The Racist Economics Of Interracial Porn

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
The porn industry may be able to push boundaries in a way that mainstream film is unable to, but when it comes to race and equal pay, its systems are unsurprisingly vanilla.
In a recent Glamour feature, "Does Mainstream Porn Have a Race Problem?", writer Lynsey G. explores the problematic ways that society's definition of desirability directly results in unequal pay among female porn actors. Sex is a complicated thing and no one wants to be indicted for their attractions. However, nothing in culture is neutral — including our ideas about who or what is seen as desirable. Because many facets of society still reward racist constructs of beauty and attractiveness, white (cisgender) female performers in porn continue to come out on top, making money off a system that necessarily excludes others.
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"While there are dozens or more Black female performers active in porn at any given time, [performer] Ana Foxxx says that there are only 'three to five' who compete for top roles," G. writes. "And, with so many women of colour vying for so few available spots at the top, some producers see an opportunity to offer them lower pay."
Foxxx, a leading performer in the industry, tells Glamour that she turns down roles when she knows she is making less than another actress (a problem that Hollywood actresses of colour also face). However, when other girls say yes to a lower rate, asking for more can become a futile exercise. And as there will always be dozens of other actors willing to accept lower rates — because they are trying to break into the industry or make a name for themselves — it has a negative impact on pay for all performers.
"This pattern effectively drives down rates for women of colour across the board," resulting in significant losses for non-white performers, G. explains.
There are more general discrepancies by gender, of course. Some estimates suggest that women earn much more money per scene than their male counterparts do, especially depending on the sex act. (A "girl-on-girl" scene nets less than double-penetration or anal sex, for example.) But, as with many industries, the majority of people in power in porn are male, and the average career span of female performers is much shorter.
That means if women in porn hope to earn as much money as possible in the general amount of time they are deemed marketable, race will become a compounding factor of inequality. In fact, Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor in the Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara tells Glamour that "women of colour are paid half of what white actresses in porn are paid."
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The "twist" is that not only do male actors (reportedly) not experience this racial pay gap, but white women get a bump because of it. Interracial porn "quite specifically [denotes] white women paired with black men," G. writes, citing a 2016 quote from Sharan Street, the editor in chief of AVN (Adult Video News), saying that interracial porn has become an incredibly popular genre in recent years.
Echoing that, in a recent New York magazine cover story on porn, writer Maureen O'Connor examined the rise in popularity of cuckolding videos, "a fetish genre in which a man watches his wife have sex with another man as a means of emasculation. (Or to manufacture a 'homosexual alibi')." Pornhub revealed that 1.75 million people search for cuck porn every month, and O'Connor found that much of it has some racial component — usually a Black man "emasculating" a white man by exhibiting sexual prowess with a white woman.
"Within the genre, 'Black male performers have to conform to a particular racist stereotype of what sex with a Black man is and means, [and] white female performers will refuse to work with Black male performers in order to secure more money for the exclusive for their 'first IR,'" independent pornographer Vex Ashley told Glamour.
Mainstream IR porn can also be disturbing in another sense: It's built on the same damaging tropes that led to the lynching of thousands of Black men in this country in the past. Nonetheless, white women in porn have used it command top-dollar. Some studios pay white women more for their perceived willingness to perform IR scenes, and white women can launch lucrative careers by planning a trajectory that leads up to interracial porn. Of note: In 2015, Isiah Maxwell, a Black male performer, told Vocativ.com that Black men don't receive the same bonus.
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"It doesn’t bother me that the girls are getting paid more for interracial scenes, it bothers me that the guys aren’t getting paid more as well," he told the website.
Essentially, non-white women are penalised for their skin colour, while white women receive a premium for theirs in certain genres. (That said, Asian women, who are often fetishised as submissive and "exotic" may also see a pay bump in sex work at large.) Black men may be neutral from an economic standpoint, but the status quo hardly benefits them. Whether porn is an instigator of sexual fantasies, stereotypes, and prejudices or simply reflects them is an ongoing debate. But, as O'Connor aptly says in New York, "porn is a theatre of the id, and America’s id is racist."
Glamour showcases the work of a number of indie-porn filmmakers and studios who are doing their part to create, promote, and produce ethical and equitable work that supports performers outside of these structures. Nenna Joiner and Shine Louise Houston, the creators of Pink & White Productions, and Jiz Lee, an online marketing director for the company, are among that cohort. As an independent company, Pink & White pays "substantially less than most mainstream porn companies offer." (Part of that may also be because queer performers, whom Pink & White work with in particular, also command less money in the industry.)
Maybe it doesn't matter whether the racial pay gap in porn is a chicken-egg conundrum. What does matter is that the industry rewards some performers for a construct of desirability that, magically, only white women can benefit from. As Nikki Darling says in Glamour, "It’s bullshit. It’s benefiting a certain type of people — and not POC."
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