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Mireille Miller-Young is associate professor of feminist studies and affiliate associate professor of black studies, film and media studies , and comparative literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research explores race, gender, and sexuality in visual culture, media, and the sex industries in the United States. Her forthcoming book, A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women, Sex Work, and Pornography, examines African American women in pornography. V anessa Blue decided to become a porn director thanks to her grandparents. “My grandparents had a whole room dedicated to smut,” she explained. “Smut and two Lazy Boys.”1 I had gone to visit Vanessa in her Woodland Hills condo to talk to the performerturned -director and webmistress about her life and latest work.2 She told me about how she grew up with porn in her home, so it was in no way a foreign concept to her. In fact, when she began to perform in the late 1990s, it was her grandparents in Nebraska who found out first. “I’m looking at this movie Dirty Debutantes #61, and that sure does look like you,” she recalled her grandmother saying, hilariously exaggerating her aged voice on the phone. “After that first scene and everybody found out, I was like fuck it. I might as well finish what I started,” Vanessa explained, shrugging her shoulders. “But what exactly drove you to start making your own porn, not just acting in it?” I asked. “I always loved porn and I always wanted to make it and to be a part of it,” Vanessa asserted. “I liked watching people be free and enjoy themselves, and I liked shooting it. I always wanted to be behind the camera . . . [I thought] Let me see if I can become the director .” For Vanessa, being confronted by her grandmother about working as a porn actress forced her to think about what she really wanted. Her family did not celebrate her work in the sex industry but they understood it. What her family really wanted was for her to control her labor, rather than be controlled by someone else. If the sex industry offered Interventions: The Deviant and Defiant Art of Black Women Porn Directors Mireille Miller-Young that opportunity, then she should take it. Her grandparents sternly told her: “We are not saying it is wrong that you do porn, it’s not. Just don’t let these people fuck you. Don’t stay there getting fucked. Figure out a way to make money off of it if that’s what you like.” After many stops and starts, Vanessa Blue took her grandparents’ advice and taught herself filmmaking and web design. She built her own editing studio from her earnings as a porn actress, exotic dancer, phone sex worker, fetish model, dominatrix, and private escort. She has directed over twenty hardcore videos and dozens of digital short films, which are distributed by major companies like Adam and Eve, Hustler, and Evil Angel’s Justin Slayer International. She also distributes them herself through her suite of members-only websites and privately owned video hosting sites like Though working to make a living outside of the corporate adult-entertainment industry’s influence, she remains very much tied to it. Vanessa is a compelling example of the possibilities and limits of pornography as a space where black women vie to gain greater control over their labor but are nonetheless cleaved to the industry’s inexorable capitalistic apparatus. For Vanessa, control doesn’t just mean achieving independence from porn producers who make a great deal of money off of her work as a performer while also treating her as a disposable working body; it means being able to decide when, where, and how she wants to employ her labor. It means avoiding unethical directors and producers who create exploitative and unsafe work environments, and treat her with little care, interest, or respect. There is a less tangible aspect to gaining control over the means of production in porn work as well: authorship. To create the terms of one’s own performance and to catalyze one’s own fantasies into the sex scene—these dimensions of a more autonomous sexual labor allow Vanessa to see herself as much more empowered behind the camera. Moving behind the camera, then, is a kind of mobility that allows sex workers greater agency to traverse the barriers placed around them in the porn business. By highlighting this maneuver we can reveal the material...


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