If people have never consumed as much pornography as they do today, then why are people making it getting paid less than ever before — even as they perform more extreme acts, under harsher working conditions? Those are the questions that drive “Pornocracy,” the third and most ambitious nonfiction feature by Ovidie, a former feminist-porn actor-director.
A deep dive across the international hubs of the porn industry (who knew Hungary was a porn epicenter?), the film remains largely focuses on uncovering the mysterious and nefarious media company MindGeek, which Ovidie calls “the Monsanto of porn.”
MindGeek owns a huge swath of the most-visited porn sites (Pornhub, YouPorn, Redtube, Brazzers, and My Dirty Hobby, to name a few). Many of these are so-called “tube sites,” aggregators peddling short clips of pirated material, which are free to watch and easily accessible to minors. The film claims this shift in the way people view pornography is responsible for decrease in performers’ wages, increase in extreme sex acts, and the closing of traditional studios. In short, Ovidie blames MindGeek for the death of the traditional porn industry.
As Ovidie dives deeper into MindGeek’s history, she discovers a nefarious web of tax loopholes, offshore accounts, empty offices that appear to be fronts, and journalist-intimidation tactics. Through interviews with journalists and industry veterans, Ovidie draws a pretty convincing parallel between MindGeek’s dealings and those of a large-scale corrupt organization trying to cover something up.
As a former performer, Ovidie stumbled into the MindGeek story when pirated clips from her films began circulating online. “Some of the videos were from films I performed in towards the end of the ’90s, films that only had a few hundred copies made,” she writes in a director’s statement. “They had now suddenly resurfaced and been seen by upwards of several million people. This had an immediate impact on my life at the time.”
The film opens with a man rattling off a harrowing string of measures performers take to meet the demands for more hardcore scenes; many use numbing creams and muscle relaxers in order to shoot multiple anal scenes a day. Even as porn performers must push themselves further, they are doing it for less money and almost no fame. When films end up on tube sites, it’s usually without credit to the performers or the studio. Gone are the days of a Jenna Jameson or Ron Jeremy; most porn viewers today would be hard pressed to name a single porn star. One producer interviewed asks: “How can you empathize with these girls if they don’t really exist?”
Ovidie herself appears in the film, often referencing the way things used to be with very little exposition of what the old days actually looked like. She assumes the audience has a working knowledge about the industry, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps of her narrative. While she may have been wary of dwelling on the more salacious parts of her background, her insight would have benefited the film.
Still, it’s precisely her perspective as someone who once produced, directed, and starred in porn that sets “Pornocracy” apart. Despite its titillating subject matter, there are few scenes that would pass muster on a tube site. An actresses living in a model house in Budapest focuses on breakfast choices over lingerie choices (only a few sweets before an anal day). Another scene, which features a woman over 40 with her husband/director who have a stronghold in the MILF niche, comes across as any other loving duo struggling to run a small family business.
Like the rest of the entertainment industry, the adult sector has experienced a rapid transformation since the advent of high-quality streaming video. Though performing in porn isn’t illegal, the stigma leaves the industry largely unregulated and open to abuse. “Pornocracy” is a service to adult entertainers and brings attention to a troubling trend that should make some think twice before indulging in free porn. As a movie, however, it’s not much more than a filmed piece of investigative journalism.
“Pornocracy” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2017. It is currently seeking distribution.