ByRachael Kaines, writer at Creators.co
Consuming movies, tv, music, etc. Sometimes writing about these things @rachaelkaines
Rachael Kaines

HBO's new show, from the masterful David Simon, is now four episodes in and it is compelling, entertaining, and so much fun. Following the legalization of pornography in '70s New York City, the show stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco, as well as an impressive ensemble cast of The Wire veterans and other talent. The show is named after the area of New York it depicts; "The Deuce" was the stomping ground of pimps and prostitutes as well as peep shows and adult stores. The show will chart the history of pornography, from the illegal underground to the booming industry it became.

Thanks to a positive critical reception, HBO has already renewed The Deuce for a second season, which will jump forward to the late '70s, and a third season is planned to take place during the mid '80s — allowing the series to develop and show how the production and consumption of pornography changed over these decades in New York. The Deuce is being lauded as feminist, and not just because of its female directors (four out of the eight directors of the first season are female), but also because of its depiction of sex workers.

Getting It Right: Consulting With Sex Workers

David Simon is no stranger to representing sub-cultures in a non-biased and explorative way, as he proved repeatedly on The Wire and Treme. It's no surprise then, that The Deuce has so far shown a diversity in the world of sex work that is not often seen in television, movies, or the media in general, depicting the sex workers as having a variety of motivations, rather than the simple victim/whore duality. This is thanks in a large part to the fact that both the writers, and the actors, consulted with sex workers themselves as part of their research, taking care to represent their lives accurately.

[Credit: HBO]
[Credit: HBO]

Crystal DeBoise and Melissa Broudo, the co-executive directors of an advocacy and rights institute for sex workers, have spent their lives fighting for the rights of sex workers — and now consult with the producers of The Deuce. The producers also spoke to other advocates for sex workers and workers themselves. Recently, Crystal spoke to Broadly about the actors' commitment to a balanced depiction of the sex worker characters.

"I ended up talking to actors on the show. I was impressed by everyone's desire to understand the issues they're tackling. They were really trying to avoid the stereotypical tropes of sex work. As an advocate, it was really refreshing to see this coming from the entertainment world."

Melissa explained the problematic nature of the general depiction of sex workers in media, and how The Deuce stands apart.

"To show the reality is to show many realities. Within the context of feminism with sex work and advocacy, we are looking at a different feminist model. One where sex work advocates are attempting to bring a new level of nuance. There now seem to be only two models of sex work: either the victim or the whore, where there is only the marginalized victim being tortured or the empowered whore. While the reality is much more complex."

By consulting advocates and sex workers themselves, The Deuce gives gravity to its subject matter and creates a dialogue about the portrayal of sex work and its relationship to feminism in the media.

Feminism And Pornography Exist Together

Maggie Gyllenhaal's Candy works without a pimp. [Credit: HBO]
Maggie Gyllenhaal's Candy works without a pimp. [Credit: HBO]

Pornography is not something that most people would associate with feminism, but The Deuce is happy to tackle these sort of reductive assumptions. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Candy, a woman who is a mother as well as a sex worker, who works outside of the norm and doesn't have a pimp — "nobody makes money off my pussy but me." Gyllenhaal talked to The Guardian about the contradictory nature of feminism and pornography.

"Somebody asked me the other day whether I thought porn was exploitative or empowering for women [...] I thought, can the answer just be: ‘Yes?’"

In researching her role Gyllenhaal, also spoke to Annie Sprinkle, a television writer and presenter who worked in the porn industry and as a prostitute in the early '70s. Annie told Gyllenhaal that back then there was a different feeling to sex work:

"They were just coming out of the 1960s, and there was a celebration of freedom. People had this idea that they were smoking pot and making love."

Gyllenhaal explained that she tried to integrate this attitude into her portrayal, making Candy atypical of what we might expect, but still very much in keeping with the ideas of the era.

It is difficult to view today's porn industry as feminist, and it is undoubtedly the case that sex workers receive widespread discrimination. But make no mistake, The Deuce isn't necessarily defending pornography or portraying these industries as feminist — instead, the show is giving a voice to the women that did, and still do, work in them.

What do you think of The Deuce? Are you enjoying its feminist credentials regardless of the subject matter?

(Source: Broadly, The Guardian)

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