While you are groping your computer overnight, with one hand, a small pop-up window suddenly appears on your screen. In it, a young woman is lounging languidly on a bed, running her fingers along her hindquarters. Every now and then, she leans forward, clicks a long painted nail on her keyboard, and gives a dragging “thaaaank youuuu”.
This, of course, is a cam girl. For the uninitiated, it is more than a little confusing. Who is she? Or is she? What does she do and who pays her to do it? In his new documentary, Cam Girlz, filmmaker Sean dunne seeks to answer these questions; to reveal the untold story of who these women are, how their world works and what they mean to the rest of us.
Through a series of brief vignettes, Dunne’s film follows 19 very different women through their working days. Some are tall and slender, others are zaftig and short. One is married and has children, the other is over 60 and many are inked and pierced. The film itself looks like a VICE documentary that has been processed with an Instagram filter; it’s beautiful to watch, but nervous enough to penetrate even the most ironic worldview.
And penetrate it must. Dunne’s subjects have found both financial stability and sexual confidence through their work, and practice one of the most contested constructions of third wave feminism: that their bodies are theirs as they please, including including generating profit.
“I think I didn’t quite understand what they did,” says Dunne, who works with a creative team based in Los Angeles and New York. “You’re watching porn and all of a sudden there’s a pop-up and there’s a weird room somewhere, and something that you can’t really explain is going on … So I started asking myself all these questions and then it’s just like, ‘Oh duh, our next movie is about cam girls. Sure.'”
Most of Dunne’s subjects spend about eight hours a day in front of their computer screens. They dance, chat, undress, masturbate and, in some particularly inspired cases, perform artistic performances, while clients tip them. They attract money and fans more for their dynamism and creativity than for their looks; one of the most popular girls (above) plays acoustic guitar in the dark. Another young woman of exquisite daring dances in silence, dressed as a mime. A third occurs alongside a blood-squirting Beetlejuice puppet.
Dunne, a 33-year-old filmmaker from Brooklyn with a hipster fade and cutting-edge facial scratches, has carved out a niche for himself by highlighting the underrated and underrated subcultures of the America. One of his first films, American juggalo, documented the fanatic Insane Clown Posse fan base. Dunne won the award for Best New Director at the Tribeca Film Festival for his follow-up, Oxyana, which explores a small town in West Virginia whose residents have been addicted to prescription pain relievers.
In Cam Girlz, Dunne’s empathy for marginalized communities speaks softly to viewers who harbor lingering beliefs that sex workers are damaged, strained, plagued by daddy issues, or just not the brightest pencils in the box.
“I had preconceptions about porn and cam girls and the types of women that did it,” says Dunne. “I might even have been mildly – even just in my own head – a shameful bitch in a way.” I think it had to do with this tendency to want to help them. And then you’re around that, and you gain an understanding of it, and… that’s a really condescending way of looking at someone’s profession. You don’t need to worry about these people.
After all, they are women who have created online video streaming accounts, created personal brands and marketing strategies, scheduled their own working hours, and filed taxes as business owners, all in order to be able to work in sex.
“They are pioneers,” says Dunne. “They’re using the internet to start businesses and build retirement funds and all those things you don’t think pornographers, in quotes, like doing. They behave like any other small business owner – and they do it without the blessing of the company.
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