Male sex work in documentary films: rhetorical and ethical frameworks

Nicholas de Villiers

Male sex workers are not usually given the same media treatment as female sex workers. Audiences are much less likely to hear about “trafficking” or men being tricked into sex work, but that does not mean the agency of male sex workers is completely unproblematic. Instead, the agency of male sex workers is frequently questioned in relation to maturity, drug use, and sexual identity (sexual orientation or preference versus sexual behavior). The figure of the male sex worker is often employed in documentary as a way to comment on capitalism, geopolitical/ population shifts, or the HIV/AIDS crisis and the problems ot reaching men who have sex with men (MSM) but do not identify as gay. In short, this media coverage often has a sociological or epidemiological focus (see, for example, the Current TV short documentary Male Sex Workers in India, 2006, about safe-sex outreach to MSM and male sex workers in Chennai, India).

This chapter surveys a range ot primarily millennial documentaries from around the globe. It examines the various forms of male sex work in those documentaries with the goal ot identifying common features of rhetorical framing, interview techniques, settings, and topics. While it is crucial to listen to the actual voices of male sex workers talking about their experiences, it is equally important to be mindful ot the ways in which their stories have been trained and edited and to question the techniques and motives of the filmmakers and curious audiences consuming media about male sex work.

Many documentaries about male sex workers continue what Brian Winston has critiqued as the “tradition of the victim” in documentary (1988). Jay Ruby glosses Winstons critique in his essay “Speaking For, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside—An Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma” (1991):

At the same time as subjects are asserting their right to control their own image, there is the growing recognition on the part of the independent documentary community that it is difficult to justify making films about the private acts of the pathological, socially disadvantaged, politically disenfranchised, and the economically oppressed. . . . Until recently, most victims have passively allowed themselves to be transformed into aesthetic creations, news items, and objects ot our pity and concern.

(Ruby, 1991, p. 52)

Ruby also notes a crisis (or even death) of the notion of the objectivity of documentary:

Ironically, the traditional form of the journalistic documentary not only denied a voice to subjects but to the filmmakers as well. ‘Objective’ documentaries have no authors, only reporters who present the ‘who, what, where and whys’ of the ‘truth.’ So the move toward a multivocal documentary form has also involved a renewed and increased role for the filmmaker— an overt acceptance of authorial responsibility.

(1991, p. 54).

We should, therefore, be skeptical about the idea of objective “truth” in journalistic documentary. Nonetheless, this chapter addresses (with some irony) the traditional journalistic questions regarding the who, where, when, what or how, and why of documentaries purporting to convey the truth about male sex work. The chapter concludes by considering how male sex workers (1) negotiate stigma and (2) critique and resist the way their personal stories are solicited and framed.

Who? subjects and players

Male sex work takes many forms, from working in adult film, male strip clubs, host clubs, and massage parlors, to street-based hustling and “entrepreneurial” escorting. The last two are contrasted in the short BBC News documentary Men for Sale: Life as a Male Sex Worker in Britain (2017; Ruby, 1991). Documentary filmmakers typically select a number of individuals working within these specific milieux or venues to interview as informants. The filmmakers often conduct interviews in ways that resemble social-science approaches ranging from the sociological or criminological to the medical (assessing “risk groups”). The subjects are usually identified only by first names/stage names. In the case of the documentary 101 Rent Boys (2000), they get assigned a number (as in sexology case studies). Sometimes the faces of male sex workers are blurred to conceal their identity.

In most cases, the filmmakers do not appear in front of the camera, but they can often be heard asking questions, even though documentary conventions frequently call for these questions to be edited out and reconstructed from the responses given. Clients also rarely appear in documentaries about sex work, for reasons of privacy and privilege, resulting in a lopsided “monologue” on what is in fact a transaction involving multiple parties (as noted by sex worker rights advocate Lola Davina [personal correspondence]). These parties include sex workers, clients, managers (sometimes called “pimps”), club owners, social service organizations (drop-in centers and clinics), and, in the case of these mediated representations, the camera and sound crew. Yet, typically, documentaries show only the male sex workers, often isolated in a semiprivate setting, talking directly to the camera, and framed in close-up so that the viewer can pick up on subtle facial expressions, perhaps indicating shame or other emotions, as they talk about their interactions with clients, their backgrounds and families, and their feelings about selling sex. This close-up confessional framing is especially vivid in Wiktor Grodecki’s documentaries about young male sex workers in Prague, Not Angels But Angels (1994) and Body Without Soul (1996), two films in a mode I have called “confession porn” (de Villiers, 2017; cf. de Villiers, 2018).

