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Money Shot: The Pornhub Story Netflix Film Review

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story gives you a lot to think about in terms of the ethics of porn, the treatment and humanity of sex workers, and the importance of sexual safety.

Before I properly get into this review, I need to make a few disclaimers. First, this review will contain discussion of sexually explicit content; this is a review of a documentary about a pornography website, so it’s kind of inescapable. Second, there will also be discussions regarding sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors. If that sort of thing is traumatizing or particularly upsetting to you, it’s ok if you want to sit this one out. Finally, while I’m going to do my best to be as objective as I can, Money Shot: The Pornhub Story touches on a lot of taboo and controversial subject matter, and it’s impossible for my own personal biases and politics not seep through when writing about this kind of thing. With that out of the way, let’s delve into this.

Money Shot: The Pornhub story is a documentary from Suzanne Hillinger, the director of 2020’s COVID-19 doc Totally Under Control. This time around, Hillinger focuses on the famous pornographic website, Pornhub, and its parent company, MindGeek. Money Shot explores the sites’ histories, culminating in the scandals and controversies in the early-2020s surrounding videos of assault and of underage persons uploaded to Pornhub. We get to hear many different voices from many different sides including lawyers, directors, anti-sex-trafficking activists, and most significantly, the performers and models whose livelihoods depend on their abilities to upload content on sites such as Pornhub.

Let’s start with the industry professionals, because their voices are the most prominent in Money Shot. The documentary is refreshingly pro-sex work, as we get to hear the first experiences of high-profile pornographic performers including Asa Akira, Siri Dahl, Wolf Hudson, and Gwen Adora. From them, we get to learn how the porn industry has grown and changed so drastically over just the past decade.

Pornhub’s Modelhub and sites like OnlyFans have granted performers much more autonomy and freedom over their work, encouraged conditions in which the performers are comfortable and safe, and these performers are often able to earn more by not having to consistently work through big studios. Obviously, the seedy side of the porn industry still exists (trust me, we’ll get there), but Hillinger is right to, as she states in her director’s note, “give agency to people in the porn industry who are often not included, interviewed, or fairly depicted in films and other storytelling media.”

Siri Dahl (center) and Wolf Hudson (R) in Money Shot: The Pornhub Story
Siri Dahl (center) and Wolf Hudson (R) in Money Shot: The Pornhub Story. (Netflix © 2023)

Of course, in the spirit of allowing for multiple viewpoints and nuance, Hillinger also interviews anti-trafficking advocacy groups, many of whom were instrumental in bringing to light the sheer volume and issues of non-consensual, harmful and illegal videos being uploaded onto Pornhub. This creates a great dialogue and conflict between them and the porn industry professionals: the documentary notes that many anti-trafficking groups are anti-sexwork, arguing that pornography, in all of its forms, is coercive. Some porn professionals counter by arguing that, under current economic systems, all work is coercive, as well as note that many of these groups are run by evangelical groups calling for the abolition of pornography and all sex work.

I suppose the one big critique of Money Shot is that it shies away from taking a definitive moral stance. While it definitely gives pornographic performers a platform to speak about and defend their professions, I’m not entirely sure what the central thesis of the documentary was intended to be. Of course we can all agree that sex trafficking is abhorrent, pornography featuring underage persons is terrible, and profiting off of these things is morally wrong. Money Shot will often present a scandal or controversy, and then allow people on either side of the issue to express their ideas. I suppose this is just something that happens in the strategy of presenting multiple viewpoints and allowing the audience to make up their own mind, and this may just be a personal preference, but I would have enjoyed a clearer goal this documentary had rather than a history supplemented with interviews.

That being said, Money Shot is still one the few porn documentaries I’ve seen that is more sympathetic towards performers: the doc makes it extremely clear that any fault from the scandals surrounding Pornhub lies on the higher-ups in charge of the site, and not low-to-mid level employees or the performers consensually making their living by posting on such sites. There’s even a great scene that shows the filming of a sex-scene where beforehand, the performers, on camera as a part of the scene, discuss their sexual preferences and boundaries, presenting a much healthier depiction of sex and sexuality than is typically expected from porn. 

If I were to assign my own thesis to Money Shot, it would be this: pornography, in and of itself, is not evil. The concept of one or more people consenting to engage in sex-acts on camera in exchange for money is fine. But the key component is consent, because, as the documentary states, “Porn without consent isn’t porn; it’s assault.” Money Shot gives you a lot to think about in terms of the ethics of porn, the treatment and humanity of sex workers, and the importance of sexual safety. After watching, you’ll definitely want to reconsider how you consume pornographic materials, and may start considering more independent and feminist porn sites as ethical alternatives.

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story launches on Netflix on March 15, 2023.

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story: Trailer (Netflix)
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