March 29, 2023

Hillinger’s doc concerns a giant mess, and it more or less leans into that by including more talking heads for the argument. When the doc’s discussion turns to Pornhub’s egregious acts firing up anti-porn movements, Hillinger interviews groups like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about who is really to blame or what should be done. Though it provides ample space for these schools of thought, “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story” reaches a larger point, detailing how these groups nonetheless make way for a dangerous conflation between professional, consensual porn and documented acts of abuse.

The largest problem with this film is likely one that Hillinger can’t help: it should have been a miniseries, like the Netflix titles mentioned above. There’s little to suggest that Hillinger and her team didn’t have more to share and also that this project would be any less sensitive or humanizing with a larger scope. Certain chapters are rushed, like the explosive 2020 investigation by Nick Kristof of the New York Times into the illegal material shared on Pornhub, the site’s flawed moderating system as relayed by one exhausted, anonymous interviewee (they have to scan hundreds of videos a day), or more background about the guys who run Pornhub out of a gray office this doc’s cameras love to watch in cryptic B-roll. Even the initial promise of OnlyFans, the next bastion of model-based content that also wrestles with censorship, is only discussed briefly in the last 10 minutes. 

But taking the film as it is, “Money Shot” has a wealth of insight. The film is successful alone for the non-showy platform it provides, as porn professionals like Siri Dahl, Asa Akira, Natassia Dreams, and Gwen Adora share their clear-eyed experiences about getting into sex work, while a former porn screenwriter Noelle Perdue speaks with flesh-and-blood certainty about everything the business takes seriously. 

As the movie whips from one point-of-view or question to the next, it becomes apparent how much “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story” is more or less facing some impossible beasts—Pornhub will always be a product of the internet’s desires, and more hauntingly, the images of abuse that Pornhub helped share will always be out there. But Hillinger holds the movie together by maintaining a firm thesis: sex work is work, and consent is a vital part of the business. The professionals Hillinger interviews in the film, talking about their livelihood and perhaps your pleasure, will be the first to tell you that. 

Now playing on Netflix.

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