Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On shows the struggles of porn's female directors.EXPAND
Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On shows the struggles of porn's female directors.
Netflix

Hot Girls Wanted's Ronna Gradus on Miami's Role in the Porn Industry

In "Women on Top," the episode of the new Netflix docuseries Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On that screens Tuesday as part of the Miami Film Festival, two women struggle with the conventions of modern pornography from their careers behind the camera. Holly Randall, daughter of the pioneering Playboy photographer Suze Randall, fights to produce glossy, traditional porn shoots on budgets that have been slashed in the wake of free online porn. Erika Lust, faced with a dearth of erotica made with women in mind, makes her own sexy films based on real women's fantasies.

Both women grapple with the way sex is portrayed onscreen — on TV screens, computer screens, and beyond — and they're not alone. Exploring modern depictions of sex, and their effects on viewers, is part of what led Ronna Gradus, along with co-creators and series executive producers Jill Bauer and actor Rashida Jones, to expand the scope of their 2015 documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, which also screened at MIFF.

"This series afforded us an opportunity to go much wider and broader in terms of the subject matter," Gradus tells New Times. "Hot Girls Wanted was really just a look at one specific genre of porn. This series is an anthology, so we have an opportunity to look at six different stories, and they're not all about the industry."

Other episodes examine the ways in which men consume porn, and dive into the world of web camming. The series also revisits a Miami subject of the original documentary. But sex isn't the only thing these subjects have in common. "The connecting thread is all about the internet and how it's affecting the way that we are connected, or disconnected, and the way we treat each other — the way we consume sex, the way porn is made, and how it affects us."

Miami, one of the East Coast's largest porn-producing hubs, is an especially apt place to screen the new series. In fact, the city served as the genesis of the series of sex-related docs — Sexy Baby, Hot Girls Wanted, and its Turned On sequel series — that Gradus and Bauer created together. They began investigating the porn industry while they were working at the Miami Herald.

"We had the idea for our first film, and Jill said, 'We could make this into a documentary,' and we actually went to Exxxotica at the Miami Beach Convention Center," Gradus recalls. "That was our first foray into the universe."

Erika LustEXPAND
Erika Lust
Netflix

They discovered an industry that was massive in scope, in terms of consumers, participants, and profits. But though just about every American watches porn at some point in his or her lives, not much is known about how it affects us.

"When we made Hot Girls Wanted, we were really looking for statistics to help ground the very small story that we were telling. We really wanted to understand how many young women are getting recruited into porn every year and what is the prevalence of the sites that we looked at," Gradus says. But despite working with the Kinsey Institute to find numbers, the filmmakers came up empty-handed. "We were amazed to find out that these statistics don't exist at all — especially when it comes to the effects of porn, and especially when it comes to kids and any connections between consuming porn and the actions of young people. We saw this huge blind spot in our understanding of sex in this country."

So the filmmakers took the Erika Lust approach: If it doesn't exist, make it yourself. They teamed up with the Kinsey Institute to commission a wide-ranging study asking "every question under the sun."

"It really was the first of its kind to go out nationwide. It had questions that had not been asked before, and we had both parents and teenagers take the same survey so that we could really look at what parents think their kids are being exposed to and know, and then look at what those kids actually have been exposed to and know about."

The first findings of the study will be released in April, coinciding with Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On's debut on Netflix. Some statistics will be incorporated into the episodes. But though specific numbers are still under wraps, Gradus says the U.S. has a long way to go, particularly in the area of education.

"We have found that ten years into this work, that... sex education is still not addressing pornography," she says. "And the fact is that for a lot of kids, that's their first exposure to sex. We really have not come far enough, and we hope to keep pushing."

Still, Gradus says, the films aren't intended to advocate for political policies. The goal is merely to start a conversation about an industry and the practices and habits that loom large in our private lives but rarely see the daylight of discussion. And that's true even in a sexy porn hot spot such as South Florida.

"Miami, quite honestly, was an incredible place to really explore these topics," she says, "because there is so much going on right beneath the surface."

Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On
With a discussion with filmmakers Jill Bauer and Rashida Jones. 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, at Regal South Beach Stadium 18, 1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Visit miamifilmfestival.com. Tickets cost $13.

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