private satisfaction in book burnings (especially marriage manuals), arrests he encouraged, and even a handful of suicides of people he hounded.

Second, Comstock personally lobbied Congress to pass his bill halting the flow of obscene materials through American society. The platform of delivery in those days was the mailbox. As postal inspector, Comstock became a mini-dictator in a country governed by a constitution. And, of course, his job was funded by the taxpayers.

Sound familiar? Look closely at the newest effort by the AIDS Health Foundation. By working with California legislators one-on-one and pushing his referendum effort, Michael Weinstein sees himself as a new Anthony Comstock.

The Free Speech Coalition (FSC) is on record with the pointed statement that Weinstein has “a personal obsession with the adult film industry.” In his latest revision of his 2016 ballot proposal, Weinstein has inserted the word “proponent” (singular) in describing who would control the workings of the adult industry. In other words, he’ll call the shots and only the legislature can defrock him.

According to the FSC, the “initiative grants Weinstein the power of the California Attorney General.” He will become “an unimpeachable state-subsidized porn czar.” Like Comstock, the authority is Weinstein’s alone, no minions involved.

Now that we’ve learned the HIV test was a “false positive,” the industry has dodged another bullet. But this is not the time to go about business as usual and ignore AHF until tomorrow. Action plans are due because preparation to fight back takes time.

The good news is mechanisms are in place and if anything Weinstein is galvanizing an industry that for too long has maintained a renegade attitude of doing what it wants, everyone else be damned.

As 2016 approaches, the industry has the tools it needs. There is, of course, FSC and the Performer Availability Screening Service (PASS) to impress upon the public that performers safety is not lost in the pursuit of profit. Additionally, the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) represents a part of the industry the guy on the street little understands: the wants, needs, and responsibilities of the people in front of the camera. Both groups have a central political ingredient—organization—something that should spur industry people to lobby and educate legislators. It worked recently in stopping Isadore Hall’s broader bill from getting to a floor vote and it can again.

The California taxpayer must be informed. Michael Weinstein is set to go on the state payroll, subjecting our modern age to the old-time moralistic zealotery of Comstockery.

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A Dirty Little Secret?

by Rich Moreland, August 2014

 

Recently, Assembly Bill 1576 requiring the use of protective barriers in adult film was tabled by the California State Senate. As a result, the adult industry will avoid further government oversight statewide except for Los Angeles County where a similar ordinance remains on the books.

The story of AB 1576’s demise as reported by XBIZ can be found here and Adult Video News’ version is referenced here.

The following commentary is about AB 1576’s unanticipated impact on the industry.

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Casey Calvert sends the message. Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Casey Calvert sends the message.
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

“Here’s the dirty little secret about porn production in California: it’s just work,” says Assemblyman Isadore Hall, whose effort to require condoms in adult film has just expired in a Senate committee.

The Honorable Mr. Hall confirms what everyone connected with the adult industry has known all along, porn people are entertainers who pick up a paycheck. Their job is hardly “a dirty little secret.”

What is missing from Assemblyman Halls’ sardonic comment is the acknowledgment that an effective industry wide blood testing protocol is already in place, and has been for years, to take care of what AB 1576 purports to address: worker safety. Adult entertainment can take care of its own and do it without burdening the taxpayers of a state rife with financial problems.

From California’s standpoint, money is the issue. Driving a multi-billion dollar industry underground or into the friendlier neighborhoods of Nevada, Florida, and New Hampshire (yes, it is legal to shoot porn in “The Granite State”) makes little sense. Enforcement of any protective barrier law demands more government spending, a difficult prospect in tough economic times, and increases unemployment as businesses move elsewhere.

Unfortunately, for LA county the expenditure already exists and state coffers are taking a hit anyway. Segments of the porn industry have vacated California as indicated by dwindling film permits.

