Today, I read a blog post entitled "An Open Letter to the Feminist Porn Awards" from Kitty Stryker. My New Year's Resolution this year was to stay away from Internet Drama. I got so embroiled in dumb-ass arguments last year. I do feel that I need to address this, however. The only voices on this issue shouldn't be those using disingenuous attacks as a form of self-promotion.
Kitty takes issue with the Feminist Porn Awards new criteria, which stress that the films will be judged not just on their feminist sentiment, but also on their quality as films. The Feminst Porn Awards are looking for movies that fit four criteria: Quality, Inclusiveness, The "It" Factor and Hotness — all things I think are crucial in judging a work for an award show like this. Surely, not just our message but the effort and skill with which we transmit it matters to our merit as filmmakers.
Kitty, however, complains about that the Award's "Quality" section.
High production value requires valuable time, learned skills, expensive equipment, pricey editing software, budget to fund the project. It sets a precedent that capitalist consumerist values are more important than actual politics, which is somewhat contrary to feminism, in my understanding. Additionally for those who are not as privileged and don’t have companies funding their projects, or who are small, independent companies, earnestness is all they often have. By seemingly setting the bar in a way that requires financial privilege, you are likely shutting out many potential feminist pornographers, which is disappointing in a space that wants to court diversity.
It's absurd to expect an award show not to pay attention to the quality of the work it's awarding. Of course both our message and the medium we use to transmit it matter. Good art isn't just about having a good idea; it requires good execution. High Production value does require time and effort and skill... or money. If you don't have money, you must invest more time and skill and effort. The world of cinema has changed. If you have access to a cellphone and a library card, you have everything you need to make a high quality movie. One of Sundance's breakout hits this year was "Tangerine" — shot entirely on an iPhone with an $8 app (and, interestingly enough, about trans sex workers). So much of creating quality content is attention to detail and bothering to make something good. My entire career, I have fought against the triangle of Fast-Cheap-Good and tried to find some balance. Making something exceptional is difficult, and that is why we reward exception.
I started out my directing career with two clip lights, bootleg software, and a borrowed camera, and I still managed to create quality films. I have invested the money that I've earned making and starring in porn in equipment, and I have slowly built up to where I am now. I do not have big budgets. What I have is a dedication to doing things right. My work does have high production values, but it's not because I spent more money on it. There are plenty of adult films on the market with much higher budgets than mine, but much poorer production values. So much of the quality of my work is the result of my cast and crew going above and beyond the call of duty because they care about the stories I tell, because I treat them well on set, and because they know that I care. The girls who work for me know that I am putting in the effort to make my movies good. They know that I will make them look good and give them the opportunity to be a part of something compelling, so they put in the extra effort also.
I pour my heart and soul into the movies I make, and so does my wife, Sten Cade. I write scripts and I direct my actors. We do it until it's right. I go out of my way to find unique locations and tell interesting stories. I cast women who look hot on camera, who love what they do, and who have sexual chemistry and sexual skill. My wife and I shoot and edit these movies ourselves, with the help of other talented crew people and the amazing women who collaborate with me to bring my erotic vision to the screen.
The bulk of my budget goes to paying people, the majority of them women (my director of photography is Sten, and she is often my only crew, but my additional camera and sound crew rotate and include both men and women). I believe in paying people fairly, and this is a crucial component of being an ethical, feminist pornographer. I have taken to, in order to afford to pay the crew I want and the girls I want, trading my services as either talent or crew to other people to get these projects done. I spend some money on food. I sometimes spend a little money on locations, although I often get locations for trade. I often pay for costumes and props out of my own pocket or pull them from my own closet. Certainly the effort Sten and I put in to do things like green screen compositing a faux Fox News show isn't in the budget at all. My budget consists of some money, some favors, and a whole lot of dedication. I have no interest in taking the money I've been given, churning out something easy, and moving on. I try to push myself to do better with each project I commit to.
