BIPOC Collective: Ensuring Legacies for Performers of Color

Within the next decade, the sex and adult entertainment industries could have a net worth of nearly $250 billion. That creates a scenario wherein adult film, in particular, could become as impossible to disengage from mainstream American popular culture as the proverbial hot dogs and apple pie. Thus, with revenue not to be questioned, it’s probably a good time to discuss why adult film lacks an African-American female legacy synonymous with profound industry success similar to their white counterparts? Thankfully though, because of the work of a growing field of socially enlightened Black female talent, the future looks bright.

Though already on the precipice of financial boom, the push for reparational social justice for Black female talent can elevate marginalized people and an industry’s bottom line. Examining why there appears to be an invisible cap on Black actresses’ potential in adult film is essential. Increased revenue and mainstream appeal for Black female stars should be a necessary piece of porn’s revenue generation equation.

Says Black female performer, educator, and therapist Jet Setting Jasmine:

“Black women in the porn industry have been seen as disposable. We fight through tokenism in the early stages of our careers, and this is incredibly exhausting and force many out. Without the right opportunities and/or support for career sustainability— Black women aging gracefully in the industry is not an option.”

Jet Setting Jasmine
Jet Setting Jasmine

Regarding those issues, Pam Grier and Kim Kardashian West’s success as naked women of color/performatively adjacent women of color performers in both the Exploitation Film and Reality Television eras is important. They—and not “porn-first” Black performers—likely represent how a bar for Black women in adult film has been set that exceeds the typical expectations set for women’s success. In their acclaim bookending five decades, a template emerges that accurately notes the space that could exist for Black female talent to “age gracefully” while retaining cultural and financial impact.

Between 1971-1975, Pam Grier became the exploitation film industry’s first bankable mainstream icon. 1971’s Big Doll House is a legendary feature of the “women in prison” genre, whereas 1973’s Coffy is an iconic Blaxploitation showcase. Fetishizing Grier’s busty Blackness in films featuring significant amounts of nudity, lesbianism, sexual assault, humiliation, and sadism allowed American International Pictures to earn 350x their studio budget for Coffy in 1973.

Pam Grier
Pam Grier

Related to this, University of California-Santa Barbara professor and Harvard fellow Dr. Mireille Miller-Young’s 2014-released book, A Taste of Brown Sugar, offers ideas to consider. Within the book, she notes that Black feminist thinkers of the 1970s, like Patricia Hill Collins and Audre Lorde, reflected a notion proposing that pornography—especially that involving Black female bodies—had a violent and superficial connotation. The evolution of this idea is essential to understanding how modern Black female stars can be developed. Unlike how white stars are developed, Black female sexual liberation hasn’t been a mainstream social movement for a half-century.

Currently, the June 2020-founded Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color Adult Industry Collective (BIPOC-AIC) is diligently working to move past this stigma. The group was founded by retired adult star and activist Sinnamon Love, alongside Jet Setting Jasmine, King Noire, Lotus Lain, Misty Stone, Natassia Dreams, and other BIPOC sex workers. With a continuing series of meetings, educational events, and marketing procedures, the group is endeavoring to evolve Black porn’s past narrative involving leaders platforming racism. So far, as an industry, BIPOC-AIC has been accepted as representing a positively revolutionary vanguard. Intentions of instituting changes to eradicate racism are expected to be upheld.

Sinnamon Love’s been a longtime and ardent supporter of advancing the definition of Black femininity in porn. In Tristan Taormino’s 2013-published The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure, she notes,

“I would call myself a Black feminist pornographer. Instead of accepting work merely to ensure the bills get paid, I purposefully work for directors and companies that portray Black female sexuality in ways that I feel are expansive, progressive, and interesting.”

Sinnamon Love
Sinnamon Love

Black female standards currently exist and are still fetishized at the top of the industry. Thus, this progressive broadening of expectations of portrayals of Black women in adult film—and how that directly relates to increasing the number of long-term Black female stars—couldn’t happen sooner.

In the modern era, Armenian-American social media icon Kim Kardashian West ties much of her appeal to mimicking the 70s-era Black female porn/sex tradition and hip-hop stereotyping. 13 years after its release by Vivid Entertainment, Kim Kardashian, Superstar—her homemade sex tape with media star Ray J—has earned a rumored $100 million in revenue. Many view the tape’s release as the starting place of KKW’s mainstream success. She is currently worth $1 billion.

It can be argued that positive results similar to KKW’s should have been afforded to Black porn stars of the 80s and 90s, including Vanessa Del Rio, Heather Hunter, Janet Jacme, etc. Bizarrely though, Kim Kardashian West’s flourishing has likely allowed Black women’s potential earning power to rise significantly in adult film. Black female porn stars accessing a lifetime of audacious approval and revenue that, by all rights and purposes, they deserve, should occur. Yet another avenue in this regard has opened and deserves mention.

Currently, Afro-Latina rap star Cardi B—a former stripper turned musician—is directly using vestiges of her career as a sex worker (and its adjacence to porn) to yield both pop-cultural and financial power. Extending this standard across the sex and adult entertainment industry could yield incredible benefits. The pop appeal of sexualized and non-victimized Black women could vault the adult industry overall to unprecedented social impact and income levels.

Jet Setting Jasmine adds,

“It’s a shame [that there arent more long-term Black female porn stars] because we have so many attributes to lend to the sexuality continuum. Our beauty and lived experiences bring creativity, passion, and power into our work. The adult entertainment industry deserves to be a safe space for everyone who chooses this labor.”

Sinnamon Love wrote in 2014,

“So many people fight the good fight on behalf of (white) women, and so few are fighting for Black women like me. For example, there are countless examples of white women’s sexualities portrayed in porn, but very limited images of African American women. And when you do see Black women in porn, they are often stereotyped or demeaned.”

In an update for 2020, Love’s BIPOC-AIC partner Jet Setting Jasmine notes,

“[BIPOC-AIC] is working on helping people bring as much of their full selves to porn so that they can diversify their brand. We’re creating longevity for Black females—all BIPOC performers—so they are not bullied out. There’s so much to do. We’ve only just begun.”

Visit BIPOC-AIC’s website here.

End Racism in Porn

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