Better Equipped

Having said that, only the naive are persuaded that the protective barrier fight is over. Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) will carry on his private war with the industry. It’s a moral imperative for him just as it may be for Isadore Hall, though both claim performer safety is their concern, an astounding assertion since the public has traditionally cared little for people who make their living selling sexuality in any form.

But for now, the issue is tabled and it’s time to assess the benefits from an industry standpoint. Here’s a quick review.

A degree of political unity is emerging. In the condom debate, the Free Speech Coalition led a vanguard of concerned groups that stood against AB 1576. The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Transgender Law Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Law Center, Project Inform of San Francisco, and the AIDS Project Los Angeles, are among the associations who voiced their opposition. And, the valuable support of the business oriented Valley Industry & Commerce Association cannot be overlooked. It has a stake in keeping porn dollars in the LA economy.

While this is a beginning, other longer term developments are taking shape.

The latex controversy has revealed that performers, always known for their renegade attitudes, can organize to express their opinions. The earliest, most primitive rumblings occurred in raucous protests before Measure B became law in LA county an election cycle ago. At the time, it was too little, too late and haphazard, at best. But as reality settled in and the battle moved to Sacramento, performer interest intensified. Stars like Chanel Preston, James Deen, Casey Calvert, Lorelei Lee, Jiz Lee, Nina Hartley, Annika Albright, Alex Chance, and others lobbied legislators.

Bottom line? Porn performers can advance their agenda and may have more political clout than they realize.

A performer organization, the nascent APAC (Adult Performer Advocacy Committee), is emerging. Among APAC’s successes is Porn 101, a video educating talent about STDs. Porn people are sex workers foremost, just as Isadore Hall suggests, and where better to help than with health issues. As APAC grows, the political entanglement over condoms adds to its importance and performers are now better equipped to fight the next round.

In the meantime, two gutsy industry executives are creating their own political dust ups with AHF. First, Vivid’s Steven Hirsch has filed an appeal in the 9th U. S. Circuit Court involving the enforcement of Measure B. Second, Peter Acworth of Kink.com is taking on Michael Weinstein in a direct confrontation. In Acworth’s view, the company was unfairly fined over $78,000 for OSHA “violations” in San Francisco. When he moved some production to Las Vegas, AHF tailed him into town and initiated legal complaints over unprotected oral sex. “Baseless” is Acworth’s word for their accusation (this has gotten irritatingly personal) and Nevada, which envisions a porn biz financial windfall, is stepping around AHF for the moment.

At present, Peter Acworth is ahead in his fight; Steven Hirsch’s efforts remain in limbo.

So, where are we now? The condom push fell victim to state funding, the oft-cited reason for failures to increase government regulation. But, in this case, the aftermath is bringing together an industry willing to wrestle for its life. The message is awareness coupled with united action, ingredients for an effective voice in every political scrum.

Simply put, the porn world is not what it used to be. The people who are committed to adult entertainment understand that porn is a career and are better educated and more professional than ever before. They safeguard their working conditions and have a blood testing protocol to protect against STDs.

All the while, shooting scenes remains what they have always been. In this case, Isadore Hall is right on target, “it’s just work.”

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After posting Isadore Hall’s comment on porn and work, I decided to clarify that many performers enjoy their profession and believe it is an artistic expression that goes beyond making a living. With that in mind, I will quote awarding winning director Jacky St. James:

“Sex at work can feel very good, but at the end of the day, it’s still work. There do not have to be emotions involved…and having sex with a variety of people does not invalidate what you feel for your partner. Most of the long-term, stable relationships in adult are between two individuals that possess a strong sense of self and can see their profession for what it is – a job.”

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A Spark of Activism

by Rich Moreland, July 2014

In her recent Huffington Post article “Why I Don’t Want Condoms: A Porn Performer’s Perspective,” Casey Calvert explains the irony of AB 1576, the condom legislation that will alter California’s porn production landscape should it become law. Casey argues that the bill would lessen her sexual well-being at work because its provisions are less rigorous than the current industry requirements. At present, she points out, the Free Speech Coalition’s Performer Availability Scheduling Services (PASS) updates an actor’s status and protects everyone by identifying those who are not cleared to shoot. The system is based on a fourteen-day protocol that tests for seven infections including HIV, gonorrhea, and Chlamydia.