Where? spaces and venues

Sometimes filmmakers shoot on location at hustler strolls in major cities, but typically male sex work documentaries are shot inside hotel rooms, in drop-in centers, in gay bars, or in the backstage areas ot male strip clubs. Typically the sex worker is isolated in these interviews for the sake of privacy and sincerity, which can downplay any sense of community or camaraderie. A rare exception appears in loo Much, loo Young: Chickens (1995), the controversial documentary about two young “rent boys” in Glasgow, Scotland. The film shows how friendship and camp humor help the boys cope with social stigma and exclusion (the controversy over the film is discussed toward the end of this chapter).

Space plays a significant role in documentaries about male sex work. The Canadian film Men for Sale (2008), which is shot in a drop-in center, follows a group ot 11 young men over the course of one year as they talk about hustling, drug use, and clients/sugar daddies in Montreal (Figure 7.1). In many ways, the film mirrors the sympathetic but health-risk-assessment- focused approach to Montreal’s male sex workers in Michel Dorais’s book Rent Boys: The World of Male Sex Workers (2005). Both show how hustling is embedded in a complex societal network that includes friendships among male sex workers and features a variety of “types”

Figure 7.1

Men for Sale (Rodrigue Jean, 2008) film poster. ©2008 National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

whom Dorais identifies as Outcasts (who might be homeless or drug-addicted), Insiders (those who are strongly embedded in the sex-worker community), Part-Timers (who separate their occasional sex work from their “straight” lives), and Liberationists (for whom sex work is part of exploring their sexuality') • The workers have divergent life trajectories and attitudes toward their sex work, their clients, “sex entrepreneurs” (those making money off their sex work, including facilitators and drug dealers), and authorities, including police, health-service providers, and “moral entrepreneurs.” Another attempt at a “longitudinal study” of hustling is German queer activist director Rosa von Praunheim’s Rent Boys (2011). It examines the history of the hustler scene in Berlin centered on the Bahnhof Zoo train station since the 1960s, as told by current and former sex workers (many of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe) looking back on their lives in sex work.

The U.S. film 101 Rent Boys is primarily shot in motel rooms, with sex workers sitting on the bed or the floor, talking about their work as hustlers/escorts in the area of Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ugandan film Men of the Night (2017) explains in rapid montage how relatively less visible male sex workers in Kampala work in “slums, hotels, bars, highways, and motels.” In the Current TV documentary Male Sex Workers in India, reporter Adam Yama- guchi follows safe-sex outreach workers and commercial sex workers on a tour of the woodland cruising areas tor MSM near a train station in Chennai, India. The Vocativ documentary short The Beach Boys: Objects of Desire (2013) focuses on the men who work the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya, typically Masai warriors in costume courting white female tourists looking to act out an exotic sexual and/or romantic fantasy.

The Japanese film Boys for Sale (2017) is shot in the Shinjuku 2-chome district of Tokyo and depicts the young, predominantly straight-identified men who work in urisen (rent boy) host bars. While it interviews some of the management side of the enterprise, it mostly features interviews with the male sex workers in tiny private rooms with beds where they can take their usually older male clients (Figure 7.2). The film also offers an important historical archive of

Boys for Sale (Itako, 2017), urisen bar signs in Tokyo Shinjuku 2-chome

Figure 7.2 Boys for Sale (Itako, 2017), urisen bar signs in Tokyo Shinjuku 2-chome.

Photo credit: Adrian "Uchujin" Storey for Boys for Sale. Reproduced with permission from the filmmakers.

the queer history ot the neighborhood. Boys for Sale makes for an interesting comparison to an earlier documentary, 'Hie Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (2006), about professionally charming young men who work in a host bar in Osaka entertaining female clients (some of whom are themselves sex workers looking to be catered to during their oft hours). Both films point to a long tradition of companionship tor hire in Japan, including various forms of “bounded authenticity” and intimacy (Bernstein, 2007).

