Tag Archives: Pornography Feminism

The Meaning of Consent: Tasha Reign

by Rich Moreland, March 2016

Tasha Reign is an outspoken pornography feminist whose political voice is ever present. Having entered adult film in 2010 at age twenty-one, she finds time to write about the industry, most recently for the Huffington Post, and when the opportunity arises, to crossover into independent film. We talked at the 2016 Adult Entertainment Expo.

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“The situation with James and Stoya is very good for our industry, and also for every industry, because it has enabled a discussion that I don’t think would be there otherwise.”

Those are the words of Tasha Reign. We are sitting in the AVN media room at Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel.

Women’s Rights

Tasha believes Stoya has demonstrated great courage in speaking out [about her abuse] and reminds us she isn’t “the only woman who has had that happen to her and not had her voice heard.”

However, Stoya’s industry status renders her “a privileged person,” Tasha admits. In fact, James Deen’s former girlfriend is also “a celebrity” outside adult film.

“She’s educated, smart, well-spoken, and has a strong voice,” Tasha says.

Though Stoya’s fame helps to channel her message, consent remains a broader issue for sex worker and women’s rights. It’s something men must address.

“We live in a society based around patriarchy,” Tasha insists, which she wants to fight by speaking up all women.

Within the adult film industry, having sex on camera does not diminish performers or the rights that they have, she says. But not everyone gets the point “and that is why so many women have not spoken out.”

For her part, this formally educated professional has taken on the activist mantle to support women.

Tasha during our interview

Tasha during our interview

The Line is Blurry

When she began her venture into porn, Tasha Reign signed with LA Direct Models, a well-known talent agency. Good representation can guide a career and fortunately the native Californian has avoided any Stoya-like situations.

But, her limits on the set have been “crossed in ways that were more subtle.”

“Sometimes it’s difficult to identify when they happen,” she says. “It’s something you think later, ‘Wait, maybe this should have been more professional.'”

Those experiences have influenced the choices Tasha has made in moving her business pursuits forward.

“Whether I have somebody with me at all time at AVN like my security over there (she nods at a blue-suited gentleman sitting just to our right whose presence is meant to leave an impression) or whether it’s shooting for myself, I want to control every aspect of [my career].”

For the record, Tasha owns Reign Productions, writing and directing her own content.

She reiterates what others have told me. Talent should be educated about what to expect in adult entertainment.

“I think it would be great to put out a website where new performers can go and [learn] ‘Oh, this is how porn works. I am the boss. I call all the shots. Nobody should be crossing lines on the set.”

To underscore how important this is, Tasha adds, “Nobody should be grabbing you and nobody should be having sex after you say ‘stop’ even if you consented prior to that.”

“But for some reason, I have no idea why, that line is blurry,” Tasha says. “It’s not blurry to me and it’s not blurry to any woman.”

Own Your Choices

Fair enough, so what should everyone know about shooting sex and consent?

“Sometimes when you perform, you’re going to push your limits. You might be doing anal for the first time or a DP on camera and you’ve never done that before,” Tasha begins.

Referencing that her on-camera episodes may not be what her personal life is about, the UCLA grad concedes she had to learn to “slow-down” the action.

Communication is important.

Sex is a power exchange and is not fun if you have equal power, she believes. “That’s okay. What’s not okay is when you say ‘no’ and they continue. That’s rape.”

It’s a “fine line,” Tasha admits, and “male talent, if they crossed limits” may “not even realize that’s the situation.” So, awareness is also important.

Tasha generalizes the circumstances to civilians, suggesting that in the work place men might “hug their co-worker or put their hand on their waist or smack them on the butt in a playful, friendly manner they might do with a friend.”

She doesn’t understand “how they would feel that [type of behavior] would be okay.”

To illustrate her point, Tasha comments on the message she sends her fans when standing with them for photographs. It’s particularly applicable this week since we are at the industry’s major trade show.