Casey goes on to discuss the realities of condom use. The downside of lengthy penetrations can negatively affect female talent’s availability if condoms are required, a fact apparently ignored by Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Health Foundation. Friction creates soreness and irritated vaginal and anal corridors can limit a girl’s work schedule.

In her argument, Casey repeats what everyone connected with the business fears if AB 1576 becomes a legal reality. Some companies will go underground to avoid compliance while others will depart for friendlier confines (Las Vegas heading the list), or go out of business altogether.

Self-Explanatory Photo Courtesy of Casey Calver

Self-Explanatory!
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

It’s not so much what Casey has to say that is the attention-getter. Rather, it is what her article reveals about performers that could spell changes for the future.

Michael Weinstein’s machinations aimed at curtailing adult film production is a call to action. He has pushed to the industry to the wall and there are hints that moving forward in a political way is more than just a discussion board topic. The testimony against AB 1576 in Sacramento is an indication of what porn people can do when they demonstrate a modicum of organization.

Some performers with sex-positive feminist leanings—Casey, Nina Hartley, Tasha Reign, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, and Lorelei Lee to name a few—have never shied away from their political opinions. Now we have the addition of a delegation that recently visited the Compton offices of Assemblyman Isadore Hall, the bill’s sponsor. Led by Nina Hartley, the group, which included Alex Chance, Anikka Albright, Mia Li, and Charli Piper, made the performer case against AB 1576 to a staff aide representing Hall. The account of their appearance can be found here.

Performers are learning that activism is possible in an industry unaccustomed to touting its political side beyond the work of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC).

Incidentally, should AB 1576 become law, the studios may be forced to regard performers as employees rather than independent contractors. If defined as employees, porn talent would then have organizational options. How much of a political voice they can muster may determine outcomes that are beneficial to them.

Organization demands leadership and its vital components, intelligence and commitment. Performers are exploring that scenario now with a new entity, the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC). Using education as its tool, APAC has established worthy goals that include the creation of a safe, professional work environment and a knowledgeable, respected performer.

Will APAC consider a more formal direction in giving porn talent a greater voice? The discussion has come up before. Industry vets will remember performer, director, and producer Ona Zee and her support for unionization some years ago.

Of course, talk of formal organization is problematic in an industry that tends toward libertarianism; porn performers value their unwavering independence and in the end, APAC may amount to nothing. But the specter of Sacramento, with its rules and regs, now looms over everyone and unless there is a dramatic shift in direction, the future is going to demand greater political involvement.

With a law on the books enacted under the auspices of AB 1576, would not performers be better off with a strong organization that would exclusively represent them? How, for example, is the law to be enforced on the set, who takes the blame if condoms are ignored, and how would workman’s comp issues be handled?

Nina Hartley, who believes organization is a good thing, once told me in a moment of frustration that performers lack an institutional memory about the business. They often assume that the way things are now in adult film is the way they have always been. Some performers do seem to get it, however. Like the outspoken Casey Calvert, they can become powerful activists if they choose to explore that possibility.

Here’s an example of the attitude needed for success. Casey says in her article that if studios “stay in California and flaunt the law,” AB 1576 will result in unsafe working conditions. Underground production is the easiest way out and sets up a scenario in which testing protocol evaporates and a host of problems can arise, endangering everyone.

“We self-regulate very well right now, but that’s bound to fall apart if we have to do it in secret. I’m not going to work if I don’t feel safe,” she declares.

What a feisty Casey does not say is she’ll leave the industry and she is adamant that she’ll not shoot underground. The Florida native and others will fight for all porn performers and their spirit of activism, evident in Sacramento’s legislative halls and in online articles and social media, will take up residence in APAC.