The U.S. film All Male, All Nude (2018) features a famous male strip club, Swinging Richard’s in Atlanta, Georgia, and is quite exhaustive in its attention to every space and aspect of the strippers’ working environment: the locker room, stage, VIP lounge and private rooms, and even the parking lot as the strippers arrive for work (Figure 7.3). The variety ot spaces also means that the film features interviews with a wider range ot people within the enterprise: the often straight-identified male strippers (who sometimes refer to their peers as “hustlers”), the club owner and managers, bartenders, and some customers, including female clients who enjoy visiting the nonetheless explicitly gay-male-oriented club. The Australian short documentary program A Gigolo’s Life: Male Sex Workers (2014) also features a female client and a straight male sex worker with mostly female clients (and some couples), plus the two female managers ot a male escort agency, shot in hotel rooms and a suburban home office in Melbourne.

Grodecki’s Czech documentaries include interviews with young male hustlers and pimps in the Prague central train station, arcades, gay clubs, and rented rooms. They also feature some footage recorded on the set of an amateur porn film, as well as a morgue where the porn director also works cutting up a cadaver (echoing the title Body Without Soul, a phrase used by one of

Ail Male, All Nude (Gerald McCullouch, 2018) film poster. Reproduced with permission from Gerald McCullouch

Figure 7.3 Ail Male, All Nude (Gerald McCullouch, 2018) film poster. Reproduced with permission from Gerald McCullouch.

the most ashamed of the straight-identified boys in an interview about how he feels “selling his body” to older homosexuals). Grodecki also inserts images of leering “dirty old men” (whom we assume represent clients) and statues of angels implying Catholic guilt. While these images attempt to capture a complex social fabric affected by a newly capitalist economy in a range of locations and involving multiple parties including tourist clients and exploitative porn producers, Grodecki’s films often isolate his subjects in intimate confessional interviews that focus on individual feelings of shame.

When? history and context

Documentary films offer a snapshot of a particular historical moment in geopolitical and urban history, and they often attempt to comment on major economic and population shifts. This agenda is certainly apparent in Grodecki’s films, which are arguably more about Grodecki’s desire to critique capitalism and sex tourism than they are about the concerns of young male sex workers per se (Moss, 2006; de Villiers, 2017). Chinese filmmaker Cui Zi’en’s quasi-documentary Night Scene (2005), featuring both actual sex workers and actors reading scripted dialogue, tells the stories of migrant workers within Beijing’s gay nightlife during a profound shift toward nrarketization in China’s economy. It focuses on a gay bar with drag and go-go boy entertainment known as the Fish Bar, where not all the workers sell sex (de Villiers, 2017). The documentary Men of the Night about male sex workers in Uganda includes voiceover explaining how Kampala’s business district turns into a red-light district at night. It suggests that while people usually think of sex workers as female, the contribution of male sex workers to the “booming” industry is beyond measure. Each of these films is also framed in terms of HIV/ AIDS prevention and the problem of reaching men who do not identify as gay or even necessarily as male sex workers.

Some documentaries about male sex work are explicit critiques of sex tourism (cf. Ryan & Hall, 2001). Bench Boys features European women with exotic fantasies about Kenyan men, but these fantasies do not exclude the possibility of romance, even though such relationships are marked by colonial, racial, and economic inequality. Much more explicitly negative coverage is seen in the France 24 English news documentary short Morocco: The Hellish World of Sex Tourism (2011), which shows how Moroccan boys are being pimped or selling sex directly to “pedophile” European sex tourists out of dire economic need. The RT (formerly Russia Today) expose Sex, Drugs, and Refugees (2018) focuses primarily on Syrian and Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece who resort to selling sex to Greek and other European men around Parliament Square. But we might have reasons to be skeptical these exposes’ agendas: What are the vested interests or biases of French reporters telling these particular stories about former colonies, or Russian state news reporters intending to expose the corrupt side of Europe during the Syrian refugee crisis? Moreover, these exposes collapse many factors into one: Young men’s sense of humiliation and anger at being homeless and lacking access to food and government services is conflated with the humiliation of being “gay for pay.”

