Hot Girls Wanted is perhaps the most buzzed-about film to play at Miami-Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival this year. With a major feature in the Miami Herald to go along with its big distribution deal with Netflix, it was all but certain to be one of the festival’s highlights. My expectations may not have been very high but I was nevertheless curious to see what directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, and producer Rashida Jones, had cooked up—especially since the majority of the film deals with the booming “amateur” porn genre in Miami. Both directors, who were former reporters at the Miami Herald, were on hand at the screening at Regal South Beach—the festival’s go-to location for buzzy features and hot topic documentaries—to introduce the picture as well as to answer questions from audiences after the feature. The following is an excerpt from my review of the film which will debut later this year on Netflix.
Hot Girls Wanted opens with a line claiming that pornography websites receive more hits a day than Amazon, Twitter and Netflix combined! Whether that number is accurate or not, it’s nevertheless alarming and an attention-getter. This is a running theme of Bauer and Gradus’ pot-stirring doc. The film then proceeds to introduce us to Riley, a 23-year-old Miami native who went from working as a waiter at an Outback Steakhouse to owning a five-bedroom house when he switched careers to become a pornography talent manager. Riley’s game is simple: Every week, he goes on Craigslist and posts an ad looking for hot models with an offer of free housing, a free trip to Miami, a fun experience and the promise of earning more than $900 a week.
For the girls who answer his ad with their attached nude selfies, this scenario is a dream! When they arrive in town, he picks them up, has them stay at his shoddily-kept five-bedroom palace, dolls them up, and then puts their mugs on his “talent” website for porn companies to hire. He also has them create a Twitter handle because no social media network is more beneficial for a pornstar than Twitter. The girls who come knocking tend to be naïve 18 to 21-year-olds from small towns in Middle America looking to get away from their “boring” lives. The allure of quick money, easy fame and massive attention is a killer combination.
But as we’ve seen and read in countless other stories about people who go to the big town in hopes of becoming a star, reality soon sets in. When they stop receiving offers and don’t receive calls from L.A. for shoots in the first couple of months, they resort to working for niche video sites—things like abuse porn and bondage. As Riley tells us, the majority of girls last only between one to three months in the industry before calling it quits. But that isn’t much of a problem for him because, as he creepily adds in a nonchalant tone, “Every day a new girl turns 18… and every day, a new girl wants to do porn.”
One of these girls is Tressa, a 19-year-old former cheerleader from Texas who left her family to come to Miami for the same reasons thousands of other teens did: quick money and fame. Tressa, who is the closest thing to the film’s protagonist, is the ideal girl for Riley because she’s the perfect model for a subgenre of porn he specializes in—“amateur” porn. Amateur porn is a burgeoning genre in which professional films are shot to look like homemade videos, thus giving viewers the impression that the people they’re watching are not actors. And for the most part, these girls aren’t actors. They’re simply wannabes with delusions of grandeur, something that Bauer and Gradus posit is the by-product of a society that has become desensitized to sexual imagery—thanks to celebrities like Robin Thicke, Justin Bieber, Nikki Minaj and the Kardashians. They accomplish this via slick, rapid-fire montages of music videos filled with sexual imagery.
While the abundance of these montages, as well as a plethora of stats like “40% of porn depicts violence against women” and “abuse porn is more popular than McDonalds” are informative, even powerful, the filmmakers’ decision to not delve deeper into these points ends up stifling its impact. Moreover, the film doesn’t dig into what makes these girls take up porn? Is it social media and celebrity culture? Is it our male-dominated society? Is it their rural, religious upbringing? Is it our materialistic culture? Or is it a combination of all these elements? By refusing to give the audience a concrete answer, and choosing the greatest hits approach to the material, the filmmakers leave us hanging with more questions than answers. Perhaps this was their intention but it doesn’t make for fulfilling cinema.
After the screening and Q&A, the event migrated to a swanky after-party held at the Miami Beach Edition. I won’t pass any judgment on the festival’s decision to host an after-party for a film about teens being exploited in pornography—in Miami no less—but will admit that, aside from the curious lack of snacks and a full open-bar, the party was a top-notch affair complete with fancy décor, a terrific DJ, a friendly crowd and a host of colorful characters (blow-up dolls, drag queens, pornstars, filmmakers and a bunch of nerdy critics… How’s that for a bar joke?). And going by the pictures and videos taken by my friends and colleagues, among them Juan Barquin, Lauren Cohen, Billy Donnelly, Ruben Rosario and Kai Sacco, it was a night of no regrets and complaints. Well, just one: I only wish the hotel’s valet service were as professional as the festival’s representatives. These guys took over 35 minutes to pick up our car from the parking lot and bring it to the front of the hotel. They also left another vehicle unattended in neutral on a slope which caused it to roll back and crash into an unattended Bentley. Ouch! At least it wasn’t an uneventful evening.