Positive changes begin with a spark, an attitude, and almost always a fed-up person. Remember Norma Rae and Erin Brockovich? Porn women are just as gutsy.

*          *          *          *          *

Postscript

At the hearing from left to right, Sid, Owen Gray, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, Casey Calvert, and Lorelei Lee Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Performers making a statement by attending the hearing. From left to right:  Sid, Owen Gray, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, Casey Calvert, and Lorelei Lee
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

On the day of the Senate hearing, Casey and others from the industry appeared in the chamber to offer their views. Though each person was recognized, Casey reports, only designated speakers were allowed to make statements. The FSC’s Diane Duke and Kink.com-based performer and director Lorelei Lee presented arguments against the bill; the remaining interested parties were allowed a brief individual moment.

“We all got a chance to go up to the microphone, but all we were allowed to say was our name and that we oppose,” Casey states. As for the other side, “There were some people there to support the bill, but not as many as we had,” she adds. “The oddest one was Jessie Rodgers, who was literally in tears because she got herpes on set.”

Casey later mentions that herpes is “fairly common” in the industry and is often considered a “nothing disease” whose danger is hyped by drug companies. “It can’t hurt you at all,” she says and questions why Jessie was so over-the-top about it.

Former performers Sophia Delgado and Cameron Bay endorsed the bill along with Jessie Rogers, whose personal view on AB 1576 and the industry abuses she perceives harms all porn talent can be found here.

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An Air of the Extraordinary

Annie Sprinkle, Gloria Leonard, Veronica Vera, Veronica Hart, Candida Royalle. Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

by Rich Moreland, June 2012

In mid-June Amtrak took me north to New York City for day trip. I haven’t visited the Big Apple since its transition to the “gentrified” New York. My last remembrance of the city was walking to Times Square with a couple of my buddies, looking for smut shops while avoiding the winos, druggies, and other assorted street people. That was a few decades ago.

This excursion to Manhattan was not a whim; it was book related and by invitation. I was accompanied by a friend and colleague in academia who doubles as my photographer. If nothing else, I’m assured of good pics  if my writing fails to capture the scene.

In 2008, I discovered the apparent contradiction that feminism and adult film are bedfellows (or bed sisters) in an industry that is patriarchal to the core. Deciding to chronicle this odd combination, I first wanted to know what other historians, journalists, and commentators had to say on the subject. At every turn in my research, the name “Club 90” came up. Scholarly paths pointed back to this circle of five women, actresses in adult film when acting was valued and expected.

On a cool and rainy June evening in mid-town Manhattan, the Museum of Sex on 27th Street paid homage to this venerated “club.” The museum is a storefront with a basement bar and an upper floor gallery. On this night the upstairs contained a long table and folding chairs neatly arranged into a relatively cramped space. Everything was ready for a panel discussion featuring these “Golden Girls of Porn,” as the event was labeled.

Josh and I made an effort to arrive early. I had communicated with all of the ladies individually, but up to this moment I had met only two in person, Annie Sprinkle and Veronica Hart. Gloria Leonard and Candida Royalle were telephone voices to me and Veronica Vera was an email correspondence and a postal address.

The women were “stars” in the “porno chic” days of the 1970’s when 35 mm film reigned and the big screen was where sex came alive. Adult movies demanded dialogue and plot to compliment the cinematography. Making a good picture required location and days of shooting. Nowadays porn films are cranked out quickly and, with some exceptions, very little style. Needless to say, there is rarely an aspiring actress in sight. But the seasoned Club 90 performers were blessed, if that can be said in pornography. They worked for some of adult film’s noted early directors like Radley Metzger, Gerard Damiano, and Joe Sarno, true artists who considered movie-making to be a craft. A sense of panache and acting ability was requisite.

As the “porno chic” days wound down, the five were transitioning away from being on camera. There were reasons: the HIV menace was one, while marriage and family became another. In short, they were getting on with their lives.  They organized a mutual support group to ease through the changes and named it after the address of Annie’s Manhattan apartment where their initial get together took place. Over the years, their collective friendship has endured.