What?/how? questions and framing

We should thus be critical of the ways in which male sex workers—especially those who are young, and whose sense of control over their “fate” might be quite limited—are questioned in these documentaries. Filmmakers and audiences seem particularly preoccupied with the sexual identities and orientations of male sex workers—How it can be possible for them to have sex with men for money but not identify as gay?—echoing a long history of middle-class sexological research into male sex work and homosexuality more concerned with classifying sexual identity rather than behavior and less concerned with the social and material conditions and motives of male sex workers (Kaye, 2003).

The questions asked, and the terms used, often determine the answers given (Goffman, 1981). Male sex workers’ responses to questions about how they started selling sex; what risks they take and why; and how they identify their sexual identity, orientation, preferences, and/ or behavior involve complex negotiations of stigma. These responses are therefore constrained by (male) whore stigma, homophobia, and scripts of normative masculinity (machismo). Interviews with male sex workers on camera often demonstrate the problem identified by Erving Goffman s study Stigma in terms of “the management of spoiled identity” (1963). Criminological studies like Donald West’s Male Prostitution (1993) have demonstrated some reflexive awareness of constraints in the answers given by young male sex workers (interviewed at a drop-in center in London), especially those identifying as straight. Sex-work researchers have also noted the potential “research fatigue” of sex workers interacting with those doing outreach repeatedly asking the same questions (Shah, 2014). And yet, documentary filmmakers often flatter themselves (and their audiences) that they are offering a rare sympathetic ear to a seemingly invisible or outcast population.

More accurately, male sex-work documentaries framed as exposes examine “open secrets” of gay urban subcultures, including cruising and hustling, drug use, pornography, and the issues of intergenerational and gay-for-pay sex. Some documentaries reveal how deeply the history of gay culture and the porn industry are intertwined. Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story (2016) tells the story of the San Francisco pornographer behind Falcon Studios, Chuck Holmes, whose work helped define post-Stonewall gay identity and ideals, and who in later life became a philanthropist for gay causes like the Human Rights Campaign. German filmmaker Jochen Hick’s Sex /Life in L.A. 2: Cycles of Porn (2005) juxtaposes interviews with young gay actors hoping to make it in the relatively low-budget Los Angeles porn industry with the lives of three men now retired from making porn.

Other documentaries about the adult film industry examine the idealization of straight men in gay porn: Pm a Porn Star: Gay 4 Pay (2016) features interviews with several straight-identified but gay-for-pay performers (working for sites like, Sean Cody, and Bromo), as well as some gay men who have worked with them (porn performers and a director), along with vox populi (people on the street) interviews speculating about what it means to do gay porn but identify as straight. The U.S. reality television series Broke Straight Boys TV is a fascinating portrait of the gay-for-pay porn studio Broke Straight Boys, including both the producers and the performers, who can face rejection from family and friends when they “come out” as having sex with men on camera tor money (de Villiers, 2018). Both Pm a Porn Star: Gay 4 Pay and Broke Straight Boys TV suggest that gay-for-pay performers understand homophobia more intimately after people learn they do gay porn.

The testimonials ot male sex workers regarding their struggles with family rejection, homelessness, drug use, or financial desperation might be considered a kind of “affective labor,” where the subject is aware of how to solicit sympathy from clients or filmmakers to make them teel that they are helping rather than exploiting the male sex worker. In his article “Sex and the Unspoken in Male Street Prostitution,” Kerwin Kaye notes how male sex workers craft “sympathetic victim” personas in their interactions with social services (downplaying their individual agency or choice) that stand in contrast with the more “tough” image they project among their peers on the street tor protection or respect (Kaye, 2010, p. 114).

