There's a Serious Racism Problem in the Porn Industry

There's a Serious Racism Problem in the Porn Industry
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

On Feb. 12, porn performer Ana Foxxx shared the following announcement via Instagram:

A photo posted by (@) on

"IR BG" is porn industry speak for an interracial boy-girl scene — a vaginal-penetrative sex scene, usually between a white woman and a black man.

The email, which came from the adult industry talent agency Exposed Models LA, said, "February is Black History Month and all of this month our talent will be doing IR BG scenes at their lowest rate."

Foxxx was understandably angered by Exposed Models LA's "offer," writing, "It's disrespectful on so many levels. I don't wanna work with anyone who changes their rate to work with someone of a different race."

While stunt PR and marketing blunders in both porn and mainstream culture are nothing new, Exposed Models LA's refusal to apologize for its racist email was somewhat unique: 

Though Exposed Models LA did not respond to Mic's request for a comment, other members of the adult entertainment industry were similarly enraged by the email.

"[Ana] definitely did the right thing to show everyone this email. I think it's highly offensive but then again this is coming from a nobody, unlicensed agent," adult performer Skyler Nicole told Mic. "I'm honestly sick of it to the point ... where the only thing I can do is ignore it. There's no reason to keep tweeting or expressing how racist this industry is when it's been like this for years."

Although Exposed Models LA's promotional rate reduction offer for Black History Month was insensitive, it wasn't exactly surprising. Indeed, it speaks to the undercurrent of complex racial issues operating in the porn world, not to mention in society at large.

Source: Mic/Instagram

The fetishization of white women having sex with black men has a long history, both in porn specifically and in wider society in general. "IR as a genre is a purely American construct, based on our country's history," Casey Calvert, an award-winning performer, explained. One artifact of this wider social past and present — one that's fraught with intersecting inequalities related to race and gender — is contemporary IR porn.

In porn, different types of scenes command different rates. According to performer Mickey Mod, with the exception of in-demand performers like James Deen, men are generally paid the same amount for the same work in porn.

Yet Mod said that for women, rates for IR scenes tend to vary. "Some performers charge more for IR than for a boy-girl scene with white male talent," he explained. "Sometimes that increase can be almost twice their normal rate ... It's very commonplace for people to charge more for IR." 

That's because, according to Vocativ's Tracy Clark-Flory, IR porn "is held out as more extreme not because of which body part goes where but because the adult industry reflects the old attitude society still holds on to that the color of a sexual partner's skin can by itself make the act forbidden." And in porn, "forbidden" often translates into money.

Often, performers will charge more for IR because their agents advise them to do so. As a general rule, agents earn a flat-rate "agency fee" directly from a production company for every booking they manage, which is paid by producers and tacked on top of whatever a performer is being paid for a specific scene. Agents also get a commission off what performers make overall. Higher rates for IR porn translate into more money for the agent.

Calvert told Mic that she does not participate in IR-based rate variability. "I get paid exactly the same, no matter what color the skin," she explained. According to Calvert, her agent, Spiegler Girls' Mark Spiegler, does not allow any of the performers he represents to charge higher rates for IR. But one agent's practices aren't necessarily reflective of another's. And this practice is not limited to the porn world.

"I've never met a new female performer who herself wanted more for IR," Calvert elaborated. "It's something that comes from the agents, and new performers don't say no, because, hey, more money." 

In spite of any apparent movement toward equality, society's sustained racism has manifested in uniquely crass ways in porn — from racist content marketing to tasteless Eric Garner porn parodies to performers hyping up their first interracial scene

Nicole, for instance, was recently featured in a project titled Black Wives Matter, which upset many in her fan base. Though Nicole had no control over how the project was marketed, she said many accused her of trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement. "I didn't even know the title of the movie when I shot the scene," she explained. "But fans don't want to hear that."

Though it stands to reason that Exposed Models LA's February Black History Month sale is not necessarily reflective of other more legitimate, licensed and bonded porn agencies' business and marketing practices, the email speaks to far larger social issues and inequalities related to race and gender.

To a degree, eradicating unequal labor practices is something that most industries need to do. The politics of IR porn, however, are further complicated by adult content's function as a fantasy vehicle.

"Interracial [content] is no different than any other fetish I get hired to shoot, like BDSM or incest or rape," Calvert explained. "I think real racism is awful, just like real incest and real rape, but interracial porn is just as much a fantasy as those other genres."

Mod agreed — porn is about fantasy, and there needs to be a place where people can explore fantasies that deal with race.

"America consumes race-based content because it has a long way to go in dealing with race issues, but that content doesn't have to be made in a racist way," Mod said.

Source: Mic/Instagram

Yet if porn itself is about fantasy, as Mod and Calvert maintained, the reality of porn production is very much grounded in wider social inequalities. According to Nicole, black women are generally discounted in the porn industry. 

"Black women do not get half as much credit as they should," she explained. "We don't get recognized in [trade magazines]. You'll never see a black girl's photo posted at [an industry trade show], nor will we ever take home an award."

According to Mod, the issue of racial inequality in porn is less about rates and more about perceived value and opportunity.

"People of color in this industry have few opportunities that are not tied to their race," Mod explained. "How are we supposed to feel when we know our skin color is a negotiation point for higher pay? From a producer's or a director's perspective, would someone be more or less inclined to hire a person for twice the rate? Would a person of color be considered if it's going to cost more?"

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Chauntelle Tibbals

Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is the author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment. She's also written for Men’s Health, VICE, Playboy, UPROXX, and numerous academic journals.

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