“I’ll have someone tell them they must have their hands at their side. There’s no touching whatsoever. I will pose around you because that’s what I feel comfortable with.”

However, though she is comfortable with her boundaries, Tasha does not mean to restrict another girl might find appealing.

“I think that if a woman wants to have a gang bang with an entire football team . . . or if she wants her friends to grab her” that’s her choice and “you have to own your choices and be conscious about what you’re doing.”

Tasha during our 2014 interview

Tasha after our talk at the 2014 AEE

A Feminist Can Love Pornography

Tasha Reign points out a misconception the public has about adult film which she believes stems from a lack of “media literacy.”

Often people don’t understand that what they see in a sex scene is consensual among the talent, particularly if the shoot is rough. It appears the woman is being abused.

In particular, this is often the opinion of anti-porn feminists who know nothing about adult film. They conclude the scene was rape, when that is not the case, and, worst yet, never bother to talk with the models to get the real story.

“You can’t judge a consensual sex scene just because it was a rough scene. That’s not the way sex [in the industry] works,” Tasha states.

On the other hand, there is a bright side. “You can be a feminist and still love pornography and sex work,” Tasha declares, then turns her attention to an ongoing paradox that has politically agitated feminism for years.

“How in the world could you [as a feminist] condone having women make choices but then say they can’t have the choice to have sex for money? It makes no sense.”

As our allotted minutes run out, the performer/writer/producer/director follows up with one of her pet peeves.

“People like to scapegoat porn. If there’s anything they can put on you, they will. It’s always baffling to me. I’ll never get used to it. Jessica Drake in a panel this last week said, ‘You know what? Now that I’m older I realize it says so much more about them than it does about me.'”

Smiling, Tasha Reign concludes.

“And it’s one hundred percent true.”

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You can follow Tasha on twitter and visit her website here.

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Sexual Destiny: Ela Darling, Part One

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.

Ela Darling during our interview. Photo courtesy 3hattergrindhouse.com

Ela Darling during our interview.
Photo courtesy 3hattergrindhouse.com

Personal Independence

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.

Ela on AVN Red Carpet, 2015. Photo courtesy of Ela Darling

Ela on the AVN Red Carpet, 2015.
Photo courtesy of Ela Darling and industrybyrick.com

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.”

A Harry Potter fan, but not a stuffy librarian1 Photo courtesy of mxp photography.

A Harry Potter fan, but not a stuffy librarian!
Photo courtesy of mxp photography and Ela Darling

“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
StarFactoryPR.com

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Deeper into Their Fantasies

By Rich Moreland, December 2012

“I’ve failed miserably,” Christian Mann says with a smile. He’s referring to his lack of success in predicting what his boss, John Stagliano, will like in a project. That may be so, I don’t doubt, but Christian’s name in the porn universe is almost as well-known as his that of his employer. He’s the general manager of Evil Angel Productions, one of the dynamic names in adult entertainment.

Christian Mann Photo by Bill Knight

Christian Mann
Photo by Bill Knight

We’re in his office in Van Nuys, part of the greater Los Angeles area. The space is nicely appointed and part of a small facility tucked away among identical storefronts common in today’s ubiquitous industrial parks. “E.A. Productions” is printed over the glass enclosed entrance. The casual visitor is hard-pressed to recognize that this unassuming location houses an industry mover and shaker.

Inside there’s a small waiting area; a receptionist sits behind a window-like opening equipped with a sliding glass front. Typical office waiting room, all that is missing is a clipboard so I could check ‘new patient’ since this is my first visit.

A couple of perky young women are busy around the receptionist’s seat on this day. My guess is they probably shoot a few scenes for the studio and pick up steadier bucks answering the phone and greeting visitors. If not, it’s an entertaining thought.

Unlike most professionals I know, Christian is prompt, coming into the waiting room to greet Bill, my photographer, and me. Very cool. Visits to financial gurus and lawyers often involve secretaries leading the way; for doctors, it’s always a nurse. No third party here. Porn people are hands on and laid back, all puns intended.

