Standing before her were eight white men, largely unmemorable except for what they all had in common: Confederate flag T-shirts and penises jutting stiffly out of their pants. She was here to have sex with all of them—she knew that; she’d signed the contract. But Ana Foxxx, then 23, was still trying to process the message, what was really being asked of her, when the director, another white man, pulled her into a side room. He showed her images on his computer of other Black women in videos just like this one. He told her that the experience would be fun and easy and quick. Everything would be over in 10 minutes. Was she cool with that?
Ana had shown up to the downtown L.A. warehouse alone. It was 2012, and this was only the third adult-film set she’d ever been on. None of the dozen or so crew members were Black, and aside from one makeup artist, Ana was the only woman present. She felt intimidated, like making a big deal about the scene would be awkward. “In my mind, I knew what was happening was wrong,” she remembers. “But people painted this picture to me that this is the kind of job you had to do to make it. I’m thinking to myself that this must be what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal.” She was also thinking about paying next month’s rent.
The scene began with Ana sitting at an outdoor table with a white man. He wants to show her how much she means to him, he says, take her ring shopping. In another version of this story, one where Ana was white, the camera might cut to the couple in fleshy missionary sex, maybe something just a little rougher. In this version, a stranger interrupts to serve the couple government papers telling them their relationship is in “violation of an interracial dating statute.” To prove Ana is worthy of marrying a white man, she must participate in a “cum bang,” a series of blow jobs she’d have to give those eight men wearing the Confederate flag, followed by penetrative sex.
Then her knees were on the concrete. The air smelled like weed, and when Ana finished, a few of the men high-fived her. Everyone was nice, she says. So nice, in fact, that it felt like maybe what had happened to her wasn’t that bad.
The 19-minute video—which still streams on multiple porn sites, described on one as “black booty points toward the Union”—has now been viewed more than 1 million times. And Ana still can’t put it behind her. Recently, when she tweeted her support of the Black Lives Matter movement, she was overwhelmed with hateful comments: “Aren’t you that girl who slept with those guys in racist shirts?”
Porn was created as a choose-your-own fantasyland. There are genres for massage sex and bondage sex and cartoon sex and public sex and whatever else you want—even if what you want is race-based hate. Because in the kink-is-king world of adult-film production, racism isn’t a terrible injustice or catalyst for a national reckoning. It’s a commodity. And one that’s exploding.
Memberships on sites that offer only racist porn have swelled, according to new data obtained by Cosmo. At the beginning of the summer, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, internet searches for “racist porn” tripled. And between May and June, searches on Pornhub for Black porn—which can return racist results—spiked. A Pornhub representative tells Cosmo that the site is constantly moderating content for anything that would violate its terms of service and recently removed several racist videos from its platform, but plenty remain. And so on, across dozens more sites, from xHamster to XNXX to xVideos.
In fact, over the course of a months-long investigation, Cosmo found hundreds of racist videos featuring Black women across nearly every single site that offers porn. In one, viewed more than 4 million times, a white police officer tells a Black woman in handcuffs that “we’re doing things my way” as he unzips his pants. In another, a Black maid is penetrated by her “white master.”
“Porn only gets made if it’s making money,” says Bryant Paul, PhD, an associate professor at Indiana University at Bloomington, who studies the social effects of sexual material in the media. “The fact that this type of content is growing shows there’s an audience for it—that the audience is growing and that they’re willing to pay for it.”
On one fee-based site (tagline: “see white boys conquering angry Black women”), subscribers pay $29.95 per month—more than triple the cost of a Netflix subscription—to watch their racist fantasies play out onscreen. In a 50-minute video called “All Lives Matter,” a white man “rehabilitates” a Black woman he calls a “looter” by gagging her multiple times and ejaculating on her face. The site’s merchandise includes a shirt that says “Black Throats Matter” printed next to an image of a Black woman with a phallic object being shoved in her mouth. When reached for comment, Donato Cassano, the site’s CEO (who also claims that the majority of his employees in positions of “extreme importance” are people of color and that Black performers earn more than white ones on his site), said, “Racism exists in the heart, not in art.”
It was supposed to be a “regular” sex scene, nothing unusual. “Just a girl-has-sex-with-guy video, and that day, everything went fine,” recalls Daisy Ducati, an adult-film star based in Las Vegas, of a shoot she traveled hundreds of miles for. “But when it came out, I see a picture of my body on a porn film called ‘Black Wives Matter.’ I never would have consented to something like that.” Not that the producers legally needed her permission: Porn contracts typically strip performers of any creative say over their work, allowing seemingly routine videos that involve Black women to get repackaged with a racist twist.
