Last week, I attended the 34th annual AVN Awards and Expo. I learned a lot on this venture (good and bad), but one of the most compelling yet disheartening lessons I learned was just how racist the porn industry has been and continues to be.
This lesson came courtesy of a seminar hosted by a diverse panel of adult actors and actresses — including Lexington Steele, Sean Michaels, Nyomi Banxxx, Kristina Rose, Cindy Starfall, India and Alexander DeVoe — who each spoke to their own individual experiences in the adult industry.
Here are some of the most important issues you should know about people of color in porn:
Ethnic actors are often hired because they can't afford white ones.
“You should be happy at the rate you're getting paid as a black woman,” Banxxx recalled being told by her agent early in her career.
It's no secret blonde, white women are treated as the pornographic ideal. But just how poorly black women are treated in the industry is harrowing, to say the least.
Later in the seminar, Banxxx cited that white newcomers almost always out-earn black veterans. Not only that, but their opportunities will also surely outnumber those of black women.
Because of this, ethnic actors are often hired because there wasn't enough room in the budget to hire another premium-paid, white actress.
Actors routinely walk off sets because their roles are racist representations.
White directors and producers outnumber those of color as well. So when ethnic roles are written, they're written by clueless white people.
AVN Hall of Fame member Sean Michaels mentions there have been many instances where he's walked off set because his character was offensively written.
“I was almost always the token black guy for comedic purposes,” he said, visibly angry. “I'm all for stereotypes because I think they can be helpful, but when that stereotype gets derogatory, that's when I draw the line.”
India pointed out how the talent is often tricked into signing contracts before the film has been given an official title, so when the box is placed on shelves, they're confronted with a derogatory title, like “Black Bitches 2” or something of that nature.
As she gained notoriety as an actress in the industry, however, she declared she wouldn't sign a contract unless the title had already been established. If it hadn't, she would walk off, encouraging others to follow her.
Unfortunately, she added, most actors and actresses need the money and walking off set isn't an option.
Ethnic films are given incredibly modest budgets.
Despite interracial porn being one of the more popular categories in recent years, their budgets don't reflect this insight.
“You give a title a C budget, it's going to get a C review. You can't expect an A return,” Steele said of the industry's unwillingness to invest in black productions.
He insisted this is one of the main reasons ethnic productions remain stagnant in sales and notoriety, as the product is not given the same budgets and opportunities as other mainstream films.
Cultural representation is not a priority.
Cultural appropriation is nothing new in porn.
“I've played Asian; I've played Indian; I've played Latina; I've played them all,” Kristina Rose (who is white and Latina) said of her particular experience in the industry.
She added, “Hell, I've showed up on set, and they've tossed a bindi on me.”
When she announced she's Latina, Banxxx interrupted, saying, “I had no idea you were Latina.” The two chuckled at this, but it's something that points toward something much more concerning: Ethnic actresses can't even play their own race on camera because they're overlooked in favor of racially ambiguous caucasian women.
Scenes are only called "interracial" when white women are involved.
Now, this is wild.
When Banxxx (who is black) shoots a sex scene with a white man, apparently, it isn't considered interracial by porn standards. But when a white actress shoots a scene with a black man, it then becomes interracial.
So basically, "interracial," a term intended to be inclusive of race, is only applied when a white actress is involved. This, in and of itself, proves how ignorant the industry is about race.
Only one black adult film actor can be popular.
One thing all the panelists agreed on was that, unlike white performers, only one black actor or actress is allowed in the limelight at any given time.
Fortunately for the panelists, they were the lucky performers who got to be recognized, despite how many talented and deserving actors/actresses (who they mentioned by name) fell by the wayside.
Online search terms further perpetuate racism in the industry.
The keywords porn viewers use to search for videos online is further perpetuating racism within the industry. For example, whenever you type in “thug” or something else of that nature, videos featuring black performers pop up in spades.
While ethnic actors would love to get away from this, the truth of the matter is, they understand keywords like these sells videos. It's a double-edged sword.
What's worse is, despite all of the hardships detailed in the seminar, these performers are considered the lucky ones. The panel urged that we, the media, do our best to educate the uneducated regarding racism within the industry.
What we need to do as spectators of pornography is give the industry no other choice than to embrace more ethnic actors and productions. We can do this by introducing ourselves to ethnic talent both new and old, and voicing our collective appetites for more diverse adult entertainment.
But perhaps most important of all, we must educate ourselves on the injustices of the entertainment we consume, so as to not further perpetuate this racist behavior.
It's 2017 and, in spite of recent events, we should aim to unite the divided rather than further divide.