By sheer happenstance I broke into their group. I attended one of Annie’s university speaking engagements and later sent an inquiry to Feminists for Free Expression which resulted in a surprise email from Candida. That began three years of correspondence with the group that formed the linchpin of my research.

Stealing Moments Before the Show

I got a big hug from Gloria Leonard before the gala began. She is classy (an overused word, I know) and a butt-kicker through her devotion to the political principles she holds dear. She also is the group’s grand dame. Gloria entered the adult business in her late thirties, much like the Club’s dear friend and another of porn’s venerable ladies, Georgina Spelvin. Working in adult paid better than nine to five, Gloria later told the audience, a bonus because she had a daughter to support.

A Hug From Gloria
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Gloria has her views and the personality to back them. She and I have a mutual acquaintance in the adult biz, Bill Margold, who has his own set of notions about the history of adult film. Bill has told me much about Gloria. He adores her and I can see why. She has a political conscience in an industry that often lacks ethical behavior, and she cares about performer health and welfare. Her position on safer sex in the infamous 1998 HIV scare is a testimony to her concern for the industry. As President of the Free Speech Coalition, the political wing of the business, Gloria got funding for the start-up of Adult Industry Medical (AIM) so that talent could be more secure health wise on the job.

Reminding the audience that defending free speech is important to everyone, Gloria believes in the principle that “no one should tell you what to watch or hear.” Her words raised a bright round of applause.

I also stole a moment to impose on Candida Royalle to say “hello” face-to-face. Phone conversations and emails are not foreign to us and her support for my work is appreciated more than she will know. Like Gloria, Candida brought an air of the extraordinary to the room. Both women were elegantly and conservatively dressed as if they planned to attend a charity bizarre . . . at the country club, of course . . . sponsored by the ladies auxiliary. But the country club set could never imagine the elegance that comes from Candida. She is an industry luminary of the first order and has no parallel. She runs her own production company, FEMME, out of New York and specializes in woman-friendly erotica and couples porn. To suggest that Candida is a ground breaker in adult film erotica is a mammoth understatement. She not only turned the soil, she constructed the edifice that is feminist pornography, though I know she shudders with my use of that word; erotica is her preference. In the initial Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto years ago, Candida was the first honored. That’s what it means to be a living legend.

Chatting with Candida before showtime!
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Candida told the audience that during her acting days she felt “ambivalence about being in adult movies” and was “conflicted” about what the impact might be in her life. Seeking therapy, she learned the value of self-analysis and decided that there was nothing wrong with performing in adult film. A woman’s voice was what the adult product lacked. Candida vowed to correct that perception and make pictures for women. It was fortuitous timing. The arrival of home video provided a safe place for women to view porn, she said, and a market was birthed.

Annie Sprinkle was her usual loving self when I renewed acquaintances with her. Annie’s career as a sex worker and lover of men, women, and transpersons is too vast and complex to even attempt to summarize here. I was honored to interview Annie in her home (we sat in the kitchen and enjoyed some iced tea) on a visit to San Francisco a couple of years ago.

No Tragic Endings Here

Annie was the lead-off hitter in the panel line-up. When everyone was finally seated, she mentioned that many people have the widely accepted belief that porn stars have “tragic endings.” “They don’t know us!” she said with her typical high spirits. During her brief remarks, people continued to trickle in; the shortage of chairs turned the event into SRO. I don’t know how many the museum planned for but attendance must have exceeded expectations. And, not every face in the crowd was an old friend or admirer. There were a number of young people who perhaps were looking to understand the past through a vision of the present.

Annie after the show.
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

In the opening moments of the discussion, Annie put the almost thirty years of Club 90 in perspective when she declared her time in porn has been an “amazing journey” and her goal is to keep it rolling. “I want to get to fifty years in sex!” she said with the innocence and playfulness of a flower child whose years have been spent pleasing and being pleased.

