Netflix’s ‘Money Shot’ Examines Pornhub’s Success and Scandals: All About the Documentary

By Netflix Money Shot: The Pornhub Story explore the success and scandal of the biggest porn site in the world. Filmmaker Suzanne Hillinger talks to Yahoo about controversial new documentary. (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)

When you’re scrolling through Netflix’s new releases on Wednesday, there’s one headline that’s sure to catch your eye: Money Shot: The Pornhub Story. The documentary, in a nutshell, examines the success and scandals of Pornhub, the world’s largest porn site.

“We knew that during the making of this film there would be a built-in audience for people who use Pornhub on a regular basis, whether they admit it or not. Or for people who are just curious: ‘What is a documentary about the porn industry on Netflix?’,” director Suzanne Hillinger tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I think it was a huge responsibility to tell a really honest and nuanced story to not continue the oversimplification or sensationalization of porn actors and porn in general, which happens so often in films about the industry. We wanted to somehow attract an audience and then teach them a few things.”

Those “stuff” are much denser than the title suggests, though.

Shot of money begins by examining the rise of online Pornhub which coincided with the rise of social media. The porn platform has completely changed the way adult entertainment is made and distributed, and for more than a decade, the company has thrived despite its typical anti-porn detractors. But in December 2020 the website, a money-making machine with little restraint, dealt its first major blow.

Journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed for the New York Times accusing Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek of sex trafficking and alleged that the website contained thousands of child pornography and rape videos. The article, titled “The Children of Pornhub,” contained interviews with victims detailing how Pornhub would not remove the non-consensual content they repeatedly reported. And if a video was taken down, an unverified user could simply repost it again within hours. The cycle continued. A few days after the publication of the Times article, Visa and Mastercard suspended their credit card services with Pornhub, causing a ripple effect across the platform. Pornhub quickly changed its policies to ban unverified uploads and disable more than 10 million videos. But when Hillinger read the op-ed two years ago, she was surprised “that only two porn stars were mentioned in the piece.”

“I just thought there was some voice missing in this story about the biggest porn platform – and they are the people the company makes money from. So, I really wanted to tell the story of Pornhub, mostly through the lens of people doing consensual pornography, because I felt like it was really missing from the conversation,” she adds.

Shot of money features interviews with porn stars like Cherie DeVille, Siri Dahl and Gwen Adora, who talk about how they’ve been affected by the scandal and the wider implications. Hillinger interviewed porn artists “who had been really hit financially” by the backlash in 2020, but found it difficult to get lesser-known creators to speak on the record.

“People who really depended on Pornhub to pay rent, to keep a roof over their heads, to provide income, to pay for kids or education or whatever – they were financially vulnerable people and it actually seemed pretty dangerous for them to participate in the film,” says Hillinger. “I’ve had conversations with people who were like, ‘I don’t think I can show my face in your documentary because I might lose my apartment.'”

DeVille and other porn actors believe that the war on Pornhub is a facade and that this is really a war on the legal sex work industry. The documentary touches on how far-right Christian groups are behind some of the campaigns against sex trafficking with the aim of dismantling the porn industry under the guise of “save the women and save the children”. If they cared about sex trafficking, the artists say, then these groups should go after tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. However, Shot of money addresses the other side of the argument: Pornhub has had a complete lack of moderation which has resulted in the site distributing non-consensual, sometimes minor, material.

“I’ve always wanted to tell all the parts,” explains Hillinger, “and let the audience decide for themselves.”

Hillinger adds, “I think porn is one of the most polarizing topics on earth and people have their own opinions about it, whether it’s good or bad. They have their own opinions about this as a job and I just wanted to feature all angles of the story and let the audience grapple with it and face their biases and understand how they feel about the story now that they’ve heard it from all sides because there’s no clear cut conclusion and that’s always been very important to me There’s no narration in the movie and it’s really intentional because I didn’t want to have any kind of voice of God saying ‘and this is what you should think of the story.’ I just wanted everyone to share their own, their own opinion on it.”

Hillinger hopes viewers get two main takeaways from the documentary.

“That sex work is work, and the people who create pornography, a lot of them do it consensually and ethically. They own their material, they come up with their own ideas, and they consent. They’re doing jobs. They’re content creators, just like the people who make viral videos on Instagram,” she says. “These are their jobs, jobs that they’re passionate about, that they love to do, that there’s an audience for. The fact that they can support themselves in this work should give so much relevance and credibility to this.”

Hillinger also hopes viewers understand “there is so much that needs to be done by platforms that rely on user-generated content to make money.”

“Moderation is a tricky thing, and you need highly skilled moderators. I think when people say, ‘Oh, you know, the Internet is Pandora’s box and once you open it it looks like it’s the wild, wild west.’ Well, the internet was created by people and there are smart people who are still writing code and making software. Surely, there is a much safer world we can have without censoring free speech,” she concludes. “And it’s going to be really complicated. I hope this is an issue that once people realize it’s an internet problem, not a porn problem, can maybe be taken a lot more seriously and holistically.”

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story will be released Wednesday, March 15 on Netflix.

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