Folk Appeal

Evil Angel is the brainchild of John Stagliano who, some twenty plus years ago, patented an artistic and innovative style of filmed pornography called gonzo, a topic I’ve written about previously. John is a genius and highly respected in the business.

A note on gonzo is in order here. It’s an adult film genre in which a movie is a series of somewhat disconnected scenes focused on the sex taking place before the camera. In a sense, it’s a modernized version of the old loop. A storyline is essentially vacant, though some of John’s signature “Buttman” series have a loose narrative base. In gonzo, the sex is the reason for the shoot unlike other approaches that work the sex into the narrative. For Evil Angel, the sex is never an “add on,” to quote Christian. Though this concept may appear overly simplistic, it has made the company into a recognized brand name.

Christian elaborates on the Stagliano philosophy. The sex is greater than “the storyline or the production values,” he says. That is not to say Evil Angel eschews these components, they just aren’t starting points. Two movies in a feature film format, The Fashionistas and Voracious, are “very intense when it comes to those elements,” Christian points out. For example, Voracious is episodic, centers on a vampire theme, and is shot in Europe where the sex is edgier than the American consumer is accustomed to seeing. Stateside, a degree of prudery still reigns. Using a serial format, Voracious turns the soil (always pleasing to vampire lovers) for a new and interesting approach to filmed pornography.

Courtesy of Evil Angel Proudctions

Courtesy of Evil Angel Productions

Courtesy Evil Angel Productions

Courtesy of Evil Angel Productions

Christian emphasizes the heart of the matter once again, hammering home the stake of truth that keeps the Evil Angel model moving forward. “Our movies always start with the sex because that’s what people [the consumers] are first and foremost wanting,” he says.

In defining the Evil Angel operation, Christian emphasizes that the company welcomes diversity. John Stagliano does not “mandate a certain point of view” though the “common thread” of sex first remains. Company directors have a free hand, Christian says, but “John has to like it” which means that boring sex dies on the cutting room floor.

Within a few minutes of talking with Christian Mann, two words jump out: charm and intelligence. He’s no stranger to adult entertainment having been involved in the business for over thirty years. Video, production, sales, marketing, he’s had a hand in all aspects of the pornographer’s trade. Christian got his start working a summer job for his father who was in the print segment of adult entertainment. Eventually Christian’s psychology major paid off as his early years in the business were in marketing. Owning an adult film company was down the road as was a bout with the government over obscenity. But like many of adult film’s historically important people, Christian Mann is stilling trucking.

Along with his current position, Christian sits on the board of the Free Speech Coalition, the industry’s political wing. He has a libertarian heart like his boss. Both have fought censorship battles in the courts.

I’m interested in Christian’s view on the popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey literary trilogy. Now that the bondage fetish is collecting devotees, is the company jumping on the BDSM bandwagon as it journeys through the market bizarre of porn? He is definitive: Evil Angel prefers not to respond to the market.

Once again, Christian returns to the company mantra. It’s unlikely John will react enthusiastically to a project if he’s simply told “it’s going to sell,” Christian states. (He’s personally made that mistake a couple of times. That’s where the prediction failures add up.)  Rather, it is John’s personal belief in the product’s quality that establishes the company’s image. Attaching a well-known name (performer or director) to a project’s sales pitch, for example, is no guarantee it will gain traction with the boss.

Of course, if a product with the Evil Angel name generates a profit, all the better. In that case, “the market just happens to agree with him,” Christian says. But there is an underlying secret at work. John has “folk appeal,” Christian reveals, an intuitive understanding of what people want.

I have no doubt that is true. The company’s red logo shouts quality and tradition. But I also contend that John Stagliano shapes the market. Like Vivid Entertainment’s Steve Hirsch, Wicked Pictures’ Steve Orenstein, and Kink.com’s Peter Acworth, the Stagliano name creates sales. In a pensive moment, Christian concludes, “John is the market.” I could not agree more.

