The “Porn Oscars” Missed A Big Opportunity To Talk Consent
Adult star James Deen walked away with two AVN awards, after multiple women accused him of sexual assault
On Wednesday, adult performer James Deen posted a blog to his personal site thanking his “many friends and fans [who] came up to me and showed support” at last week’s 2016 Adult Entertainment Expo and AVN Awards, an adult industry event often referred to as the “Oscars of Porn.” The awards show was one of the first times the industry had gathered en masse since a tweet from performer Stoya launched numerous allegations of rape and assault against fellow performer—and one-time feminist darling—James Deen.
In the wake of the allegations, some questioned whether Deen would—or should—be allowed to take part in the expo and awards show—a four-day convention which includes panels, meet-and-greets with adult stars and the AVN Awards show itself. But as Porn Valley descended upon the Hard Rock Hotel, Deen was there among the rest of the adult industry; as the festivities wrapped up, he walked away with two awards. (Deen was also present a week prior at the XBIZ Awards, a competing adult industry awards show, where he was nominated for several awards but received none.)
For some, Deen’s inclusion in the festivities was a sign that AVN had demonstrated good judgment. “I am happy AVN didn’t give in to social pressure to ban James Deen, and they judged him fairly based on his performance and not on the current controversy,” says Jeff Dillon, Vice President of Business Development at Eline.com and a consultant for GameLink.com, an online adult retailer, who attended the expo. Others were less enthused by Deen’s presence: Maxim noted that few of Deen’s colleagues were willing to discuss his presence, and the two minor awards bestowed upon Deen (both for his participation in group scenes) was a marked change from the lavish attention he’d received in previous years.
But Deen’s attendance was only part of the story. Much more troubling than any minor awards Deen received was the Adult Entertainment Expo’s decision to shelve a planned panel on consent on set, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Announced last December, the panel—which included Stoya among its speakers—was intended to kickstart a conversation about best practices on set, and at least one press outlet specifically attended AEE to cover it. And yet it was quietly cancelled, with even participants informed last-minute, and no official explanation released for the schedule change. Some have suggested it was due more to panelist Stoya’s decision to skip AEE than any nefarious intent; panel cancellations are not uncommon at AEE, where such programming is rarely a big draw for attendees.
Yet even if the cancellation was a mundane reaction to a panelist dropping out, there’s no denying that AEE’s decision sends an uncomfortable message about the value the industry places on open discussions about consent on set. “It’s not like the panel rested on Stoya,” says E, a porn performer who attended this year’s AVN Awards and who spoke with Vocativ on the condition of anonymity. “It’s never been about her; it’s about problems in the industry.”
Whatever one’s opinion on the allegations against Deen, they created an opportunity for the porn business to launch an assessment of the state of consent within the industry. “The things that we do on camera are so different from typical sex,” says E. Take away the professional context, and someone having sex they don’t necessarily enjoy, under circumstances completely dictated by another person, doesn’t sound like the model of enthusiastic consent. “But that’s the job for us,” E continues. “So it’s particularly important that we explore the nuances of consent in adult film.”
Hopefully, the industry will take the opportunity to do so in the coming weeks and months, and, in the process, make working in porn a safer and enthusiastically consensual experience for everyone on set. It’s an opportunity AEE seems to have squandered.