Annie carries the mien of San Francisco’s hippie past. Her leopard print floor length gown reminded me that Annie’s performance art, and that of her club sister Veronica Vera, is studied in academia.

Veronica Vera had expedited my research by sending valuable documents my way. She, like Gloria, was intensely political in her younger days. When we briefly spoke, I imagined what it must have been like for her to testify before the 1984 Senate Committee investigating adult film. The Reagan administration was going after porn as harm to women and the industry was under siege. Veronica recalled the now famous bondage photo she showed Senator Arlen Specter on that October day. The picture is a historical precursor of modern day BDSM performance art that has captured the imagination of a sexually marginalized community.

Veronica got into the adult business through famed photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. She told the audience she had worked on Wall Street then “decided to take an honest job” and went into adult entertainment.

Her wedding was the catalyst for this reunion, the group’s first in seventeen years.

As the event was breaking up, I finally got a chance to embrace Veronica Hart. Her 1983 baby shower brought the ladies together for the first time. I visited with Veronica in Las Vegas a few months ago and know her on a more personal level than the others. She is the youngster of the group and is considered one of the great beauties ever to grace adult film.

Veronica showing her big HeART!
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Except for a retired Gloria Leonard who now lives in Hawai`i, the women remain active in the adult world. Veronica Hart works in her hometown at Vegas’ Erotic Heritage Museum. She still directs in L.A. and keeps close tabs on the adult business. Candida Royalle continues with FEMME and has branched out into an adult product line, distributing through Adam and Eve, a Phil Harvey enterprise in North Carolina.

Annie Sprinkle and her partner, Beth Stephens, are expanding their venture into ecosex,  “a subject matter or identity,” Annie explains, that moves beyond a performance art. “We are . . . excosexual aritsts,” she says, exploring “a new area of research” that delves into “places where sexology and ecology intersect in art, theory, practice, and activism.”

If that sounds intellectual, it is. Beth, who moderated the event, is finishing her Ph.D. which will make two in the family as Annie already has hers.  Incidentally,  she is the first porn star gain such status. Sharon Mitchell, an old friend of Club 90 and long time director of AIM, is the second.

The fifth member, Veronica Vera, runs her own school for cross dressers, “Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls” located in New York. The studio where many of her events take place is on 54th Street. Veronica’s program is for males and transpeople who want to challenge gender barriers and get in touch with their feminine side. Working with transpersons is a value shared with Annie. (I recommend Shannon Bell’s Reading, Writing, and Rewriting the Prostitute Body [1994] for an account of Club 90’s Franklin Furnace stage show in 1984 and Annie and Veronica’s performance art.)

With the evening winding down and attendees milling about, I allowed my imagination to have some fun. Among the audience were acquaintances of Club 90 who had been involved in adult film industry. Observing some of them reunite with the five in conversation, I mentally turned the clock back 30 years, erasing the nasty joke that time plays on all of us: age, something the young firmly believe will never happen to them. I fancied everyone in just such a room, setting up for a porn shoot: director, P.A.s, grips, and cameramen, hustling around with perhaps a make-up artist adding some final touches to faces destined to be hardened in a tough business.

In those early days of the modern adult film era, the business was east coast oriented. New York was home for Club 90. This Manhattan evening wrapped itself around them and their friendships with memories treasured. In the midst of skyscrapers and traffic punctuated with the ubiquitous New York cabbies, the affair had a small town feel and I was honored to have been invited.

When Josh and I headed back to the train station, the rain pelted ever hectic New Yorkers scurrying under umbrellas to get from here to there. The scene itself was a stage, a piece of living history, illuminated by lights embedded in mist and shrouded in the past.

———————

If you visit the Museum of Sex on the corner of 27th and 5th Avenue, consider in a quick snack across the street at Naturally Tasty. Ask for Magdalena. She’s service with a smile.

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