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Could This Be the End of ‘Interracial’ Porn?

AVN tried to sensationalize George Floyd’s past — and then reversed course by eliminating the deeply rooted stereotype in its awards category. It’s a long-awaited change, but is it enough?

Earlier this week, adult media network AVN published a story titled “Police Slaying Victim George Floyd Reportedly Made a Porn Video.” One of the many perverse and wholly unnecessary inquiries into his past that have been taking place on Twitter and beyond, it was accompanied by a photo of a Black man bending down to touch a photograph of what appears to be Floyd at his memorial site in Minneapolis. Hand-written protest posters are scattered at his feet, the most striking of which simply reads, “We Matter.”

The article must not have reflected that same sentiment. During its short stint as a published entity, it caused so much outrage that it was taken down almost immediately after its posting, leaving only a few people with a secret knowledge of what it contained. The rest of us were left to scratch our heads over screenshots of the Twitter post promoting it, but that’s all as well — the headline says it all, and it isn’t something that needs to be said. In a country grieving the lives of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless other Black Americans who’ve lost their lives to police brutality, an offensively tone-deaf sensationalization of a man whose legacy means so much isn’t only irrelevant, but a dumb distraction from the real issues at hand. 

Character assassination attempts like this are uncomfortably common when it comes to Black victims. In 2012, commentators tried to justify 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s death with the fact that he appeared to be throwing up “gang signs” in photos, but in reality, all he was doing was flipping off the camera in a backwards baseball hat, same as any kid his age. Two years later, when Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, conservatives jumped on the small amount of marijuana in his system as a rationalization for his death. He was breaking the law, the sentiment went. Didn’t that mean he had it coming?

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Articles like AVN’s that capitalize on Floyd’s sexual history are no different. Sex work, like weed and “gang culture,” are often assumed by Bible thumpers and conservative nimrods to be morally abject, so to to share them giddily — as if they even matter — feels like an attempt to justify his killing. Unsurprisingly, Twitter went off: 

But in the days that followed, AVN started whistling a different tune. In order to make amends for their phenomenal fuck-up, CEO Tony Rios announced that the network would make a series of sweeping changes to their policies and culture in order to “stand with the Black community” and “fight against racial injustice and discrimination.”

In an impassioned address, he stated that, amongst other things, AVN would be suspending the editors who greenlit the story and that the entire staff would be required to undergo racial sensitivity training. But, in a more shocking and important twist, he also revealed that they would be abolishing the “interracial” and “ethnic” categories from their awards show. Likewise, the terms “IR” and “interracial” would be eliminated from their news coverage, effective immediately. 

“Those are the simple solutions, but we can and must do better, both as a publication and as an industry,” Rios wrote. “We call for an end to disparate scene rates, racist marketing practices and films that rely on stereotypes and ignorance. For too long, we’ve heard the same excuses for these: it’s what the market demands. But we choose whether or not to serve that market. As an industry, we can no longer deny that these films amplify racism and discrimination.”

To be clear, this is kind of a big deal. Performers of all ethnicities have been asking for these changes for years, but since interracial porn has become a grotesque, irrepressible cash cow that feeds off the stereotypes and bygone taboos it conveys, their requests have largely been ignored. As a result, performers of color have suffered

Black performers have been particularly affected. In the industry, the term “interracial” almost exclusively refers to sex between a white woman and a Black man, and the scenes they’re cast in are often designed to exacerbate their racial differences for laughs and profit. This is particularly evident in films on the disgustingly named Dogfart network, where white women are often asked to call Black men the N-word and clueless writers try to turn Hulk Hogan’s racist tweets about his daughter dating a Black man into X-rated parodies. 

Porn has a long history of using stereotypes to poke fun at social issues, but the ones “interracial” propagate can be uniquely dehumanizing — as Mickey Mod, a porn actor, activist and vice president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee told Glamour, “That fantasy has some serious problems, especially when it comes to people of color and people of color serving the needs of those fantasies rather than being willing participants in creating the scenes that they want to be a part of.”

Problem is, those are often the only scenes they can be a part of. Black performers like Ricky Johnson have spoken about being passed over by agents and producers unless it’s for an interracial scene, and Black women often hear things like, “We’d love to shoot you, but we’ve already shot a Black woman this month!”

