A Review of Hot Girls Wanted: An Unfortunately Myopic Look at the Amateur Porn Industry

Hot Girls Wanted ReviewFilm: Hot Girls Wanted
Directors: Ronna Gradus and Jill Bauer
US Release Date: 29 May 2015

The following review was originally published by Side B Magazine and can be found on their blog, here. 

Directed by Ronna Gradus and Jill Bauer (and produced in part by Rashida Jones), Hot Girls Wanted is a documentary that focuses on the amateur porn industry. The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was later picked up for distribution by Netflix, who released it online in late May.

Hot Girls Wanted focuses on a handful of young women (aged 18-25) who work in the amateur porn industry. The women were convinced to move to Miami Beach by Riley, a porn agent, who charges the women rent to live with him and also takes home 10% of their earnings. The girls come from various backgrounds but all seem to have responded to Riley’s offer of a “free” trip to Florida for similar reasons—they wanted to escape their hometowns, they wanted independence, and they wanted to make money.

The star of the film is Tressa Silguero, who suddenly leaves her home and her family to try to make it big as porn star after finding one of Riley’s postings in the “TV and Radio Jobs” section of Craigslist. Much of Hot Girls Wanted features footage of (and interviews with) the porn actresses living with Riley. Much of these scenes were filmed at Riley’s home (which at times, seems to consist of little more than bras and dogs), but others were filmed around Miami Beach, on various porn sets, and at Tressa’s family home in Texas.

Over the course of their documentary, Gradus and Bauer give viewers a close-up (and often intimately personal) look at life as a young woman working in the amateur online porn industry. Along the way, the film also attempts to connect its portrait of Tressa and the other girls to number of larger, farther-reaching issues (including the ways in which the internet has impacted porn and the prevalence of violence against women in porn); unfortunately, the moments when Hot Girls Wanted looks away from its cast are also the moments in which it falters most. While this well-meaning—but not particularly revelatory or effective—documentary may do the job as a cautionary tale meant to deter other young women from following in Tressa’s footsteps, it doesn’t quite succeed as an informative piece of cinema. I suppose that the film could also serve as a conversation starter of sorts; it’s just too bad that it doesn’t do more of the talking itself.

The main problem with Hot Girls Wanted is that it simply doesn’t do enough with its material; Gradus and Bauer focus a good deal of attention on the fact that life as a woman in the porn industry has a lot of downsides, but they don’t turn a critical eye on the reasons for those downsides or on whether or not those downsides should even exist. For instance, after a particularly abusive shoot, one of the young women in the film says that the porn industry views its actresses as “processed meat.” She speaks from experience, and there’s no real reason to disagree with her, but it’s also true that women are often regarded are “processed meat” outside of the porn industry as well. However, Hot Girls Wanted doesn’t care to make such connections. Similarly, the film often seems more concerned with the dangers of the internet as they are related to porn than it is with addressing the reasons why young women find themselves in a position where responding to one of Riley’s posts on Craigslist seems like a reasonable course of action in the first place.

The film quickly establishes that it sees the amateur porn industry as a trap that lays in wait for vulnerable young women. Unfortunately, this is one of the only real takeaways that it provides. I kept waiting for the film to go deeper—for it to take the idea that amateur porn is dangerous and has a tendency to exploit young women and to turn it into something more. Ok, the industry is a trap, but why? What made it this way? How does our society’s larger tendency to oppress women and to see them as objects factor into things? Can porn that depicts violence against women be said to increase real-life sexist violence? How does our sexist society inform porn and vice versa? These are just some of the questions I asked myself during the film, and I didn’t receive real answers for any of them.

In its efforts to discourage young women from working in porn, Hot Girls Wanted also relies too heavily on the fact that society will look down on them for doing so. The film includes a number of scenes involving Tressa’s mother and boyfriend that repeatedly call attention to the fact that those who act in porn may find that their loved ones no longer respect them as much as they once did, but the film never says that they are wrong to do so. Gradus and Bauer’s documentary does quite a bit to humanize and to show sympathy for the women it depicts, but it doesn’t go so far as to say that people shouldn’t judge women for using their bodies to make money.

Tressa’s boyfriend is supportive of her at first, but he later makes it clear that he is not nearly as ok with her job as he once indicated, and the reasons for his change of heart are indicative of the film’s larger failure to effectively engage the many important issues that its subject matter so often calls attention to. Tressa’s boyfriend is far more concerned with the possibility that others will think of her as prostitute once they know that she does porn than he is with any of the (very real) dangers and abuses that she may face while working. Like Hot Girls Wanted, Tressa’s boyfriend never seems to grasp that fact that a society that disrespects and abuses women is a much bigger problem than the fact that acting in porn is not a “respectable” career.

