One Year Later, James Deen’s Career Is Still Going Strong
Despite several allegations of sexual assault and violence, the porn star has seen few professional setbacks
It’s been nearly a year since James Deen, the world’s most popular male porn star, was first accused of assault. In the days after the first allegation, several other women came forward with disturbing claims of sexual assault, violence, and boundary violations. Porn studios began to cut ties with Deen, the story caught international attention, and it seemed the thriving career of the so-called “well-hung boy next door” was inevitably headed downhill.
But, a year later, it’s clear that while Deen’s career might have taken a slight hit, it isn’t going anywhere. “Very little has changed in James’ life over the last year,” said Howard Bragman, Deen’s spokesperson. “He is not subject to any cases either criminal or civil and he is continuing the same work he did before in the entertainment industry.” A Vocativ analysis of adult film releases, as well as industry interviews, show this isn’t just the boasting of a publicist trying to make his client look good.
It was on November 28, 2015 that Deen’s ex-girlfriend Stoya, a writer and adult performer, took to Twitter to say, “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safe word.” Then followed adult performer Tori Lux, who alleged that Deen physically assaulted her, hitting her in the face several times, while on a porn set (but not during filming). Next, Ashley Fires claimed Deen assaulted her in a bathroom at the headquarters for BDSM site Kink.com.
Several more accusations followed, including from Lily LaBeau, who told Vocativ that during a BDSM porn shoot Deen hit her so hard that her jaw locked and also ignored numerous other boundaries.
The accusations landed everywhere from The Washington Post to The Daily Mail. And the initial consequences to Deen’s career were swift. Kink.com and Evil Angel cut ties with the star. His advice column for The Frisky was nixed. He stepped down as chairman of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, the industry’s trade association. Nearly two months later at the AVN Awards, the so-called “Oscars for porn,” Maxim reported that “the only dirty words were ‘James Deen.'”
However, a year later, based on outreach for this story, while it seems there aren’t many industry insiders who want to talk about him, plenty are willing to work with him. A Vocativ analysis of records from The Internet Adult Film Database, which catalogs porn films, found that in the past year, an estimated 108 films were released starring Deen — and the vast majority were for outside studios, not his own production company.
This is a drop from the 12 month period before the first accusation against him, which saw approximately 142 releases starring Deen. That amounts to a 24 percent decrease — and most of that drop was in films produced by outside production companies. But he is still clearly landing plenty of gigs — and, by some accounts, the industry overall has also seen a decline in production.
It’s important to note that these numbers reflect release dates, and that adult movies are typically filmed 30 to 90 days before they are released — so, some of these movies were filmed before the allegations and released after them. That includes several titles from Evil Angel, which decided against shooting any new scenes with Deen after the allegations, but did release several movies that had been filmed beforehand.
“James Deen remains one of the most active, in-demand performers in the business today,” said Alec Helmy, president and publisher of XBIZ, an industry news source.
There are other signs that Deen has seen at least some professional setbacks. Before the allegations, he, and his eponymous production company, received 29 and 33 nominations for the XBIZ and AVN Awards, respectively. This year, he received 11 and 18, respectively. However, he’s nominated for performer of the year for both award shows, just as he was last year. And his mainstream media appeal appears to have cooled: This year there certainly were no giddy profiles in magazines like Esquire or GQ.
“I don’t know that you could say his career has thrived or failed to thrive in the wake of the allegations,” said a performer who knows both Deen and Stoya and asked to remain anonymous. “I think it landed somewhere in the middle. It’s less than it was but it’s far from dead.”
Zak Smith, a male porn performer, blames the media. He argues that news publications have shied away from pursuing allegations against the star because they are scared of being “sued out of existence.” And that, he said, is why Deen hasn’t been edged out of the industry: “The media isn’t pushing the story — so the story goes away.” As of yet, Deen has not sued any news organizations or accusers, although he did initially call the allegations “false and defamatory.”
The porn business has taken something of a conservative position on the matter, according to the anonymous performer from above. Initially, she said the industry conversation around the allegations focused on protecting female performers; and then it shifted to protecting performers and producers from encountering these kinds of accusations. Many studios began filming performers ahead of a scene talking about what would be taking place during the shoot, as a way of documenting their informed consent, according to her. (It’s worth noting that many of the accusations against Deen do not involve actions alleged to have happened during filming.)
“This story scared a lot of people who saw it as a potential hazard for any male performer who had been portrayed in the sort of scenes James was portrayed in,” she said, referring to his BDSM work. “That to me is the telltale sign that the verdict leaned in James’ favor.”
LaBeau, who shared her own accusations against Deen, is surprisingly unphased by his continued success. “By speaking out when I did, I found closure,” she said. “I can listen to the directors sing his praises for how much he loves women. I can hear new starlets talk about their favorite male talent and how much they love him, and I’m genuinely happy for them.” She explained, “I know I don’t have to deal with him anymore. I am free. Others can make their own choices as consenting adults and learn their own lessons.”
Ultimately, she accepts that Deen is a fixture in the business. “This industry is my family,” she said. “Everybody has that gropey uncle they fucking hate and avoid at Christmas functions. That’s who James is to me.”