But many male sex workers explain their emotional labor in terms of acting as therapists to their clients, fulfilling specific fantasies or offering release, comfort, exploration, or someone to confide in. In All Male, All Nude, one dancer jokes, “Some of the shit people say in your ear is hard to bear,” while another dancer explains how “you find yourself reminding the customers quite often that, you know, there are still boundaries . . . this is still a place of work. It is a place of fantasy, but the fantasy does have guidelines.” As these dancers point out, managing such “social intimacy” requires etiquette, intelligence, and tact in not just exposing oneself to the clients, but also in “exposing people to themselves.” As many testimonials in these documentaries reveal, part of the emotional work of sex work involves dealing with burden of clients’ shame or their projection of that shame onto the sex worker.

A major problem in many “confessional” documentary interviews with male sex workers is that the filmmakers often reinforce rather than alleviate stigma by focusing their questions on risk, disease, drug addiction, or feelings of shame and rejection. As Jo Weldon notes, research into sex work is often obsessively focused on questions about trauma (especially sexual abuse in childhood) but strangely uncurious about financial motivations for doing sex work, as it it is harder to talk about money than about sex, at least in American culture (Weldon, 2010, pp. 147—148). Editing also plays an important role in shaping the overall narrative effect ot what are often diverse opinions regarding sex and money within one documentary. Sometimes interviews are edited to create a sense of “dialogue” among the sex workers interviewed, with contrasting takes on a particular topic, but often one tone will end up dominating the narrative (Grodecki’s films are a good example).

Critical reflexivity is also required when considering the conditions in which interviews are recorded. In both 101 Rent Boys and Men for Sale, female sound recordists attach microphones to the male sex workers, something remarked upon by the men, some of whom seem uncomfortable talking about sex frankly in the presence of a woman rather than in an all-male “homosocial” environment. Their hesitation foregrounds gender rather than race, class, or gay/ straight differentials between the interviewed subjects and the film crew, even though these differentials are also important to consider. It is also worth noting that female clients appear to be more likely to be interviewed in the documentaries discussed in this chapter, and they may experience a different form ot stigma.

Filmmakers are often constrained in terms ot how sexually explicit their documentary footage can be, a problem solved by the filmmakers of Boys for Sale by using Japanese manga (comics) style illustrations of the sexual activities between the male sex workers and their clients (Uchujin, 2017) (Figure 7.4). The porn documentaries mentioned previously are more sexually explicit, but they still work to differentiate themselves from pornography (even as before and after interview and making-of scenes are also staples ot gay porn, and such documentaries can often feel like extended commercials for these studios). Music can also affect the tone of the interview or illustrative footage, whether it is the dance music favored by All Male, All Nude and 101 Rent Boys or the mournful classical music (Mozarts Requiem) in Wiktor Grodecki’s films.

Documentary tone also varies according to modes ot distribution, suggesting different ways of reaching different audiences: special-interest documentary rental, pay-per-view, or subscription- based streaming (Netflix, Amazon, HereTV, YouTube); sensational exposes or sober online news journalism; films intended for international and LG13T film festivals; or documentaries made tor educational outreach use by sex worker rights organizations (for example, Men of the Night was created by an organization also called Men ot the Night, which advocates for the rights and visibility' of male sex workers in Uganda and was promoted by the African Sex Workers Alliance).

Documentary has always had an ambivalent relationship with Hollywood filmmaking and Hollywood as an institution, especially when it comes to sexuality and representation. The sympathetic documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017) interviews famous

Boys for Sale (Itako, 2017) film still of the manga style that is used for illustrating sexual activities between urisen and clients

Figure 7.4 Boys for Sale (Itako, 2017) film still of the manga style that is used for illustrating sexual activities between urisen and clients.

Illustration credit: N Tani Studios for Boys for Sale. Reproduced with permission from the filmmakers.

Hollywood call boy Scotty Bowers about his life and tell-all book recounting his work as a “call boy” and procurer of call boys for celebrity male and female clients in Hollywood, running his operation out of a gas station in Los Angeles. The film offers a critical take on the history of Hollywood’s “closet.” Juliana Piccillo’s documentary Whores on Film (2019) also features interviews with male sex workers reflecting critically on the impact of Hollywood’s images of hustlers and why audiences seem so fascinated by specific narrative tropes about male sex work.