I simply disagree with with Kitty's opinions about the awards taking "quality" into account, but with regards to her statements about me personally, she is being flat-out disingenuous.
Lily Cade is a world of concern all on her own. She has expressed serious fatphobia and transmisogyny around her casting choices, has been abusive when critiqued however mildly, and the film she’s nominated for jokes about Obama supporting terrorism. That is absolutely not my feminism, and it’s disappointing to see someone espousing those beliefs publicly being celebrated by the FPAs.
I have written at length about my views regarding my casting choices. I do not have an unlimited amount of opportunities to make movies. Every time I get a budget, I want to spend it making something that I connect with. I do too much underpaid labor to want to spend my energy on someone else's vision or someone else's political goal. I serve two masters — my own erotic vision and my financial backers' expectations. I often manage to push those expectations, but I still have limits within which I must work. I am here to bring the most authenticity I can to lesbian porn, to work within mainstream porn as a queer filmmaker and to tell compelling, erotic, well-made stories about sex. I am and have always been a specialist. I do think porn as a medium should tell everyone's stories, and I applaud the Feminist Porn Awards for pushing for that diversity, but it is not my job, nor any one person's job, to tell every single kind of story. I'm not the one to tell your story; you are.
With regards to my jokes about Obama, Kitty is either being stupid on the level of mistaking an Onion article for a real news story, or she is lying. Kitty screencaps my trailer from "Between the Headlines" and accuses me of joking about "Obama supporting terrorism." I believe it is obvious, even just from this trailer, that what I am joking about is Fox News and our combative media culture's tendency to take news stories and intentionally twist them to seem nefarious. It's funny that she would point this out when it's exactly what she is doing to me.
Kitty and others within the Oakland queer porn scene have called me "abusive" without citing any examples of abuse. Kitty accused me of "accus[ing] Chelsea Poe of wanting to rape [me]" something that is not only a blatant and unsupportable lie, but also the exact behavior that Kitty herself is engaged in by twisting comments made in the BTS of one of Madison Young's videos to accuse her of rape. Chelsea herself accused me of refusing to work with women of color (see hideous block paragraph above, my apologies), which, once again, is absolutely untrue. It takes ten seconds of looking at this website to see me engaged in sex with women of all kinds of colors. In fact, my two best, most recent features, including the film for which I am nominated, intentionally feature multiple women of color in leading roles.
I am asking Kitty Stryker and the other wannabe arbiters of feminist porn to stop this. You are taking offense on purpose, where you know that none is meant. Rather than asking, and trying to understand where other women are coming from, you're attacking people like me, on the fringes of what you do, who merely have differing interests. You are directing your ire towards the performers and filmmakers who are doing feminism differently from you, who are doing queer or gay or trans differently from you. You are attacking women who are trying. You are expecting lockstep allegiance to your particular ideas from everyone who dares to call themselves a feminist. You are tearing other women down, and you are doing it in the service of marketing yourselves. You know that people don't check up on the statements that you make, so you can lie and twist and misrepresent me (and others) in order to capitalize on humanity's impulse toward tribalism. You can drive a wedge between an in-group and an out-group, position yourself as the in-group, demonize the out-group, and use it for self promotion. In short, you are engaging in the exact same behavior that I am parodying in the Fox News portion of Between The Headlines with which you took issue. This is a vile marketing strategy, no matter who is engaging in it.
I rub some people the wrong way. To be honest, I want to. I'm stubborn. I like myself. I want to show you MY vision. I don't want to make stuff that everybody sort of likes. I want to make stuff that some people LOVE, and that means it can't speak to —or for— everyone. I don't believe that I am the only person who makes work of value, or that I deserve to win every award. I'm genuinely honored to be nominated, and to have won Feminist Porn Awards in the past. I have never stood in the way of anyone else achieving their own artistic vision, or done anything other than explained my own perspective. I welcome critique, and I have never shied away from engaging honestly with people who have problems with my work. What I have a problem with is bullshit.