Does HBO’s ‘The Deuce’ get the portrayal of sex workers right?

Real life sex workers weigh in on ‘The Deuce’ and the portrayal of the adult film industry in popular culture.

                            Does HBO’s ‘The Deuce’ get the portrayal of sex workers right?

One of the only television series to ever tackle the world of sex workers and the adult film industry is HBO’s ‘The Deuce.’  Returning for its second season on September 9th, the series stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco and follows the lives of sex workers and pimps in the 1970’s right when the adult film industry began.

The first season depicted a gritty, violent and dangerous world exploring the darkest sides of the industry.  While the series has received critical acclaim, it is so sensationalized that it begs the question, is this really what the adult film industry is like?

That said, the industry has certainly evolved since the 70’s; however, the portrayal of sex workers seems to have in many ways stayed the same. Often thought of as sex-crazed, drug addicted, diseased, uneducated victims of violence, sex workers are constantly looked down upon and often demonized for their profession. However, if you dig a little deeper past the image that popular culture wants us to believe, you’ll find that the majority of sex workers, especially in the adult film industry, are a far cry from the stereotypes bestowed upon them.

Adult film star and advocate Riley Reyes is just one of many performers not thrilled with the portrayal that mainstream media gives them. After finding great success in the industry, she now serves as the Vice President of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), chairs their fundraising committee and established the first peer-to-peer mentorship program in the adult film industry. To say she exceeds the expectations popular culture puts on her industry is an understatement.



“Porn is typically portrayed in media with this intense sensationalism. It’s always this wild world that's full of drugs and parties, or it’s portrayed as something that’s completely exploitative and makes women into victims.  The reality is much more nuanced than the nymphomaniac or the victim.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. This is just their job, just like any other entertainer.”

Beyond the stereotypes imposed on the sex workers in this industry, there’s so much more to these performers than is assumed by the public. Many are educated, entrepreneurial, philanthropic and some of the most creative minds in any industry. Adult film star Brooklyn Chase also finds the portrayal a bit off, wishing there were more positive portrayals in popular culture.

“I think it's not portrayed accurately, that's for sure.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s negative, just inaccurate. We don’t run around in skimpy clothes most of the time, a lot of us are married, have kids, are entrepreneurial minded. A lot of time people in the adult industry are just portrayed as hot girls that can do nothing else, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s very frustrating because we do work really, really hard.”


Alternative adult film star Joanna Angel has an interesting take on the matter, bringing up the fact that this is not just an industry about sex, but also about creativity and creative power. This is a woman who is educated, has written a book and has created an empire for herself. How many people can really say that about themselves? Not many.

“I love writing, I love directing, I love coming up with ideas. I have friends that live in Hollywood and are aspiring filmmakers, and they’ll make these Kickstarter campaigns, trying to work on the same indie movie for like 5 or 6 years, but they can't seem to make it happen. When I have an idea for a movie it’s done, edited and on the shelf in two weeks, and I think that’s really cool. I feel like I have really honed in on my ability to create things and make them happen and I think that people in porn work really efficiently. We know how to use technology and get things out to the public really fast. I don’t take for granted all of the things I’ve been able to do because of this industry.”



However, it’s hard to fault ‘The Deuce’ for it’s gritty portrayal of the adult film industry in terms of safe sex, as practices and safety precautions have changed since the 70’s. Ryan Driller, one of the top male performers in adult films who has also dabbled in the mainstream arena with appearances in Indie flicks, cable TV and reality shows acknowledges how the industry has changed in a positive way.

“On the better end of the spectrum, I think its a lot safer.  We now have the RPR DNA test tests for Syphilis, HIV, you know, the big hitters. So we are much more careful in that regard, and I think that has just developed over the years.”



The truth is, adult film stars in this day in age are some of the cleanest people you will ever meet. How often is that seen in popular culture?  Rarely.  Which is something that exotic bombshell and adult performer Nikki Delano finds extremely disheartening.

“People have this misconception that we have daddy issues, that everyone is on drugs, that we are dirty, everyone has AIDS, STDs and its a huge misconception. We are some of the cleanest people out there, we get tested every 14 days for precaution. The normal, average person only gets tested every couple of years, if they even get tested at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are girls that party hard and are just wild, but those are more of the newbies that come in and don’t know any better.”




With all of that being said, many stories told by Hollywood are based in some truth and merely sensationalized for the entertainment value. That’s just the industry itself and the world that we live in today. Brittany Andrews, a vet of the adult film industry, content creator and director has been in the industry for 26 years and understands the creative logic behind the depiction that popular culture portrays about the adult film industry.

“One of the things that get people into watching something like ‘The Deuce’ is the pimps, hookers, drugs, and violence. In my 26 years of being in the business, I haven’t seen any of it. Does it exist? Of course, it does, but I don’t think it’s as prevalent as television and the media wants you to think it is.” 

Andrews is a true businesswoman and creative, having taken a break from the industry to go to film school years ago. In fact, she has a lot of similarities to Gyllenhaal’s character Eileen as a woman paving the way for herself in the industry.

“One of the things I did really relate to in the ‘The Deuce’ is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character. She’s somebody that’s a sex worker that gets involved in the adult entertainment industry, and by the bootstraps, does her own thing and runs the business. I think especially because I lived in that area of New York City at one point in time, to me in a certain way it’s been iconized, a novelty, a piece of history that is very colorful with a lot of grit and texture."




With season two of ‘The Deuce’ premiering tomorrow, it will certainly be interesting to see how the five-year time jump will reflect the narrative, and how the success of Gyllenhaal’s character Eileen will change the depiction of sex workers.

Check out the trailer for season 2 below and don’t forget to watch the premiere on September 9th at 9 pm on HBO.