Lotus Lain, a Black porn star and sex worker’s rights activist who works with the Free Speech Coalition, says people have tried to pigeon-hole her as a certain kind of performer since she stepped into the frame in 2012. She’s been told multiple times that she could never succeed in girl-girl porn as a Black womxn, and that she had to be “open” to any and every act — including anal and gang bangs — if she wanted to survive in the industry. And while she’s become one of the best-known performers the porn world has to offer, she still hasn’t been invited to work for top girl-girl studios like Girlfriends and Girlsway (their site looks like a soft-lit senior yearbook from a suburb in Boise, so that’s not surprising). 

Furthermore, while scene rates have remained relatively stable for straight men regardless of the type of scene, white women often charge up to twice as much for “IR” scenes because they fear it might “tarnish their reputation” (which, by the way, is bullshit). Meanwhile, Black performers have spoken out about being paid less than their white counterparts industry-wide, cast as last resorts, tricked into acting in scenes that appear in market with racist branding and forced to play comically stereotyped roles that make a mockery of what it means to be Black.

It’s not just the “interracial” category that fuels these stereotypes either — keywords and categories like “BBC” are also problematic. “Black people DO NOT say ‘cock’ to each other,” says Lain. “We say DICK. Call it a dick, call it a big black dick, but it is a dick, not a cock. Cock is white.” 

“Ebony” is troublesome, too. “Unless this is homegirl’s given or stage name, this isn’t something Black people ever, EVER call each other,” Lain continues. “It’s offensive and it’s a joke amongst ‘ebony’ performers. All of these goofy-ass names aren’t names we call and use amongst ourselves, so they don’t feel relatable. They’re comical, minstrel-like, even.” They’re also used for profit — these types of labels are designed to make browning easier and more efficient for audiences, but as, Lain implies, that doesn’t make them excusable or benign. 

To renounce the kind of pornographic categorization that makes these ridiculous stereotypes possible is to put humanity over profit. As such, for the most part, performers and industry professionals were pleased with the steps AVN pledged to take. 

It’s a relief to many of us to see that racism in porn is finally being addressed and the onus being put on those who make it, not just the consumer,” says Sovereign Syre, a porn star, comedian and writer. “Moving forward, we need to make sure to center the voices of Black performers when addressing racism and changing our practices. This is a conversation they’ve already been having, and we’re the ones joining in. We need to listen to what they’re telling us their needs are, their demands. It’s an exciting time.”

Others reacted more tepidly, though. Some interpreted it as them “doing too much,” while others pointed out that as gung-ho about racial justice as AVN had suddenly become, their site was still overwhelmingly white. Also, Twitter murmured, wasn’t it a little telling that they only decided to cancel interracial categories after they fucked up during a racially charged national crisis?

“It’s half and half with AVN,” says Lain. “It’s BS that it took this particular instance of civil unrest to bring about long-awaited changes that so many POC have been very vocal about wanting for years. But I also think that their hearts and intentions are in the right place, and they’re open to listening, evolving and hiring Black performers to help them make the differences that they need to make to match the overall feelings in society.” 

When presented with the right steps, she adds, people are usually able to make a change. 

Right now, it’s too early to say what kind of effects AVN’s new measures will have on the industry. But, if other networks and bigwig porn companies glom on, it could mark the beginning of a significant shift in the type of porn that gets made. As my colleague Tierney Finster recently pointed out, “Porn companies are constantly taking stock of their data patterns and trying to emulate and optimize them. This means that every time you search for what you like, you’re driving traffic for those key terms, increasing the likelihood that more of that kind of porn will be made (and that the terms you used to search for it will eventually become as commonplace as ‘MILF’ and ‘BBW’).”

In other words, if terms like “interracial,” “ebony” and “BBC” are voted off the island, less people will search for them, and less searches means less harmful, stereotyped-based porn will be made. We’ve already seen it happen with parodies and a number of other categories — as porn star Sarah Vandella recently explained, when a search term or category falls out of favor, so does the public’s interest in wanking to it. 

In such a bright future where performers are valued more for their acting (and fucking) skills than the color of their skin, porn would be less about race and more about people. And in the cum-crusted corner of the internet where AVN and the rest of the mainstream porn industry lives, the world would be a little bit better of a place for it.