Gender Blind

Among the reasons I’ve come to Evil Angel is to talk feminism in porn. We quickly agree that Fifty Shades of Grey and BDSM have opened another door into the female empowerment arena.

E.A. has a stable of directors who own their content and distribute through the company. Among the team are two active legends, Belladonna and Bobbi Starr. John Stagliano is “gender blind” in his hiring practices and some of Evil Angel’s “hardest stuff” comes from these women, Christian says.

Though I’ve never had the opportunity to converse with Belladonna, I know Bobbi. She’s talked about her struggle to become a director. John gave her that opportunity, as he did with another well-known feminist filmmaker named Tristan Taormino, who refers to him as the Steven Spielberg of porn. Bobbi has not disappointed the company, she is hard core to the core in what she likes to put on film. Incidentally, the 2013 Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas are close at hand and Bobbi Starr is among the nominees for both Female Performer of the Year and Best Director, a result of hard work and a personal belief in her own creativity.

Christian comments about projects both women have to their credit. “If you didn’t know it was a female directing it, you would think it’s a guy” casting women in a submissive role, he says. Belladonna and Bobbi deliberately capture the male gonzo point of view and then contradictorily take possession of it, a characteristic of what I call pornography feminism.

But is this feminism in Christian’s view? Yes, he affirms, and goes on to suggest that E.A. directors “who are interested in dominance and role-play” reflect a modern porn POV that puts women in charge of the on screen sex. He mentions one male director who often shoots “high art bondage” and though the viewer might get the impression that he dislikes women, female performers “love working for him.”  In fact, it is often the women who “push the envelope;” in other words, female subjugation on film is often driven by the women themselves.

The upshot is a “new prototype of performer,” Christian asserts, who relishes working for female directors “trying to out hard core each other.” There is a downside to this scenario, he concedes, the sex can deteriorate into “acrobatics” that are devoid of creativity.  Finding balance is not always easy.

Christian understands the erotic perspectives of new century women. They are claiming ownership of their sexuality, refusing “to be told how they’re supposed to behave sexually,” he says. They’re insisting that their boundaries be expanded; they want to go “deeper” into their fantasies and this adventure includes the submissive and dominant sides of the role play.

In short, BDSM is now an “equal opportunity” playing field, Christian asserts, that gives women choices with an added benefit: accessorizing. In his analysis, that may be Fifty Shades’ real attraction. The story shines a light on “something that has existed for a while now,” he points out, the fascination with fetishes and role-play that gives permission to have fun with the attire, the leather, and the bondage gear. For reference, take a peek at a trailer for The Fashionistas or Voracious. Once again, Evil Angel is a step ahead of this curve.

Christian reviews what everyone secretly knows but few outside of the porn world act out. “A lot of sex fantasy is about power, role-reversal,” he says, emphasizing that men can be submissive to female dominance. Something, I might add, that many anti-porn people don’t take time to consider because they are lost in their monomaniacal vision that porn is violence against women.

“Part of a woman’s empowerment,” Christian explains, “and part of the modern woman owning her own sexuality includes the right to express herself”‘ in any role she might want. In relating the Fifty Shades phenomenon, Christian postulates, “When modern women are given the right to choose, they are frequently choosing to be submissive.”

A Final Shot Before We Head OutPhoto by Bill Knight

A Final Shot Before We Head Out
Photo by Bill Knight

Christian Mann’s conversational intensity is speeding the time away and before long his agenda demands attention. We’ve gone way over the time he allowed for me, I’m sure. But I can’t leave without a final inquiry. I ask Christian for a personal vision.

He sees himself as moving Evil Angel through changing times. Most important is keeping the erotic experience for the consumer at its highest level and the best way to do that is to market a quality product.

The philosophy of John Stagliano is everywhere inside this inconspicuous storefront.

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