what bella thorne's porno tells us about the dichotomy of celebrity sexuality

The former Disney actress has directed her first porno.

by Philippa Snow
|
Oct 1 2019, 11:23am

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Welcome back to TMZ Theory, in which writer Philippa Snow takes a deep-drive into the stranger corners of celebrity and fame.

Here is a sentence I did not ever imagine I would write: Bella Thorne -- the former Disney sitcom star, and current poet, actress and pansexual It Girl -- has directed her first S&M-themed porno, courtesy of Pornhub. Where other famous former child stars have announced their womanhood by swinging naked on a wrecking ball, or stripping off for Harmony Korine, or for some reason choosing to appear on Gossip Girl as part of the world’s tamest threesome, Thorne has chosen a similar but divergent path: she has created something explicitly sexual, a masturbatory aid that reveals nothing of her body and a great deal on the subject of her fantasies, entirely on her own terms.

The film’s plot, as far as any porno has a plot, concerns a hipster man who learns his girlfriend means to kill him, with -- somewhat surprisingly -- sexy results. It stars adult performers Arabella Danger and Small Hands, and its trailer has a hazy neon vibe that’s very Urban-Outfitters-crossed-with-Spring Breakers. Rather than anything provocative or indicative of its sexual content, she gave it the title Her & Him.

The Vice President of Pornhub might have called the film “a modernistic, sexually explicit Romeo and Juliet-like depiction of two star-crossed lovers”, but Thorne has said that she first pictured it playing out as a horror movie. “What inspired me to make the movie,” she suggested in a recent promo interview, “was basically thinking about this relationship between a male and a female, and this fight over dominance and how much that relates to us in our general world besides in a sexual scenario… People are kind of scared to make a movie like this one when it comes to dominance and submissive[ness] between a male and a female.”

She is right about the subject matter being bold. She is right, too, that there ought to be no embarrassment in the pivot from straight acting to porn directing, just as there ought to be zero stigma in the move from porn to “legitimate” cinema. (“If you think that porn is uncomfortable,” she shrugged, “I’m sorry that you are uncomfortable, but don’t make other people feel uncomfortable for being okay with it.”) Both careers require long hours, feats of physical endurance, a tireless dedication to the hustle, and a singular and hard-to-maintain brand of pulchritude; both leave certain members of their audience mistaken as to how much of the participants’ sanity and bodies they are owed.

When Thorne made the decision to release her own nudes after being hacked this June, snarling in the pictures’ caption that “for too long I let a man take advantage of me over and over and I’m fucking sick of it”, I thought about “The Fappening”, the 2017 cyber-attack in which intimate images of famous women like Jennifer Lawrence were leaked onto the web. “Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” Jennifer Lawrence told Vanity Fair, calling the hack “a sex crime”. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world.”

"Gorgeous, famous women cannot win as far as their erotic image is concerned: refuse to share nudes and somebody with a vendetta will hack them. Avoid taking nudes at all and somebody will either mock-up a computer generated deepfake, or make lookalike pornography."

Bella Thorne has never tried to hide the fact that she has experienced, first-hand and in a way that nobody should ever have to experience, the fact that we live in that kind of world. Her foray into blue movies on behalf of Pornhub is notable for two distinct and not entirely unrelated reasons. The first is that in transitioning from teen sitcom actress to sexual auteur, she has become another prime example of the Disney-star-turned-hellion phenomenon. The second is that for some time, she has been candid about her early-life experiences of sexual abuse.

Typically, I would not be entirely eager to draw lines between a stranger’s childhood trauma and their sexual presentation: it is wild to me how many anonymous social media users try to diagnose the mental states of famous people, as if reading WebMD for 20 minutes were the same thing as completing a degree in medicine, and there is no one ‘correct’ way to react in Thorne’s position. Still, it is impossible to avoid mentioning her openness when talking about this particular career move, and hard to overemphasise how meaningful her choice to direct an adult film seems in light of her experiences. Her & Him does not need to be a great work of art to function as a work of art – as an expression of the author’s personal interpretation of the dynamic between the sexes, filtered through a porno narrative and shot to rhyme with her own favoured hipster-meets-hippy aesthetic. Whether or not the final product is a notable work of erotic cinema, the idea of a young woman and abuse victim taking back control of her sexual narrative can't help but feel corrective.

Gorgeous, famous women cannot win as far as their erotic image is concerned: refuse to share nudes and somebody with a vendetta will hack them. Avoid taking nudes at all and somebody will either mock-up a computer generated deepfake, or make lookalike pornography. The truth is that no deepfake, however un-fake it looks, can ever disclose the real truth of a person’s sexual self. Pornhub may feature lookalikes erroneously tagged as “Bella Thorne” in its user-uploaded database of clips, but only her official feature film tells users anything worth knowing about her relationship with sex, her erotic interior life. Leaking her own topless images two months before releasing Her & Him, Thorne made the same implication, treating nudity as a less interesting warm-up act for something more significant.

Another former child star (and another poet-actress), Amber Tamblyn, once wrote that “a child-star actress is a double-edged dildo”. What I guess she meant was that achieving visible success at a young age brings pain and pleasure, and that growing from a famous girl into a famous woman is by nature pornographic: you give everything you have unto your audience, who reward you by starting up a countdown until the first time you fuck, and/or the first time you visibly fuck up. What’s Bella Thorne filming a little “real life fucking” in comparison?

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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