Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sex Workers In Hollywood

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sex Workers In Hollywood

I’ll never forget the thrill I felt reading Werner Herzog’s advice on how to become a film director, which boils down to skipping film school, taking up boxing, walking everywhere and working in a sex club. So where’s my Oscar, damn it?

Yet when “Juno” was delivered to theaters around the country I remember feeling nothing but outrage over the stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody hype. I found the film incredibly tedious (though in retrospect I was probably a bit hard on Cody’s writing in my review – after reading excerpts from the script I think I had a much bigger problem with Reitman’s directing), but I had an even bigger problem with the condescension surrounding Cody herself: Look, a stripper who can put together more than three sentences!

I often find myself in general sticking up for those who society deems “bimbos,” from muscle boys (most of whom are walking encyclopedias of anatomy and nutritional chemistry, if not exactly classic film connoisseurs) to sex workers (the majority savvy businesspeople), who are the exact opposite of their stereotypes, and often just a lethal combination of being incredibly intelligent and equally messed up. The condescension comes in the form of pity as well – “how sad for Courtney Love to have been a stripper” – as if the vast majority of the trade is made up of zombie sex slaves, not consenting adults who willingly chose their profession. As if it were always the industry of last resort.

In other words, Cody’s not the brainy, together exception even if she’s not the Academy Award-winning rule. You just don’t hear about ”smart sex workers” because of the stigma attached to the oldest profession in the world. Cody was already publicly “out” as a stripper by the time she penned “Juno” thanks to her book, but most sex workers only make news in Eliot Spitzer-type scandal not art. Thus the myths remain firmly in place.

So today I’d like to follow up last week’s tribute to the valiant Eddie Izzard (who downplays the prurient aspect of cross-dressing by simply acknowledging it, thus demystifying it, thus transcending the taboo) by celebrating four more talented folks who have made the transition from sex industry to mainstream screen.

Wash Westmoreland, director

It takes a hell of a lot of balls to go from shooting money shots to focusing on girls’ “Sweet Fifteen” parties. Wash Westmoreland, the director of the 2006 Sundance award-winning “Quinceanera” has that and more – an unapologetic honesty that I find simply intoxicating. In an interview with Cinematical he stated, “When I came to Hollywood I was 28 years old – too old to do film school, and I didn’t have the money for that anyhow. So in order to learn how to direct, and to pay the bills so I could work on other projects, I directed some gay adult films. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done — I learned a hell of a lot more directing adult films than I would have learned as a PA.” Werner Herzog would be proud.

Nancy Oliver, screenwriter

Oliver is a longtime friend of Alan Ball from their theater days, though she’s admitted to an array of day jobs before she herself made it big, including a gig that ambiguously included dealing “with a lot of Web sites and a lot of lonely guys.” The result can be seen in last year’s vibrant “Lars and the Real Girl” (for my money the film that deserved “Juno”-level attention in the Oscar push), in which Ryan Gosling stars as a man whose life is transformed by the unconditional love of a mail-order sex doll. That Oliver found magical inspiration – not humiliation – through contact with the sex trade doesn’t need to be noted in an interview. It’s all right there on the screen.

Larry Wachowski, director/writer/producer

O.K., so technically Wachowski wasn’t a sex worker, though he/she sure was a part of the industry. One of the forces behind the “The Matrix” blockbuster franchise is a MTF transgender person who left his/her wife for Ilsa Strix, a woman as famous in the BDSM world as Wachowski is in the mainstream. Mistress Strix in turn left her FTM transgender, gay porn star lover Buck Angel for Wachowski, and took a bit of heat herself for marrying a client. Though Warner Brothers has tried to downplay Wachowski’s personal life, the fact that Wachowski appears to have no qualms acting ladylike in his/her rare public appearances, that he/she even wed the very “out and proud” Mistress Strix, speaks volumes. Though Wachowski may not be Max Mosley, the son of Britain’s prewar fascist leader and head of Formula One racing (and inspiration for my “Notes on a Sex Scandal”), who publicly declared his right to be spanked rather than be passively set up in a “Nazi orgy” sting by “The News of the World,” Wachowski is living his/her life beyond box office terms. As brave an act as anything Keanu Reeves’ Neo has attempted.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor/governor

Yes, the Governator was once gay-for-pay, though with a body like that he probably didn’t have to do more than just flex and pose for dollars, which he did quite hotly and famously in the softcore-homo publication “After Dark.” And his rise from immigrant bodybuilder to Mr. Olympia to international movie star, from marriage into American royalty to the governor of California, his mesmerizing charm and self-deprecating humor rendering the political rule to renounce youthful “mistakes” null and void, should take the “bimbo” out of bodybuilder once and for all. Ah-nuld is one classy leading man, an American action hero both onscreen and off.

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