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February 28, 2017

Veteran Performers Talk Race in Porn at 'People Are People' Panel

LAS VEGAS—During last month’s AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, while fans flocked to the show floor to meet their favorites, some interesting discussions were taking place in quieter corners of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas. One of these was a seminar open to trade attendees only, titled “People Are People,” which explored the challenges that face people of color who work in the adult entertainment industry. The panel discussion was moderated by Alexander DeVoe. An AVN Award-winning director and AVN Hall of Fame inductee, DeVoe was one of the driving forces behind the Urban X Awards, which focused on ethnic adult movies and performers of color. Assembled to discuss various topics was an impressive panel of industry veterans, including Lexington Steele and Sean Michaels—both directors as well as performers who have spent decades in the business—as well as African American adult performers Nyomi Banxxx and India, Latina performer Kristina Rose and Asian performer Cindy Starfall. DeVoe started things off, pointing out to the audience the long histories of the assembled panelists. “Each one of us has had a different story, a different path, and each one of us has been successful in our own right,” he said. “But despite our success we have also faced adversity.” With that he asked each speaker to talk about the roadblocks that they encountered in their careers. First to speak up was Latina star Kristina Rose, a multiple AVN Award winner, who sat next to DeVoe with a well-behaved pet dog on her lap. “When I very first got into the industry I was told that [because] I’m Mexican, I wouldn’t make as much money as white girls and I couldn’t be on box covers,” Rose said, adding wryly, “I don’t even speak Spanish.” Rose said that although she believes things have gotten better, “it’s still not where it should be in 2017. Back when I started, I was told if you did interracial, certain companies wouldn’t hire you. They try to scare you away from doing it. And I didn’t do interracial for the first few years because I was told not to do that. It was about the money. That’s how it was. And it’s still like that a little bit.” DeVoe responded, noting that interracial porn—which by and large refers to scenes featuring white women with black men—was not as prevalent when he got into the industry 16 years ago. “What happened is you had an explosion of the mega agents, and they started to institute policies where if you were a non-black female then what you would do is you went to set your sights on getting the highest dollar amount, so when you did your first interracial scene you would be paid a premium rate,” DeVoe said. And he further pointed out that such a pay structure benefited “certain ones of us who happened to have a certain skin tone” and “those who didn’t have that skin tone would be hindered in their progress.” Banxxx, who took home an AVN Award later that week for Best Non-Sex Performance for her work in Suicide Squad XXX: An Axel Braun Parody, said that when she first got into the industry, she believed “it was equal all across the board. No matter who it was you were having sex with, it was all across the board.” But that was before she learned from a director “that my counterparts, the white stars, were actually making more money having interracial sex than I was. And so when I took it to my agent and said, ‘I need to raise my rates because I’m having interracial sex with white men,’ he actually told me ‘That’s not interracial’ and I could not understand that because, you see, I am a black woman.” Banxxx actually had someone tell her, “You should be happy at the rate you get paid for you being black and being the age that you are.” But Banxxx held firm and demanded that higher rate. Asian performer Cindy Starfall faced other problems. “One of the roadblocks I used to have when I first joined this industry was because I’m from Vietnam and I’m very nervous with my English. And I was on the makeup chair and the director came to me and said, ‘Wow, your accent is so strong. You don’t speak perfect English.’ And I thought it was kinda offensive because, ‘You don’t speak perfect Vietnamese. … A lot of time I just make fun of my accent to get it over with. But I started to push through it—first year, second year—and I started to realize, you know what, you don’t like my accent, don’t book me.” Former adult performer India talked about her experiences as a contract star in the late 1990s, noting how fortunate she had been in comparison to other performers. “I remember coming in and there was a girl, Obsession, she’d been in a long time. She didn’t get the credit due to her. And there were so many girls like her. And I remember coming in and instantly I get a contract and I’m promoted highly. So the experiences of my peers—I hear them talking—I don’t experience the same things. Is