The pandemic this year has been awful…but it’s made me very grateful for streaming services. In July 2020, my hometown of Melbourne went into lockdown no visitors (except under limited circumstances), no travel further than five kilometres from home, and only one hour of outdoor exercise per day. As I fought off stress, isolation, and boredom, I subscribed to every online film and TV service available…and I watched everything. One thing I noticed is that sex work is entering the mainstream trough Escort Directories. It’s beginning to feature more in both TV and film. This is (I hope) a sign of progress towards greater acceptance. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry. When I sit down to enjoy the latest sex-work-inspired movie, series, or documentary, I’m unsure whether I’ll discover something I love or whether I’ll want to throw my remote at the living room wall. Here are a few recent titles that I’ve watched over the past year. If you haven’t already seen these, my thoughts might give you an idea where to start. At the very least, you’ll receive fair warning as to whether your latest Netflix pick is a safe choice. Love, hate, binge or avoid_ Here’s what I think. Set in Las Vegas in the nineties, is a beautifully nuanced coming-of-age drama about discovering cam work-old Tiffany (Tiffany Tenille) lives with five of her family members in a Las Vegas flat, struggling to make ends meet. Her sister, a phone sex operator, encourages her to apply for ‘adult modelling’ work – and Tiffany finds a job as an online cam show provider. Her experiences grow her confidence in her sexuality, and her sense of self. The film is based on the experiences of actress, who also stars as the lead’s sister. Perrier directed the film, too. I found it easy to relax and enjoy things, knowing that sex workers were being depicted faithfully by someone with direct experience. is refreshing – it’s anything but a caricature. Tiffany delights in learning about the job, laughing and arguing in turns with co-workers. Issues of race and class are ever-present, and the small family moments are subtle but powerful. I loved the early-nineties aesthetic, the hastily assembled space in a cheap motel with faux fur covering the couch. It reminded me of the vibe in some of the brothels where I used to work - hanging out with the ‘ladies,’ chatting about the mundane, and summoning up sexiness when required, no matter how long the shift. This is a low-key production. It’s all about family dynamics, new experiences, and beginning an adult life. I was half expecting the typical ‘disaster ending’ that seems to happen in most movies about sex work, but it’s not that kind of drama. Instead, we’re treated to a series of moments; a vignette into someone’s life. I confess, I’ve always hated Louis Theroux’s work. A few years ago, I watched his film about polyamory, ‘Love Without Limits’ at the cinema and spent an hour listening to moviegoers laugh at his sad caricatures of middle-aged polyamorists. I felt judged. Unfortunately, his piece on sex workers, called Selling Sex, has the same effect. Basically, it’s forty minutes of watching Louis Theroux miss the point. The title is a giveaway – he assumes the job is about paying cash to access someone’s genitals. He either doesn’t understand how service-based businesses work or simply can’t see sex work in the same light. But he’s wrong. And every time he said ‘selling sex’ during his voice overs, I literally gritted my teeth. The premise of the documentary is the question, ‘can sex work be a healthy way to make a living_’ It’s the most boring take possible, one that’s been re-hashed endlessly by antis, journos, and the entertainment industry. In an age where sex worker rights have progressed and we’re wrestling with bigger issues, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. When the workers he interviews speak positively about their jobs, he focuses on the negative. Happy moments are overlaid with a sad soundtrack and a voice over saying he’s ‘concerned.’ He asks leading questions to persuade his subjects to admit to previous trauma or sexual abuse, then frames those events as the reason for their choice of work. One subject interviewed in the film claims her words were taken out of context, and she felt manipulated into giving producers the story they wanted. It’s a familiar feeling. No matter how hard we try to explain that sex work is a legit job, commentators continue to force their whorephobic judgements onto our experiences. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and I fucking hate it. As far as I’m concerned, Louis Theroux can get in the bin is a sexy, larger-than-life serial that follows strippers working at The Pynk, a club on the Mississippi delta. It’s in its first season and I binge-watched the lot over just a few days. The show gives lots of space to, Black culture, and confident women. There’s no shortage of plot lines; newcomer Autumn Night (Elarica Johnson) is running from a dark past, Mercedes (Brandee Evans) is preparing to quit the biz, and genderqueer den mama Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan) struggles to balance the books. Whether it’s a secret queer love interest, a dysfunctional family, or grand business ambitions, everyone in town has something going on. Creator Katori Hall who also wrote the play on which the series is based) calls it a ‘workplace drama’. But for me it was a gritty Southern soap opera whose characters just happen to be strippers. The music is great and the gorgeous dance scenes are a study in the skill and athleticism that make this kind of work so incredible. Throughout the season, the typical stories found in American dramas are made more entertaining by the setting. It was great listening to the characters talk about the way they do business. I don’t think I’d make a very good dancer – I’m not confident enough to walk up to complete strangers and wow them with my sexual magnetism. But these folks are, and it’s a pleasure to watch. Avoid - Hustlers (Film, 2019) For me, the film Hustlers is a guilty pleasure. It’s a crime drama, based on a true story, about a posse of New York strippers who drug and defraud their rich Wall Street clients. The film has some big names – Constance Wu plays Destiny, a newcomer who bonds with experienced worker Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). When the 2008 financial crisis turns their club into a no-go zone, they come up with an inventive (but morally questionable) plan to keep the cash coming in. The thrill of the scam makes for a good story, even though we know it’s eventually going to come crashing down. And watching the crew do their thing reminds me how essential emotional intelligence and emotional labour are to sex workers, and how much we’re up against when it comes to gender politics and cultural norms. Making ends meet takes more than just looking hot in a bikini or knowing great pole moves (although the film has plenty of that too.) But there’s a catch. Hustlers is based on a true incident, but there’s some evidence to suggest the story was used without consent. Roselyn Keo and Samantha Barbash, two of the workers involved, gave an interview for New York magazine that was later used as the basis for the film (with some details altered), claiming that she didn’t give permission and that some details of the film damage her reputation. The film are also alleged to have shut down an actual strip club (Show Palace, NYC) during production. Dancers from the club claim they were left unemployed for a week, without being offered compensation. This has been harshly criticised by sex worker rights groups. It’s hard to get behind this flick, even if it’s fun to watch. I can’t help feeling that if the public enjoys movies about sex workers so much, they should also support our right to make a living and share our experiences on our own terms. If you feel strongly about this too, Hustlers might be one to avoid.