Why? Motives and critiques

Finally, because this article has focused on how filmmakers and male sex workers frame questions of agency in their interviews, it is important to consider how male sex workers can resist the confessional framework of the interviews or even challenge the filmmakers’ ethics. Several of the interviewees in 101 Rent Boys call attention to what they see as the potentially exploitative nature of the enterprise: how little they are paid for participating ($50 USD, sometimes handed to them on camera at vulnerable moments), whether the interview is itself a form of prostitution or solicited performance, and why they should expose themselves (body and soul) for the camera and the voyeuristic spectator.

Fictionalization, or “faking,” presents another ethical dilemma. For example, Too Much, Too Young: Chickens includes faked scenes of clients picking up the rent boys in cars (the clients were actually members of the crew), and the young men sued the filmmakers for misrepresenting them in the film, accusing them of scripting the interview responses. Additional controversy focused on the fact that the boys were paid for participating, and some blamed the filmmakers for putting the boys in harm’s way by airing the documentary (McCann, 1999; Seenan, 1999; “Seduced by 15 Minutes of Fame”, 1999).

However, obvious and deliberate fictionalization can be deployed effectively in a critical and reflexive fashion, as in the work of quasi-documentary filmmakers like Cui Zi’en (Night Scene) or Nicola Mai. For Mai’s films about migrant sex workers in Europe, Normal (2012) and Samira (2014), Mai hired actors to perform and embody the stories of his ethnographic interview subjects (to protect their privacy but also to question some of the assumptions ot authenticity in ethnographic documentaries). Cui and Mai also appear in their films as “characters,” which is one way to accept authorial responsibility. Fictionalization here sensitizes us to irony, both the irony of soliciting the confessional performance of the sex worker subject and the smirking irony expressed by the sex workers in their interviews as a way ot navigating various forms ot stigma attached to selling sex.

Male sex workers often sharply criticize the hypocrisy of their clients or society at large for judging them even as the clients clearly enjoy their services and the release they provide. The best examples ot multivocal and non-judgmental documentary investigation into the male sex industry—in all its various forms across the world—provide space for sex workers’ critiques of the biases ot non-sex workers who have demonstrated seemingly inexhaustible curiosity about the lives, habits, motives, fears, and dreams of male sex workers. An outstanding example is when, in Boys for Sale, the filmmakers acknowledge that they are renting the male sex workers’ time for the interview, and they ask them at the end if being interviewed for the documentary is more difficult than having sex with a client, thereby inviting critique of the documentary enterprise itself.


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Movie Titles, Directors, Year of Release (in alphabetical order)

101 Rent Boys (Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, 2000). Candid motel-room interviews with 101 hustlers/escorts working in the area ot Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, with each paid $50 for the interview (often paid on camera).

All Male, All Nude (Gerald McCullouch, 2018). A behind-the-scenes documentary about the male dancers and management of the gay-male-oriented strip club Swinging Richard’s in Atlanta, Georgia, with an emphasis on the social skills the job requires.

T/ic Beach Boys: Objects of Desire (Vocativ, 2013). Documentary short on the men who work the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya, typically Masai warriors in costume courting white female tourists looking to act out an exotic fantasy.

Body Without Soul (Wiktor Grodecki, 1996). Polish director Wiktor Grodecki interviews migrant male teenagers who work in amateur pornography in Prague, and his probing, confessional interviews emphasize the young men’s feelings of shame about “selling their bodies” and their fears about HIV/AIDS. Grodecki also interviews an exploitative porn producer and coroner in a morgue.

Boys for Sale (Itako, 2017). A smart and self-reflexive documentary featuring interviews with young, predominantly straight-identified men who work in arisen (rent boy) host bars in the Shinjuku 2-chome district of Tokyo, along with some managers and bartenders. The film makes innovative use ot manga-style illustrations tor the stories told by the sex workers about their mostly older male clients.

A Gigolo’s Life: Male Sex Workers (SBS Two/The Feed, 2014). A short news documentary that interviews a straight male sex worker, a female client, and two female managers of a male escort agency in Melbourne, Australia, with an emphasis on de-stigmatizing women buying sexual services from men.

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (Jake Clennell, 2006). Documentary about the young men who work in a host bar in Osaka entertaining female clients, some of whom are themselves sex workers.

