A still from The Naked Feminist

A still from The Naked Feminist, a documentary directed by Louisa Achille. Louisa Achille

Click here to read In The Fray‘s interview with Christi Lake, one of the subjects of The Naked Feminist.

What inspired you to make the documentary?

I became inspired to make The Naked Feminist after reading a magazine article on the famous porn star, Nina Hartley, declaring her feminist sensibilities and strengths as a sex entertainer and educator — a career spanning over seventeen years. I wanted to know if Nina was a rare exception in this male-dominated industry.

Feminism‚ is a somewhat contentious term that different people define in different ways. From your film, I get the sense that you define it in terms of being empowered and in control of oneself. Would you say that’s a pretty accurate characterization of your definition?

I think feminism for many women means different things, but for me it is essentially about choice and giving women a voice. I think once a woman has her voice and can make choices for herself, then empowerment, self-identity, and courage will follow.

Why did you choose the particular actresses you used in your film? They seem like a fairly close-knit group, which I found very interesting. It made the pornography film industry seem much smaller than I imagined.

It was important for me to interview women who had a number of years experience in the industry so I could gauge the progress (or lack of progress) women had made in the adult entertainment industry.

Once I met Jane Hamilton and read about CLUB 90, I became completely inspired by this group of renegade female sex performers. They had created the first porn-star support group for women. They have not only created a strong sisterhood amongst themselves, but [they] also have become incredible mentors and role models to other women in the industry. I consider these women to be the first feminists in the industry, and of course their voices are a crucial element in a film depicting feminist sensibilities within the world of adult entertainment. Nina Hartley, Sharon Mitchell, and Christi Lake [have] all made incredible strides within the industry – Nina as a sex radical, performer, educator, and mentor, Sharon cofounding the first medical clinic devoted to the health and emotional needs of people in the industry, and Christi through her political activism and entrepreneurial insight.

All industries are much smaller and [more] tightly knit than they seem, and this is fairly evident once you start working within mainstream Hollywood, and similarly with the adult entertainment industry — especially within the same country. However, I think it is even more so with the adult entertainment industry, as the people within that industry have been under attack from legislators, the government, and the public far more than any other industry, and thus have banded together to fight for freedom of speech and other essential rights such as freedom of expression.

The adult entertainment industry is also an industry where the performers, especially the women, are breaking one of the biggest taboos a woman can break — that is, having sex on camera for money … Since only a small percentage of women enter into this occupation, they are going to get to know each other, and some will form bonds.

There is a peculiar absence of men in your film — aside from Seymour Butts — even though men are an integral component of the porn industry as both producers and consumers. The absence of men in The Naked Feminist seems to be a smart stylistic move to depict women as the agents of the porn industry and their stories. Did you consider interviewing other men besides Seymour, and if so, why are they not included in the edited version of the film? And what is so special about Seymour that caused him to make the cut?

I interviewed a number of men — journalists, directors, writers, and performers in the adult entertainment industry — and they were included in every cut except for my final cut … I made this film to give women in the industry a voice, and I didn’t want to lose sight of that. Thus, if a woman spoke about a similar experience or point of view as a man [I interviewed], I chose to keep [it] in the woman’s voice. This film is about [the women in the pornography industry] and their experiences, not the men’s. Even though I do consider [the men’s] viewpoints and experiences to also be incredibly valid, they essentially didn’t belong in this film.

Seymour Butts has one big specialty, in my opinion. No, only joking. The reason I was so interested in keeping Seymour in the film was because of his huge female fan base. Even though his main target audience is men, he has all these women that love him and his porn films. When you go to the big adult entertainment conventions, it is always astounding to see the number of women — of all ages and nationalities — waiting to get autographs from him. It was nice to illustrate this role reversal and disprove the right-wing feminist mantra that no women like pornography.

I noticed that The Naked Feminist doesn’t explicitly address homosexuality and lesbian erotica. However, from what I have read, queer porn is particularly important for women and men who are questioning their sexuality or who are insecure about being involved with members of the same sex. Do you think there is any particular reason why your film ended up having a heterosexual slant?

I don’t think The Naked Feminist explicitly addresses heterosexual erotica either, but you are right, that it is the main genre of pornography that is delved into. That is mainly because heterosexual pornography is the most popular and most historic type of pornography out there. But this was not at all intentional. I did not look at sexual orientation when I made this film.  I was more interested in the female sexual pioneers and entrepreneurs who had made an impact on the industry and made working conditions for women better, or who were making strides in today’s mainstream porn world. There are so many subgenres in pornography, and I am sure that many women and men are empowered by the different types. However, that discussion is, I believe, for another film…. I would like to add that many of the women interviewed are gay, bisexual, polysexual, and heterosexual. A wonderful mix, really.

Your documentary argues that some pornography is, in fact, misogynistic and that such films are not the type of porn that the women you interviewed condone. How can one differentiate between misogynistic and nonmisogynistic porn? The presence of violence? Consent (or the lack thereof)? Women both in front of and behind the camera? Or just the gut reaction of women involved in the film?

Subjectivity, taste, and consent will always creep into discussions regarding pornography, and especially pornography and misogyny. I don’t think there is one exact definition of misogynist porn, and I don’t think there is a subgenre [that] supports it. However, when I was making this film, I did encounter a disturbing trend in the industry to push the boundaries of sexual violence towards women as far as possible. I think this is mainly a knee-jerk shock tactic to gain notoriety in the business, and it might possibly exist as a backlash against the positive strides that women have made in the industry.  I don’t believe that the companies making this stuff represent the industry as a whole. However, the fact that this type of material (e.g., women being beaten to a pulp whilst being gang-raped, made to vomit whilst giving oral [sex], and [being] punched around the head) is being produced saddens me, and in my opinion, it is misogynist, as it is illustrating a hatred towards women.

Do you sense some urgency to disrupt the taboo associated with pornography in general, or is your goal merely to enable the women you interviewed to speak their stories and perspectives? What is it that you seek to contribute to the ongoing dialogue regarding sex and sexuality in Western culture (if anything)?

I made The Naked Feminist to give the women in pornography a voice. To me, the film is less about breaking down the taboo associated with pornography and more about breaking down the taboo associated with women who chose to be sexual educators and entertainers. When a man chooses to work in pornography, he is rarely viewed as being exploited or objectified. In reality, the money shot and the penis are the most objectified aspects of the genre.  I really think it is time to get rid of this antiquated double standard.

What, if anything, do you hope to contribute to the independent film industry with The Naked Feminist? Is there anything you hope other filmmakers (adult entertainment or otherwise) will take from seeing your film?  Is there anything you hope viewers will take from seeing it?

I would like to contribute tolerance and acceptance to the [feminist] movement. It would be nice if some of the dominant women’s groups would accept these women’s choices, help them to change the system, and make it safer for women instead of denying them their voice and validity.

Click here to read In The Fray‘s interview with Christi Lake, one of the subjects of Achille’s documentary.

UPDATE, 3/8/13: Edited and moved story from our old site to the current one.

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