Hot Girls Wanted (2015) is focused on one goal: letting young girls know that if they turn 18 and take a job in the amateur porn industry, it’s going to be a short and depressing career decision that will be long over before they turn 19. The film follows a few girls whose experiences attempt to drive home this point, and whose time in the industry is anything but arousing.
What it doesn’t do is offer any form of counter-point. It focuses on one facet of the porn industry, "pro-am," which is easily the most amateur porn niche not just for the actors but for the producers, and uses it to represent the industry as a whole. Literally anyone can become a pro-am producer like Riley, the girls’ successful but doofus-y agent in Hot Girls Wanted who does little more than put up Craigslist ads and waits for the ladies to respond. And while the content pro-am producers create is currently in-demand, and they are successfully roping thousands of girls into their films, using pro-am as a representation of the entire industry isn’t fair - nor does it come across as effective.
Hot Girls Wanted has many potential opportunities to provide insight into different areas of a unique industry - its economics, the various reasons why performers decide to get involved, the realities of balancing “normal” relationships with on-screen performances, sex worker camaraderie, the complexities of human sexuality, niche markets and various perversions - but the film’s own agenda gets in the way of any of these concepts being analyzed on more than a basic, superficial level. It touches on all of them, but everything depicted is colored by a moralizing perspective that everything we’re seeing is bad, and there’s no other appropriate response.
That’s not to say Hot Girls Wanted is exactly anti-porn. Producer Rashida Jones has publicly stated that isn’t the intent. The filmmakers and producers maintain the film’s goal is to show the exploitative and destructive facets of pornographic production that people don't know about - but even that doesn’t play out. The film’s own stars undermine those goals through their behavior.
Each of the film's girls answered a Craigslist ad (Hot girls wanted!) and moved to a nondescript house in Miami with their young manager, Riley. They live out of suitcases, spend most of their time lounging around, smoking, shopping, and talk about how cool and awesome their lives are going to be. They pay Riley rent and give him a cut of their earnings for all his booking and production assistance. They appear to be fairly normal girls who simply aren’t interested in a normal job - they’d rather make $800 per scene shooting porn than bag groceries for $8.50/hr. The freedom to break away from their teenage selves and suddenly make good money doing something they’d do anyway, all while gaining fame, is irresistible, and they’re thrilled to sign up. It's not just girls from severely poor households or abusive situations, it's exactly the type of girls the pro-am market is there to represent: the girl next door.
There’s no argument that the girls, all of whom enter the industry with enthusiasm, images of grandeur and excitement, are a bit jaded after a few months. Their prime time is over, they’re being forced to take more aggressive, seedier niche film projects to continue working, and their occupation takes a toll on their personal lives and relationships. We get some very uncomfortable scenes with the family of the main girl, Tressa, urging her to quit.
But after all the film’s demonizing of the pro-am industry, its heavy-handed moral preaching and showing its “lead” girl quitting, what are we left with? Of the five main girls profiled in the film, two are still doing porn, one is doing private webcam shows so she can control her own content, and the other two quit, but did so with seemingly little impact on their lives moving forward. (It’s also been revealed that one of the girls who “quit” still works as an escort.) With those results, it’s hard to know what exactly we’re supposed to feel for these girls. They made the trip, signed the contracts, and did the work. Does Riley look like he's going to provide the most credible working and living arrangements available? Of course not - but that's obvious in two seconds. They still took the job.
Putting a lens to a facet of an industry offering dangerous working conditions and questionable ethics is a great thing. There's terrible working environments within every industry, and they deserve to be exposed so they can be fixed. Doing so is a credit to the industry at large. It helps the industry by encouraging the establishment of better conditions and regulations. But that's not the takeaway of Hot Girls Wanted. It may have been the intent, but it's not the result. Instead we are left with a poor image of porn in general and a demeaning look at a bunch of girls who made murky choices.
Plenty of criticism has been focused on Hot Girls Wanted’s one-sided representation of the industry.
Casey Calvert, a successful porn star who entered the industry in 2012 (months after graduating magna cum laude from the University of Florida) had a lot to say about the documentary. While she admits there are some shady pro-am operations in Florida, the film doesn’t do enough to let audiences know that very small subset of the industry isn’t indicative of everyone’s experience. The girls highlighted in the film and the footage about them is a carefully-curated and edited batch of experiences that, as Refinery29 says, “depict problems in the porn industry as though they are its defining features.”
Casey Calvert told the Huffington Post that the film’s message is "Porn is exploitative. Porn is corrupting our youth. Look at these poor girls. They need rescuing... It's an old, tired narrative about the business, but it's safe for the press. They could have shown a contrast. Yes, I work with an agent and I work with different companies, but I make my own decisions. I have complete autonomy."
Refinery29 goes on to say “The problem with Hot Girls Wanted, then, is not that there are never 18- and 19-year-olds who are manipulated or mistreated when they enter the adult entertainment industry. It's that the film unquestioningly blames porn itself (rather than sub-par working conditions) when the "girls" it features express doubt or discomfort about their jobs. When adults, whether female or male, 18 or 28 years old, choose to perform in porn, they should be respected for their choices, not ridiculed or second-guessed. They should be respected as well by co-stars, producers, agents, camera crews, and every other party who contributes to a film. While there is a very real need for more space for sex workers to discuss what happens when they don't receive this respect, Hot Girls Wanted doesn't provide it.”
Chauntelle Tibbals of Uproxx says “Hot Girls Wanted attempts to explain one extremely mysterious and complex corner of an extremely mysterious and complex industry – one that everyone loves to marginalize, including the filmmakers. The film showcases the negative, sensationalizes the unfamiliar, and sidelines the positive... Sex work is a thing many people choose to do. Sex work is also a thing that many people choose to do only to subsequently realize that it’s not for them – just like Tressa and Rachel do. And sex work is a thing that just about every single sex worker is shamed for – just like what we see happening to Tressa. Hot Girls Wanted could have spent some time trying to figure out why. Instead, it does the opposite. It highlights the apologetic, shame-filled women, while dumbing down and doubting those who currently enjoy their work.”