While I do understand (and even agree with) many of the film’s arguments against the porn industry, most of them are not developed enough to be effective. At the same time, Hot Girls Wanted also fails to adequately acknowledge the fact that for some women, using sex to make money can actually be empowering. Someone working a minimum wage job in my state would have to work more than 100 hours to make the same amount of money that women in porn can make in an afternoon. This may not be a good enough reason to subject oneself to the abuse of amateur porn, but it does call attention to the fact that some women may have very good reasons for doing so. In fact, there may even be something subversive about a woman using her sexuality—the very thing that a patriarchal society both reduces her to and shames her for—to support herself financially. Gradus and Bauer may not agree with such ideas, but their documentary would have been better if they at least addressed them.

Many of the problems with Hot Girls Wanted are tied to the fact that the film has a tendency to focus on the wrong things, and it squanders a good deal of its potential in the process. This tendency can be seen quite clearly in the worst sequence of the film—which also happens to be one of the most cringe-worthy sequences I’ve seen in a while. In the sequence, static images of the young women who live at Riley’s are shown onscreen as slow acoustic guitar music plays behind them. Some of the images show the women at a much younger age. These images are then followed by pictures of them in their current state (as porn actresses). This incredibly inelegant sequence is clearly meant to call attention to how far the girls have fallen now that they’ve been enticed to work in porn. Not only is this sequence distasteful and misinformed, it’s also irresponsible. It encourages viewers to see the women as damaged goods, which reinforces the harmful idea that sex is something that lessens a woman. I highly doubt that the filmmakers had any conscious malicious intent when they put this part of the documentary together, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are wrong to encourage viewers to think about the ways in which these girls have “gone astray” by selling their bodies when they should be thinking critically about the amateur porn industry and the society that consumes it.

Another (smaller) issue with Hot Girls Wanted is that even though it’s only 84 minutes long, it never really seems to get going. The girls the film features are engaging, and their personalities alone should be enough to keep most viewers watching, but they aren’t enough to change the fact that film moves too slowly.

Despite its many flaws, Hot Girls Wanted does have a few bright spots (namely, the young women it features). Tressa and the other porn actresses in the film may not have everything figured out, but there is still much more to them than their decision to work in the industry. The film includes a number of intimate and emotionally honest moments with the women that humanize them. These moments stand in stark contrast to pornographic images of them and serve as powerful reminder that the women in porn do indeed exist (and feel and think and do a lot of other things) outside of their job. Had this aspect of the film been accompanied by more critical thinking and substance, Hot Girls Wanted would have been a much more important documentary than it is. Though it is lackluster overall, the  way Hot Girls Wanted shows the women interacting with each other gives me hope that the film might work to change the way that some of its viewers look at porn and the women in it for the better. No, Gradus and Bauer don’t do enough to call attention to the sexism ingrained in the porn industry (or in the society that surrounds it), but they don’t treat their subjects like objects—which is more than the women can say of the people they work for.

On a related note, the film also makes it clear that violence depicted against women in pornography is often evidence that an actual woman suffered actual violence. Porn actresses are paid, but that doesn’t mean that they should also be abused. While I wish that Hot Girls Wanted had done more with this topic, the documentary is improved by the fact that it brings it up at all.

I appreciate some of what Hot Girls Wanted tries to do, but it simply falls short. There are a number of important ideas in this film, but anything it has to say about them is either whispered too softly to be heard or is overshadowed by some of its more misinformed moments. If you need a film to teach you to see the women in porn as people (and I’m sure that there are many who do), then you could probably benefit from watching Hot Girls Wanted. However, if you are already a feminist, don’t look down on women for capitalizing on their bodies, and know better than to think that the porn industry is harmless, then this rather myopic documentary probably won’t do much for you.

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for reading! Don’t let my review stop you from watching Hot Girls Wanted if you want to, but if you do watch it, I’d encourage you to do so with a critical eye.

Also, you may have noticed my posting pace slow a bit more than usual lately. Not only did I recently move, but I have also taken up a few time-sucking activities and have decided that I should spend more time figuring out my future (gross ughghhhh noooo). Of course, I very much intend for my future to involve movies, so even when I don’t really have the time, I still find a way to justify avoiding more “practical” or “productive” activities with an occasional Netflix adventure or 2. My current situation has kept me from writing any in depth analytical posts lately (I will again, just not right now), but you can expect to continue seeing regular reviews and quick reviews unless I say otherwise.

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