The Dark Side: An Oral History Of Black Porn

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By: / June 25, 2012

BLACK PORN STARS HAVE BEEN GETTING THE SHAFT FOR DECADES, OPERATING IN THE SHADOWS OF THE MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR INDUSTRY AND PUTTING IN LONG WORK FOR SHORT PAY. VIBE TALKS TO AFRICANAMERICAN PORN ACTORS WHO ARE TIRED OF BEING JERKED AROUND, UNLESS, OF COURSE, THERE’S A RESPECTABLE CHECK INVOLVED

Writer: KEITH MURPHY | Illustrator: D. ALEXANDER

DIANA DEVOE WAS WELL aware of the consequences.

You have to be when you aspire to break into the porn business. There’s the specter of AIDS. Family rejection. An unavoidable scarlet letter that is forever branded onto those individuals who are brazen— or disturbed, or adventurous—enough to be paid to perform sexual acts on camera.

DeVoe, a college-educated native of Hawaii, had always had a fascination with the adult film industry going back to her days when she briefly operated a swinger’s club in the late ’90s in her home state. But as she sat in a cluttered Los Angeles office in the winter of 1999, there was no turning back. “I didn’t have any moral issues with porn because I was already shooting people doing it,” the 36-yearold explains from her L.A. home. However, as an African-American, what DeVoe wasn’t fully prepared for was what she calls unapologetic racism. “The guy at my first meeting told me, ‘We can’t sell Black women… You’re not desirable to our audience.

But if you’d like to give me a blow job behind the desk really quick, that would be cool.’” She laughs at the absurdity. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m so offended you asked me that,’ because I wasn’t doing it. It was the mixed message of, ‘You are completely unattractive as a Black woman, but come here and get on your knees.’” She has since left behind her days as an adult performer to become a successful porn director, and her story represents just one of several divergent African-American experiences within the polarizing porn profession.

The sometimes-dark world of X-rated erotica is not immune to the stinging reality of discrimination. Meanwhile, practitioners of professional pornography face the same overarching issues concerning their livelihood. The multibillion-dollar industry is battling through a decline in revenues, studios have reported a 30 percent drop off as far back as 2009 (blame pirated online content and the ability for virtually anyone to shoot an adult fi lm on the cheap). None of these issues have been enough to bridge the gap. Interracial porn may be one of the industry’s most popular genres.

Yet, past and present white female porn stars such as retired legend Jenna Jameson and current blue queen Alexis Texas have refused to perform with Black men. It’s not just an issue of segregation. African-American porn actors
are often paid less than their white counterparts (a Black female headliner may get $500 to $700 a scene, white females by contrast can routinely bank more than $1,000). Based on the testimonies of De-Voe and the trailblazing actors who spoke to VIBE on record for this story, Black porn operators are still largely regarded as the “other.” Here, they undress the industry with a type of oral history that gives insight into life as a Black porn star.

MAMA, I WANT TO BE A (PORN) STAR

JEAN VAL JEAN, 70 (male): Transitioned from porn acting to directing in the ‘90s
(Active Years: 1981–1998)
As a swinger, I used to go to New York’s Plato’s Retreat sex club in the late ’70s. And one of the guys that used to give parties got into porn. So one day, he calls me and says, “You should try it out.” There were not a lot of Black people doing porn back then, except for people like Johnny Keyes and Desiree West. I started with the advent of video, and I was working with a lot of the ’70s stars. Video was a lot faster, cheaper and easier to work with than
8mm film. I didn’t have a problem with getting it up in front of a whole bunch of people [laughs].