Inside New Porn Docuseries 'Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On'

Producers talk feminism, modern dating and how they incorporated criticism from their 2015 doc to show "dark and light" sides of porn

'Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On' addresses the feminist side of porn. Credit: Netflix

Netflix's new series Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On opens with legendary female porn director, Suze Randall, now silver-haired at 70 years-old, tackling a question that has divided feminists for decades: can pornography be female friendly? Can the women be treated well?  Are they sexually empowered? 

Producers Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus spend the series – which is a follow-up to their 2015 documentary about amateur pornography in Florida, called Hot Girls Wanted – trying to answer those questions. Although many viewers found the documentary captured an accurate slice of a very specific experience, it also drew intense criticism from porn performers and producers who felt it did not show the positive, collegial aspects of the business.

Taking this criticism to heart, the new series – which is available now on Netflix – offers a wider view of the porn industry, while also looking into other areas that sex, dating and technology intersect. Rolling Stone spoke with Jones, Bauer, and Gradus, about making a follow-up, their own porn consumption, and why online dating is like online shopping.

In your last project, Hot Girls Wanted, you explored the world of amateur porn. Why did you want to make a follow up to that film?
Rashida Jones:
I think in the original, Jill and Ronna did a very nice job of telling a balanced story, but the film was about one facet of the porn industry. People had a very strong reaction to it, good and bad. Some people felt totally enlightened by it, and some people felt it stigmatized the business and the industry. I know that was not our intention. In the new series, we wanted to show that there are many stories in the porn industry.

How did you incorporate the feedback about the original Hot Girls Wanted into the series?

Jones: Not that this is about me, but my personal journey with this has been incredibly educational, humbling and a bit messy. I am not from this world at all, and I didn't want to make any assumptions about what this world was. But I felt a strong connection to Hot Girls because it felt like the girls that were featured in the movie got some indirect message that this is a line to being famous, and that porn was a good option for them to get from point A to point B. I think that many people within the industry felt like the movie marginalized and further stigmatized sex work, which was not our intention at all. And within that criticism is the good news, which is that what is shown in Hot Girls Wanted is not everyone’s experience. And that was the impetus for "Women on Top," which is the episode about feminism in porn, which I directed. We wanted to show where there was dark, there was also light. 

How did you become interested in the subject of porn?

Jones: I watch porn,  and I found it impossible to navigate the tube sites without being accosted by the most violent videos. And I wanted to find out if there was any porn that reflected my desires. 

Were you able to find porn that felt like it was designed with your desires in mind? 

Jones: Yes, I really like Erica Lust's work. It is beautiful to look at, and it feels like people are hot for each other in her stuff. I feel like X Art does some really good stuff, and Angie Rowntree and Colin Rountree at sssh.com.

Ronna Gradus: Porn for women is out there, but if you do your basic Google search for "porn" it is not coming to you. But in someone like Erica's work there is foreplay and there is caressing, so it is easier to buy into it.

Why did you decide to include an episode about Tinder and online dating?
Jill Bauer:
The series is about sex and technology and relationships, and we have talked to so many college kids, and everyone is on Tinder and everyone is on Bumble, and we have been wanting to do a dating story for a long time. Plus, all the millennial women in the series are very aware of porn, and they are hooking up in a very different way, and with very different expectations.

Jones: I think the interface and the access is different. It is like shopping online, and you can have a dating app right next to your shopping app. I think there are so many like synapses that break down when you have everything in one place, and it's all about accessibility, and choice, and you just flip through it all, and the technology takes some of the humanity out of it, and I think that can be true for porn, and for dating apps. 

Was there a larger question you wanted to explore as you made the series?
Jones:
Thing we are so interested in is self-empowerment versus self-objectification. There is this progress of feminism that is about self-empowerment, in which you take ownership of your body and you put yourself out there. You decided you wanted to be in porn, you decided you like it, and therefore you are empowered by it, and in theory that is great. But that is happening a lot with younger girls who at 17, 18, 19, and they are doing things that they might regret when they are 25. And there is an entire industry that depends on these women empowering themselves because they want these women to be in their films, and they want to make money off of them. So, what does it mean to actually feel empowered by sexuality? It is different for everyone.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.