it because I had better management? Is it because my manager had all the top girls, and I just happened to come in at the right moment?” Turning to veteran male performers Michaels and Steele, DeVoe asked, “Obviously, you cannot transform the color of your skin. How has the stereotypical representation of the black male shaped your experience?” Sean Michaels, who got his start in adult back in 1989, answered first, saying, “Most of the people who support us up here do it because we are original. Like Alexander said, we can’t change the color of our skin, nor would we want to. It’s part of our lives and our culture. And not only does America embrace that whole-heartedly, even some racist people that I know embrace the black culture.” Michaels believes some stereotypes can be harmless. However, he added, “When they’re derogatory and demeaning, fuck no, they’re not. … At times throughout my career I was hired to do a comedic type of character that was to my opinion very racist and offensive to my co-workers. I chose to walk off that set. In my career I’ve walked off several sets because I was just not going to denigrate not only myself and what I believe in but also the people I work with to appease someone’s opinion of what’s funny when it comes to black culture, or Asian culture or Hispanic culture.” Michaels noted the positive side of making light of race relations in adult entertainment. “We give people the opportunity to release their pent-up stress and anxiety,” he said, but he draws the line on certain types of portrayals. “I’ve definitely paid a price. I had to go to Europe to get my career started.” In Europe he found an atmosphere where “as black men we were treated with more respect.” Longtime performer-director Lexington Steele, who currently releases DVDs through Evil Angel, started off with a tribute to Michaels, saying, “Before I go any further I will say this. This man Sean Michaels took more lumps that anyone in this industry. I myself would not experiencing this industry the way I am if not for this man. Sean has made it easy for people like myself to move from performer to director to producer to distributor.” Thanks to “Sean breaking every single glass ceiling,” Steele explained, “it’s not bad for me because someone laid down the asphalt inch by inch. Sean Michaels is not just a performer—this is an icon.” Steele says his main struggles came when he got into distribution. “There ultimately is a color that reigns over black, white, red, whatever—and that’s green.” Fortunately, as a businessman Steele has found success. “As African Americans we are hustlers by nature—it’s in our DNA. I don’t knock anybody’s hustle. And my hustle has been to make a whore of the business and not let the business make a whore of me.” Over the course of the 50-minute discussion the panelists covered a lot of ground on such topic as the politics of interracial porn, the marketing of ethnic movies, and the importance of commanding respect. “I work hard for my money; I show up on time,” Starfall said, but she says she’s “underrated” because she is Asian and gets relegated to ethnic titles. “They say to me, ‘Honey, you can’t be in this bombshell movie because we have Asian bombshell movies,” she said. For Rose, her ethnic identity has been considered more fluid by her co-workers. “They don’t know what to do with me,” she said. “They want to put me here and there. With some people I’m Latina, with some I’m a white girl. I’ve been in Digital Playground movies as an Asian girl. They put a bindi on me and asked me to go get a tan.” India recalled one incident where, like Michaels, she found it necessary to walk off set. In this instance, her model release did not include a title for the DVD—and because she knew the plan was to put her on the box cover, she got inquisitive and found it would be something along the lines of Black Bitches. “I wasn’t going to go for that. So I said, ‘I’m not going to sign this until you have a title.’ … I walked off that set,” she recalled. “Not all money is good money. That’s one thing my mom taught me. It doesn’t matter if I’m a porn star, a stripper, an escort—whatever you want to call me—my pride is everything. So I walked off that set and I left that money there. Because you’re not gong to discriminate on me just because I’m a black woman and call me Black Bitch Part 2, whatever. I don’t do movies like that.”   For more about the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, check out the March issue of AVN, which will be posted tomorrow on AVN.com. To keep up with these adult industry veterans, follow them on Twitter: @IamNyomiBanxxx, @AlexanderDeVoe, @SexyIndia, @SeanMichaels42, @KristinaRoseXXX, @CindyStarfall and @LexSteele11. Pictured above, front row from left, Sean Michaels, Nyomi Banxxx, Cindy Starfall, Lexington Steele; back row, Kristina Rose, Joachim Kessef (not a panelist) and moderator Alexander DeVoe. Photo by JFK/FUBARWebmasters.com Below, India

 
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