I'm a Porn Star: Gay4Pay (Charlie David, 2016). U.S. documentary featuring behind-the- scenes interviews with several straight-identified but gay-for-pay performers as well as some gay men who have worked with them, along with vox populi (people on the street) interviews speculating about what it means to do gay porn but identify as straight.

Male Sex Workers in India (Grace Baek, 2006). Short Current TV documentary report on safe-sex outreach to MSM and male sex workers in Chennai, India.

Men for Sale (Rodrigue Jean, 2008). A sympathetic documentary following a group of 11 young men over the course of one year as they talk about hustling, drug use, and clients/ sugar daddies in Montreal, Canada, shot in a drop-in center with an emphasis on health risks.

Men for Sale: Life as a Male Sex worker in Britain (Michael Cowan, 2017). Short BBC News documentary that juxtaposes street-based hustling with entrepreneurial male escorting.

Men of the Night (Men of the Night, 2017). NGO-produced documentary, advocates tor the rights and visibility of male sex workers in Uganda.

Morocco: The Hellish World of Sex Tourism (Aziza Nait Sibaha & Karim Hakiki, 2011). France 24 expose of sex tourism in Morocco—youths selling sex to foreign tourists.

Night Scene (Cui Zi’en, 2005). Chinese queer activist filmmaker Cui Zi’en’s quasi-documentary features a deliberately ambiguous mix of actual sex workers and actors reading scripted dialogue telling the stories of migrant workers within Beijing’s gay nightlife.

Normal (Nicola Mai, 2012). An artistic documentary by director and anthropologist Nicola Mai bringing the real life stories of male, female, and transgender migrants working in the sex industry in Albania, Italy, and the United Kingdom to the screen but using actors to embody real research interviews. This technique protects the anonymity and safety of the original interviewees, but it also questions notions of authenticity in ethnography.

Not Angels But Angels (Wiktor Grodecki, 1994). Polish director Wiktor Grodecki interviews teenage male hustlers in Prague’s train station and clubs about their feelings, hopes, and fears faced with H1V/AIDS and the Czech Republic’s newly capitalist economy. The film also interviews a “pimp” who helps them meet tourist clients. Images of angels and classical religious music underscore the Catholic tone of the film’s confessional interviews.

Rent Boys (Rosa von Praunheim, 2011). Queer activist filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim’s documentary interviews current and former male hustlers, many of whom are migrants from Eastern Europe, who work around the central Zoo train station in Berlin, along with some bar owners, clients, and social workers.

Samira (Nicola Mai, 2014). A two-screen “ethnofictional” installation presenting the life history of Karim, an Algerian migrant man selling sex as a transvestite at night in Marseille. Filmmaker and anthropologist Nicola Mai (who also appears in the film) uses actors to embody real people and real life histories in order to protect their privacy but also to question what counts as authentic reality or credibility in humanitarian and scientific work on migrant sex workers.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Matt Tyrnauer, 2017). A charming documentary portrait of famous Hollywood call boy Scotty Bowers recounting his life and tell—all book on his work as a “call boy” and procurer of call boys for celebrity male and female clients in Hollywood.

Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story (Michael Stabile, 2015). A documentary portrait of the San Francisco pornographer behind Falcon Studios, Chuck Holmes, who became a philanthropist for gay causes.

Sex, Drugs, and Refugees (Alexander [Aleksandr] Avilov, 2018). Russian expose about Syrian and Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece, who sell sex to Greek and other European men out of desperation.

Sex/Life in L.A. 2: Cycles of Pom (Jochen Hick, 2005). A documentary juxtaposing interviews with young gay actors hoping to make it in the relatively low-budget Los Angeles porn industry with the lives of three men now retired from making porn.

Too Much, Too Young: Chickens (Marie Devine, 1995). Controversial documentary about two young “rent boys” in Glasgow, Scotland. The filmmakers were accused of faking some of the scenes and exposing the young men to danger by airing the program on television.

Whores on Film (Juliana Piccillo, 2019). Embodying the ethos of “nothing about us without us,” a diverse group of sex workers (male and female) speak back to historical representations of sex workers on screen (especially Hollywood film), and critique tropes of victim- hood and rescue.


Male sex work in the porn industry*

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