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      culture Tish Weinstock 10 June 2016

      feminist porn and the hypocrisy of online censorship

      In light of YouTube’s censorship of her latest XConfession, adult filmmaker, Erika Lust, shares her views on the politics of porn.

      feminist porn and the hypocrisy of online censorship feminist porn and the hypocrisy of online censorship feminist porn and the hypocrisy of online censorship

      Erika Lust has always been interested in sex. Not just the act itself, but also the academic discourse surrounding it. Erika was in her teens when she first discovered pornography. Bitterly disappointed with the industry's representation, objectification and even degradation of women, she decided to combine everything she'd learnt from her political science and gender studies degree, with her obsession with cinema, and started to make porn of her own. That was 2005. These days the Swedish-born, Barcelona-based filmmaker is one of the most revered names in the adult film industry. From the women she works with behind the screen to the female performers in front of it, Erika's ethos is all about empowering women and dismantling the male gaze. Unlike mainstream porn, Erika's films are artful, sensual, and ethical, portraying sex as something that is both pleasurable and empowering to women, as well as men. A couple of years ago, she embarked on her most critically acclaimed project yet, XConfessions, an on going exploration of human desire that invites people from all over the world to submit their anonymous fantasies to XConfessions.com, a handful of which Erika and her team will make flesh through films. Although a great success, last week Erika faced a huge setback when YouTube removed one of her XConfessions, Do You Find My Feet Suckable?, despite it not being in violation of YouTube's stringent rules or regulations regarding sex and violence. In response, Erika made an open video call that was also removed by YouTube, lambasting the sharing platform for allowing violent and sexually degrading videos to exist happily, and unjustly removing those that seek to edify and empower. 

      What sets your work apart from others?
      It's the people behind the camera, who are educated, smart and trendy, in opposition to the creeps that you can usually find shooting cheap sex scenes... It's the salaries we pay to performers, the way we treat them, the lighting, the wardrobe, the make-up, the music, the locations, the catering, the scripts, the contracts, the postproduction, the colour correction, the fact that we do not hide online, you can see who we are and talk to us, the clichés we avoid, the different body types we cast, it's every little detail, its a feminine way of facing sex on the screen. 

      What is it that you are trying to do with your work?
      To encourage more women to take on leading roles in the industry and to offer an alternative to the bad chauvinistic mainstream films available online. To give people films that are created with equality, narratives and cinematography in mind. My films are for people who don't think that sex always has to be presented as cheap, tasteless and vulgar. I show sex as fun and full of passion, but I also pay attention to context, details, location, styling -- everything that you would pay attention to in a film without explicit sex.

      Can porn be feminist?
      Definitely! The concept of feminism is simple for me, it's about equality. So for my films and other feminist films. it's about treating everyone involved like human beings, being attentive to their needs, requests and emotions, compensating them fairly and providing a good working environment with good working conditions.

      Does your gender play into how you represent women? Should it?
      Of course. I am a woman and I want to show women in my films who have desires, sexualities and fantasies. I want them to be empowered, consenting and have fun. I want them to be equal beings to men, able to express their wants,

      Why is it so important to dismantle the male gaze within porn?
      Because the male gaze dominates so much of porn. Most porn is made by the same people with the same view of sex. White middle-aged men obsessed with tits and ass, who are only able to release repetitive sex scenes without feelings. It's also about offering an alternative for the upcoming generations. It's no secret that young people have access to mainstream porn. So it's important they aren't just exposed to one version of bad porn that teaches them bad values. 

      Can you tell us a bit about XConfessions?
      People have sent me their sex stories and fantasies ever since I started my production company Erika Lust Films, and I realised that people wanted to participate and engage with me and my movies. So I thought a way for them to submit their sex stories to me to make into short films was a great idea. I work alongside my team in every stage of the film making process. From the initial location shoots, choosing the confessions, writing the scripts with my line-producer, having meetings with the art director, stylist and make-up artists to decide on the right aesthetic, to casting the right performers etc. I work alongside a very talented and committed team made up of 90% women who I've worked with on this project for a long time. Once on set with performers I go over the scripts and storyline with them, which they are given in advance. I don't give them much direction in sex at all. That way I get the most natural results.

      Were there any that you felt you couldn't represent? If so why not?
      Only two things come into play here: budget and legality. I won't shoot anything illegal or disturbing and of course if someone has a confession about how they had sex on a boat in the middle on the Indonesian ocean, it would be very difficult to shoot! I have to be realistic.

      Your most recent XConfession, Do you find my feet "suckable"? was removed from YouTube, despite it not breaking any of its rules and regulations, why do you think this was?
      YouTube (whoever or whatever YouTube is) must have seen that my name is somehow related to the adult world and immediately censored my short film without dedicating any effort to actually check if I was violating any rules -- which I wasn't. And if I'm honest, that sounds a lot like discrimination. For YouTube it doesn't really matter what you show, but who you are -- otherwise that would explain so much explicit adult content available on there, uploaded by random anonymous people? Stupid, silly, sexist anonymous tits and ass videos are ok for them, a nice short film, made by a filmmaker, about human attraction and seduction, without nudity, is banned. WTF!

      Do you think the fact that the film is about empowering women sexually has any bearing on its censorship?
      Probably, empowering or just classy... I'm assuming they banned the short because it wasn't sexist, funny or had a girl in a thong twerking.

      What prompted your open letter?
      The crappy adult content living on YouTube is creating a discourse on sexuality and gender. YouTube is today's worldwide TV. And it's TV watched every day by millions of young people and kids.

      What are your thoughts on YouTube's censorship of your open letter?
      It further shows their complete lack of care to really monitor their content. Too many auto-bots are doing it for them, making mistakes and closing the door on positive voices. What I really wanted is to hear from them what made them take my two videos down and keep all the others up.

      What does YouTube's censorship say about women and female sexuality in general?
      It tells us that our artistic expression is not welcome online, that they don't care what we have to say, that positive representations of female sexuality aren't of interest and that we still live in a very chauvinistic world where what matters the most is who you are and not what you're saying. And, of course, that chauvinistic and violent content is OK, while intelligent, innovative and artistic are not.

      What does it say about society's attitude towards sex education?
      As I said in my open letter, the ban "further summarises all of society's laziness in debating sexual education, or trying to implement initiatives that are real and effective when it comes to eradicating violence and negative sexual behaviour. In a world where Best Ass Girls, Naked Shows and Cameras Inside Vaginas run free with millions of views, I think that smart and intelligent films with erotic content should be encouraged rather than banned. From all the ways YouTube might want to save the world, misplacing sexist and hypocritical censorship or an "educational" tag, are clearly the less effective ones." It is already pretty horrible how lazy our society is when debating sexual education. Shutting down new initiatives aiming to generate a real development in this field is completely absurd. 

      Credits

      Text Tish Weinstock
      Stills from XConfessions 

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      Topics:culture, erika lust, interview, xconfession, censorship, porn, interviews, feminism, the politics of porn

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