It’s happened to Ana more than once. “I’ll show up, shoot a scene, and walk away thinking it was a good day,” she says. “But then the film will come out and it will be labeled ‘Black gang bang.’”
This came up multiple times over the course of interviews with nearly two dozen Black women working in the porn industry, many of them speaking out for the first time: the lack of power, control, and respect, even as their bodies are used to make money for the very people taking advantage of them.
“We have predominantly white men directing and producing the majority of porn content, so everything is filtered through their gaze,” says Sinnamon Love, a Black-feminist pornographer and founder of BIPOC-AIC, a support group for people of color working in the industry. And whatever the director’s comfortable with goes: When one Black woman was in the middle of a threesome scene with two white men, they began calling her the N-word. “It felt almost rape-ish,” she says. But when she looked toward the white director, he did nothing.
Film writers and marketers play a big role in promoting racism, too, by labeling videos featuring Black women with words like “ghetto” or “nasty” (softer language like “girl next door” and “angel” is often reserved for white women). Black romance or passionate sex is largely nonexistent. Even the seemingly progressive “interracial” porn category is laced with racist undertones, like the “breeding” subgenre in which a Black man “impregnates” a white woman.
“It can never just be a Black woman in a hot video,” says Savannah Skye, an adult-film actress based in L.A. “There’s often an agenda that stereotypes us and uses our skin as away to degrade us. We’re not treated like everyone else. We’re treated like props.”
Or they're just not promoted at all. "On major porn sites, there is no Black representation," says Hurricane Fury, an adult entertainer. "And when you look at their social media channels, they're pushing women who are white and skinny. I'm dark, I'm curvy, so I'm never featured. This despite the fact I have more views on my videos than Mariah Carey has sold albums."
Of course, racial inequity isn’t new to Black female porn stars. Black women have historically made as much as 75 percent less per scene than white women, according to research by Mireille Miller-Young, PhD, an associate professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who studies race in sex industries. And in some cases, they still make less than 50 percent of what their white costars do. (“I have been told to my face by a director that I was being paid less than the white performer I was shooting a scene with,” confirms Daisy.)
There’s always an excuse as to why, including that white women deserve a higher rate for sleeping with Black men because their large penises—also a racist stereotype—cause additional pain and discomfort. (Black women aren’t paid the same because they’re expected to be used to it.) Or that white women have to be paid more so they can be lured into doing interracial scenes. “Black women are told that nobody wants to work with them,” says Amberly Rothfield, a phone-sex operator who does live-cam work. “Could you imagine any other industry where a white person is told they’re going to get more money because they have to work next to a Black person?”
And with fewer mainstream porn opportunities—some studios have an unspoken limit on casting Black women more than once a month—performers get pressured into racist roles. “We have to force ourselves into spaces to be accepted,” says Savannah. “I don’t like being tagged as ‘ebony’ or ‘interracial,’ but in order to make money, we have to submit ourselves to that.” On one occasion, adult-film actress Bethany Benz got a call about a “different” kind of gig: filming a scene in which she would allow white men dressed in KKK robes to gangbang her. (She didn’t take the job.)
Another category Black stars are asked to fit into: being non-Black. Some agents try to pass off their Black clients as white or Latinx or even just “tan” in the hopes of booking more roles. “Once, I had photos taken of me for a shoot and I was photoshopped to look white,” says Sarai, a Miami-based adult-film actress. “I had to spend hundreds of dollars buying back my own image to make sure they were never seen.”
And then, on top of it all, there’s still the pressure to perform, to be better than their white costars. “Black women have to work twice as hard,” Ana says. “I made a point to always show up early. I’d straighten my hair in advance to save everyone time—they rarely want natural hair. When I got on-set, I sat in the corner studying my lines and stayed out of everyone’s way. I was a yes person in hopes that I would have a chance at more work.”
In 2019, Americans consumed more than 100 billion hours of porn. A number that’s likely grown in 2020 as porn sites tout record-setting traffic. For many viewers, what they see in these videos doubles as sex education—comprehensive sex ed is, after all, rarely taught in schools. And just as Hollywood’s depictions of Black culture have helped shape the public’s perception of race, racist porn is helping shape the public’s perception of Black sexuality. Meaning: Porn teaches that Black women like it rough. Porn teaches that Black women like to be raped and abused and disrespected.
It also validates to the people who watch it not only that racism is okay, but also that it feels good. Viewers who seek out—and get off on—it enter into a self-affirming cycle. “This kind of porn activates not just sexual arousal in people who are racist but also their desire to treat Black people badly,” says Paul. “What they’re watching is in line with their schema that Black people are beneath them, so they watch it to get themselves off even more.”
