2023, Movies

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (2023, Suzanne Hillinger)

This documentary isn’t so much the story of Pornhub as its the story of Pornhub from “Traffickinghub” to the present. It’s a reasonably balanced look at internet pornography in the 2020s, and, specifically, the biggest company in internet pornography, that I wish was a little broader in its scope.

In case you didn’t know, “Traffickinghub” is an anti-internet porn campaign. I was completely unaware of it, but it led to some real world consequences, including a Canadian legislative hearing, a US law and Mastercard and Visa ending their relationship with Pornhub. The story this documentary tells doesn’t begin with this, but it mostly focuses on this. And that’s a bit of a problem for me, as the story of the rise of Pornhub and the other “tube sites” isn’t given much time. Now, there are some good podcasts on what Pornhub did to the porn industry before it launched Modelhub, but a film which purports to tell the story of Pornhub needs to tell that story too.

However, this second act does get a pretty nuanced treatment. Though it is clear the filmmakers are on the side of the sex workers and, to a lesser extent, Pornhub, they do go out of their way to give voice to some of the people who hate Pornhub. (Interestingly enough, it seems like the biggest crusader wouldn’t participate.) And they give them a fair amount of screentime.

Before I say anything else, one thing I wanted to mention is that if you ever want to see Canadian politicians behave as dumbly as American politicians, this may be the movie for you. The snippets of the Canadian committee hearing about Pornhub do our politicians little credit, and they come off seemingly like they don’t really know what committee their on.

Speaking of Canada: one criticism I have of this movie is its American focus. Yes, the performers in the film are American and the American market is obviously much bigger, but it’s a Canadian company. One thing I think the film could have handled better is the US attempting to project its moral scruples (and laws informed by those scruples) onto the rest of the world. If the company was based in South Africa, I’d feel similarly. Americans always assume the rest of the world agrees with them about issues. And this film spends too much time focusing on US policy and law given that we are talking about a company that is not based in the US.

Another issue I have was about the revenue and funding. There is some time spent on Mastercard and Visa but very little time spent – just one comment, if I remember correctly – on how these sites make most of their money. I think a better film would have dug deeper into the absurd situation of public pressure to force Mastercard and Visa to break their ties with Pornhub, when they make most of their money through ads, not purchases.

But, on the whole, I thought this was a pretty nuanced look at Pornhub and the state of internet porn in the early 2020s.


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