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Money Shot: The Pornhub Story

Netflix is not afraid of talking about sex. Sure, there’s an algorithm-friendly advantage to creating content with s-e-x in the mix, but the streaming giant has become a good, safe resource for carnal curiosities. Curious about building a sex room? There's the reality series "How to Build a Sex Room." For more serious inquiries, there's “The Science of Pleasure,” an invaluable docuseries that offers sexual education for all. In need of some clarification about birth control? Give “Sex, Explained" a look. 

Their latest venture, “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story,” is a pornucopia of issues handled with care by director Suzanne Hillinger. In a cramped 95 minutes, the film takes on the popular porn site and the way Pornhub became synonymous with all things powerful about internet porn: Pornhub can provide popular creators an audience and livelihood with consensual content; Pornhub can also be a place for craven, non-consensual, and illegal content to be anonymously distributed. The former idea changed the game for sex workers and entertainers; the latter truth involves children. 

With little reservation, Hillinger and her team explore the business of porn for independent content creators like Siri Dahl and Gwen Adora. After such a humanist lens has been put in place, "Money Shot: The Pornhub Story" then gets into the harmful parts of the enterprise: how content by these verified uploaders and models is then batched in the same place with illegal material when the hosts don't require verified accounts. In a compelling and sometimes self-defeating fashion, this isn't just a mini-epic about Pornhub's rule but the people whose lives have been impacted by corporate apathy.

"Money Shot: The Pornhub Story" is a porn-positive documentary, and its ambition to discuss all ugly shades of the issues boldly makes it fascinating and anti-provocative. It speaks tactfully on behalf of the creators who have been thrown under the bus, and have lost money, thanks to a company that more or less has avoided accountability while internet porn became associated with sex trafficking and child abuse. The people who ran the site as part of the data-harvesting company MindGeek in Montreal did not care about the unverified, harmful garbage that populated put on the site. As porn star Cherie De Ville says with anger and wide eyes in the film, “If you let just anyone upload anything, you’re going to get anyone uploading anything. And that’s not okay.” 

Hillinger's doc concerns a giant mess, and it more or less leans into that by including more talking heads for the argument. When the doc's discussion turns to Pornhub's egregious acts firing up anti-porn movements, Hillinger interviews groups like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about who is really to blame or what should be done. Though it provides ample space for these schools of thought, “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story” reaches a larger point, detailing how these groups nonetheless make way for a dangerous conflation between professional, consensual porn and documented acts of abuse.

The largest problem with this film is likely one that Hillinger can’t help: it should have been a miniseries, like the Netflix titles mentioned above. There’s little to suggest that Hillinger and her team didn’t have more to share and also that this project would be any less sensitive or humanizing with a larger scope. Certain chapters are rushed, like the explosive 2020 investigation by Nick Kristof of the New York Times into the illegal material shared on Pornhub, the site's flawed moderating system as relayed by one exhausted, anonymous interviewee (they have to scan hundreds of videos a day), or more background about the guys who run Pornhub out of a gray office this doc's cameras love to watch in cryptic B-roll. Even the initial promise of OnlyFans, the next bastion of model-based content that also wrestles with censorship, is only discussed briefly in the last 10 minutes. 

But taking the film as it is, “Money Shot” has a wealth of insight. The film is successful alone for the non-showy platform it provides, as porn professionals like Siri Dahl, Asa Akira, Natassia Dreams, and Gwen Adora share their clear-eyed experiences about getting into sex work, while a former porn screenwriter Noelle Perdue speaks with flesh-and-blood certainty about everything the business takes seriously. 

As the movie whips from one point-of-view or question to the next, it becomes apparent how much “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story” is more or less facing some impossible beasts—Pornhub will always be a product of the internet's desires, and more hauntingly, the images of abuse that Pornhub helped share will always be out there. But Hillinger holds the movie together by maintaining a firm thesis: sex work is work, and consent is a vital part of the business. The professionals Hillinger interviews in the film, talking about their livelihood and perhaps your pleasure, will be the first to tell you that. 

Now playing on Netflix.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story movie poster

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (2023)

Rated R

95 minutes

Cast

Wolf Hudson as Self

Siri as Self

Natassia Dreams as Self

Cherie DeVille as Self

Asa Akira as Self

Director

Editor

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