Nowhere is this more obvious than in live-cam porn. Earlier this year, with on-set filming halted by the pandemic, many adult-film stars found themselves out of work. To make money, they turned to cam sites, where they perform live for an audience or for a single client, and to apps, where they take requests for sexy photos and videos. At first, for many Black performers, the platforms felt better, safer. With no more toxic directors, they finally had control. But they soon realized they were in contact with a new type of abuser: their fans.
"Since the Black Lives Matter movement started, people have been taking their anger out on me,” says Hurricane Fury, who has been doing cam work for years. She usually starts her shows perched on her white couch in a skintight tube dress, legs lathered in glittery lotion, nails sparkling. On average, 40 people tune in to talk to and text her as she undulates onscreen, with her horniest fans splurging on private sessions for nearly $4 a minute. That’s in part how she makes real money, six figures a year, she says—but at what sometimes feels like a steep cost.
She’s been called the N-word and a “dirty coon,” told that she’s pretty “for a Black woman,” and asked if she picked cotton. It’s not unusual, she says, for “grown-ass white men” to start video-chatting her and, with their genitals in their hands, call her a Black bitch if she pushes back against their racist comments. “Those people can be a lot and there are times I just don’t feel like dealing with it," she says. But this is her job. It’s what she wants to do. She’s proud of how successful she’s become. It’s just that she wishes she could work without being harassed.
Other cam stars describe similar treatment: requests to dress up as Harriet Tubman, dick pics of white penises with racist slogans on them, messages making fun of their “purple” genitalia. One Black woman, Sienna Suxxx, describes a time a man asked her to position herself so it would look like he was defecating on her. Then there was the time a man wanted her to drink pee while he called her a “[N-word] bitch.”
Blocking certain keywords or users is mostly pointless—the abusers just reappear with different avatars, making the same requests. Like this one Savannah got recently: “Will you please act like a plantation slave for me? Please. It’s what’s gonna get me off.” She said no. He offered to pay double. “It’s so degrading for someone to dangle money in front of your face to act inferior to them,” she says. “And it’s so exhausting to have to wonder, Should I?” When she said no again, he sent a final message: “Fuck you, monkey.”
Here’s something else these women hear again and again: Why don’t you just quit? “If this were any other industry, people would be up in arms,” says Sinnamon, “but everyone turns a blind eye because there’s such a stigma about the sex-work industry. There’s an attitude that you know what you’re getting into. Everyone always says the solution is to leave the industry and do something else. That’s because society doesn’t view sex work as work. But what we’re really talking about here are labor rights issues.” It’s not the employees who need to change; it’s the workplace.
In some small ways, it has. On June 3, hundreds of adult-film industry workers signed a letter saying they are committed to ending pay disparities and content that “denigrates Black people or Black Lives Matter” and that performers must be able to consent to how their scenes are titled. A week later, 15 prominent porn talent agencies promised to end racist pay gaps. It’s progress—but not nearly enough. “The fetishization of Black and brown folks in such a way that they are no longer seen as human beings has got to stop,” says Sinnamon. Adds Daisy: “Some of the changes we’re asking for are so simple—like don’t call us the N-word in scenes.”
One of the biggest groups pushing for reform is Sinnamon’s BIPOC-AIC, which now has more than 200 members advocating for equal pay and the end of racism within the porn industry. Their work has convinced Adult Video News, a trade magazine covering the industry, to hire a Black host for its 2021 AVN Awards (known as the “Oscars of porn”) and to revise its process for nominating and judging race-based categories. Because as recently as 2018, “Black Loads Matter” took home a prize for “clever title of the year”; in 2015, the winner was “12 Inches a Slave.”
But groundbreaking, shape-shifting change is going to require a bigger buy-in: from the creators themselves, the ones currently cashing checks from the exploitation of Black women. “People have continued to ignore racism in the industry because it benefits them,” says Ana. “They have been doing just fine, so they don’t have to care.”
At one of her most recent shoots, Ana and her three Black costars were asked by their white director to pose with bananas for the film’s digital cover. “We were comfortable if we were posing with them in an R-rated way, but it was not that,” says Ana. “We were like still statues with bananas in our hands by our sides.”
This time, she decided to voice her concerns. The director seemed apologetic and agreed to nix the images. Later, she got a text message. Her next job with the company, which had been booked for nearly two months, had been canceled.
Hallie Lieberman is a historian and journalist. She’s the author of Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, and is currently working on a book on the history of gigolos. Her writing has appeared in BuzzFeed News, The New York Times, Washington Post, Vice, and other publications.