TPM Cafe: Opinion

The Deep Class Issues Hidden In An Explosive New Doc About Amateur Porn


“Without the Internet, I probably would have just looked for an out-of-state job [or] go to school,” Tressa says.

Now the former high school cheerleader is Stella May, an amateur porn star and one of the stars of Hot Girls Wanted, a new documentary about the steady stream of 18- to 21-year-olds trying their hand at amateur pornography.

Most laypeople (or even avid porn fans) will have never heard of Stella May or her co-stars/temporary besties Ava Taylor, Brooklyn Daniels and Lucy Tyler. But they may have heard of Belle Knox, arguably the country’s most famous amateur porn star.

Knox, whose real name is Miriam Weeks, became famous after her fellow Duke University students found her porn scenes online. She subsequently wrote about her experience and appeared on television, and her story has always been: I can’t afford Duke’s tuition bill, so I work in porn.

But the girls of Hot Girls Wanted are nothing like the socially acceptable tale of porn star Belle Knox. These girls aren’t trying to go to college. For the moment, at least, these girls aren’t interested in any version of the middle-class dream. They’re actively rejecting it.

“I don’t want to go to college, meet someone in college and marry them, stay in my hometown, have a bunch of kids and then die there,” Rachel, aka Ava Taylor, explains in the doc. “I make $900 in five hours. I’m going to go home and make $8.25 an hour? No. No, no, no, no.”

The girls of Hot Girls Wanted have done some of the same scenes as Belle Knox, but they will never have the same platform to tell their stories. Barbara Walters & Co. are not grilling the girls in Hot Girls Wanted. Knox will have opportunities in and out of porn; she’s getting a degree from a top university. The girls are acutely aware of this divide.

“She wants notoriety but not be scarred,” Jade says after watching some of Knox’s scenes. “Not everybody can come back from that.”

We talk about sex workers like they should have an excuse for doing porn. Knox, no matter how liberated and enthusiastic she is about her porn career, has presented porn as a means to an end. But the shelf life of the typical amateur porn star, as the documentary explains, is painfully short. When these girls choose (or are forced) to leave the porn industry, will they be able to come back from this?

Perhaps the more important question is, what are their alternatives? It’s easy to understand why they want to leave their repressive small towns. They see a lack of opportunities to make money, get an education or advance their life past what their parents have. Not everyone can just decide to up and move to Los Angeles or Miami or New York. Talent agent and Hot Girls Wanted house dad Riley explicitly makes his Craiglist ads featuring a free flight to Miami. Getting out is half the battle and his recruitment techniques made it that much easier. These girls are getting a chance to start over on their terms, making more money than they have seen in their entire life.

The documentary frames amateur porn as a result of media’s oversaturation of hypersexualized images and the proliferation of selfies. But what the documentary fails to acknowledge is that wanting to leave a small town or city—places which often both sexually repressive and economically dismal—has always been part of the American story. People’s reasons for running off to the Gold Rush, military service, or Hollywood are similar to these porn actresses’ even if their job descriptions are different. Five years ago, I left a small city in Nebraska for college because I wanted more opportunities and finally be away from everyone I know. I was excited to start over too, albeit in a middle-class suburban upbringing kind-of-way. Tressa, aka Stella May, had never been on a plane before her stint in porn. “I needed someway to escape, somehow,” she says.

By the end of the documentary, Tressa has told both her parents about her short stint in porn, tendered her resignation via a text message to Riley, and decided to move to Arlington, TX to be with her boyfriend. Now she’s managing a breastaurant called Redneck Heaven, doubtless making a fraction of what she made in porn. Is this really the only two ends of the financial spectrum young women can expect? Seems like the real problem isn’t amateur porn, so much as how it's a plausibly appealing alternative to the typical life we offer working class young women.

Hot Girls Wanted is now available on Netflix.