I often think that what defines a person, is not what situations or experiences a person goes through but how they interpret, react, and change from those experiences. One would think that it is only the negative that I am speaking of, but actually, I’m speaking of the positive as well. The making, marketing and now distribution of the documentary American Courtesans has been a life altering experience for me. It has introduced new truths for me, both good and bad. Each interview, each day filming, the editing and post process, the private screening in Santa Monica (Nov 6, 2012), and now the decision of what’s best for the project as a whole in the distribution phase has been a life altering experience for me.
I’ve spent my life in and around the Sex Industry, in one form or another, and although my truths are very much mine, I had no idea just how many women felt the same way as I did. I had no clue what common threads we all shared and how really I’m not alone at all. As we traveled across the country speaking with provider after provider, I came to know that there is a world out there of us women who are hungry to be heard.. and although we may not trust others to tell our story, within our own group, we’ll step up to the plate in ways others would never do.
Although we pay taxes, infuse money into the economy, do charitable work, raise children to be productive members of society and even serve our country, none of us expect to have the same civil rights as others. Few of us women would, or have, reported sexual assaults, robberies, beatings, sex trafficking of others, or anything else due to the lack of support we have found when trying to do so. The civil rights others enjoy, we pay for but cannot access. We can even go to jail for carrying condoms, something sold in every drug store, and something that is thought to be protective rather than harmful. For us, in the eyes of the law, carrying condoms can equal intent.
Each day we arise and don a facade that even those who love us know nothing of. The loneliness and dangers of this world seem to be just too common. The high points of our lives, others would never even believe to be real, so why tell them. This experience has shown me, that we are much stronger in number and solidarity than I could have ever believed. My mind and heart have been imprinted with the need to do more, to speak louder, to push harder, to intervene in the madness of our current legal structure, as we need a voice. Nov 6, 2012 simply made this need my reality.
The screening of American Courtesans at the AMC theater in Santa Monica was attended by sex workers, supporters from behind the scenes, clients and industry execs. For me, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life. I couldn’t even sit in the theater, just way too stressful. Instead, I spent my time pacing outside and speaking with a woman who was panhandling, listening to her story of hardship about how she got to California and how she wasn’t homeless, but was trying to save her home, as her husband had passed away. I focused on her spirit to survive while others sat watching our lives on the screen. The act of revealing myself was terrifying for me, and how others would see us – excruciating. This was a world that we have been taught by past experiences to keep hidden at all costs.
One of the most outspoken contingencies against the film, were those in the Sex industry itself. I received numerous emails and inboxes constantly telling me not to do this. Most of the time, these letters were not even of a cordial nature. Words on a page that kept running though my head, over and over again. I found myself outside on the 3rd street promenade pacing, watching for any sign of one of the hate groups that had sent me hate mail, hoping that I could do something to stop any plans they might have. And still all the time, all I could think of was would this be worth it. Would the women who I was trying to give a voice to be on board with the project or would the vision that James Johnson, the director, and I had be derailed by the whole film making process.
Near the end of the screening I went back in and began pacing out front… still unable to enter the theater. And here is where it happened…. the moment in life where you are presented with an opportunity….and it happened just outside the doors of theater number 5. A woman walked out just before the end of the film and immediately I knew who she was. Of all the people who could have attended the screening, this woman was exactly who you would want to be there. She was the Senior Director of Acquisitions of one of the bigger media outlets. Honestly, just the fact that she saw fit to attend was an honor. We had a brief discussion and then she disappeared into the restroom. Two seconds later she re-emerged and she began to speak with me. She told me that the film was probably something she couldn’t pick up, and she told me why… but she told me it was good. In fact she told me it was good a number of times and asked that I send it to her so that she could get a second opinion. At first I felt my heart fall, but then I realized, how often does someone who knows nothing about film at all, get the opportunity to have someone of this caliber critique their work? I needed to hear what she said, and use that information in future filming. This moment was priceless. After the film was done we did a short Q/A session (so very uncomfortable for me), and we were off to the after party. It was over, and I could breathe.
The after party was held at Bodega Wine Bar around the corner. We had a raffle benefiting St James Infirmary in San Francisco and raised $500 for the clinic and I sat exhausted as others drank and socialized. And it was here that I realized just how important this project was…. As I sat, sex worker after sex worker came and lent their support telling me just how much they appreciated the film and how they wanted more. Some were tearful, and some joyous… Really, I couldn’t hear anything else, as my evening was made.
We have now received around 7 offers for distribution. A few days ago the director and I met with the company that is top on my list for acquisition, as I think they are a perfect fit. American Courtesans is on to the next step in the journey and I promise to keep you apprised. I am hopeful, and a bit tired as this has been a long journey. I will be retiring after this tour and have such a crazy road ahead of me over the next four weeks. I will be launching a new business concept near the end of January, to rock over the next year or two while in transition. Basically during the interim between film creation and film distribution. I will keep you apprised about distribution and promise that you will be the first to hear what we have decided. For those who have been supportive… Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart….