One of the scariest movies at TFF 2012 had nothing to do with ghosts or goblins. Rather, “Sexy Baby” is a documentary that examines how our hyper-sexualized society is affecting girls and women of all ages. See it this weekend in NY and LA.
Four years ago we strolled down a bright pink shag carpet and into a barrage of naked bouncing breasts. The breasts were fake, but the scene—a convention center filled with porn stars, including Rubber Girl and Ron Jeremy, of course—was as real as it gets. Welcome to Exxxotica Miami Beach, a porn convention brimming with everything you would imagine at such a convention: posing porn stars; make-your-own-porn tutorials, complete with live demonstrations; the Bang Bus van parked at a booth; and gawking men toting cameras like lost tourists on their way to Disney World.
Though it sounds like a great excuse, we—Jill, a journalist, and Ronna, a Miami Herald staff photographer—were actually there to do research to see whether a story we wanted to report was indeed accurate: Is the porn world truly seeping into mainstream life, and are everyday people idolizing adult film stars?
Our unexpected revelation was that porn is merely a few chain links away from most of us. And that’s how we came to cast our trio of characters:
1. Nichole, aka Nakita Kash, 32, whose background as a porn star and stripper attracts college girls and housewives to her pole dancing lessons.
2. Laura, 22, who undergoes a labia reduction surgery because of a comment her boyfriend once made while comparing her to the Internet porn stars he was used to watching. (And her surgeon attests to the fact that this is not an uncommon reason for girls to seek out his services.)
3. Winnifred, 12, who says, “We are the pioneers,” is simply a kid navigating a world where technology puts everything at her fingertips. Unbeknownst to some parents, kids must now make judgment calls about things they are not supposed to see and that they are not yet ready to understand.
During most of the making of Sexy Baby, we lived in a bubble with our thesis and our characters. We were never certain how the finished film would translate to viewers, especially since we steered clear of talking heads. When Tribeca’s Director of Programming Genna Terranova called to offer us our world premiere, we knew we were about to finally find out.
Our primary objective was to get people to have an emotional reaction to the film in order to start this long-overdue conversation. Our first clue came when TFF Co-Founder Jane Rosenthal requested to personally introduce Sexy Baby on opening night. She stood in front of a sold-out theater (!) and said, “I’m a mother of two teenage daughters, and this is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.”
As we went on to screen at other festivals, we were very pleased to know that other parents (from Rhode Island to Michigan) echoed Jane’s sentiment: Sexy Baby is an eye-opening reality check. We also encountered other parents who knew the reality all too well, and in some instances, were moved to tears because they were grateful and relieved to finally have a vehicle to begin an open dialogue.
An unexpected and added bonus was that we seemed to strike a chord with college-age boys. Because the film is largely inhabited by women, we knew it would be popular among the female demographic… but we were thrilled when young men began thanking us for giving them a place to turn. They have told us that Sexy Baby is a safe way to look at men’s involvement in a culture steeped in raunch, because the film blames no one.
This topic is very near to my heart—we are all long overdue for a national conversation on this subject. Parents especially need reliable sources of information about what is actually out there, not hysterical media stories calculated to scare and shock, nor the calculated silence that predominates the rest of the time. Let's face it: who among us believes that our sons and daughters do not see on any given evening in front of the computer material far raunchier and more sexist than anything we ever encountered during our entire youths?
It is time to ask our peers, friends, children and ourselves how today’s hyper-sexualized media and marketing, reality TV, sexting, porn-chic, Girls Gone Wild, online viral culture, has affected all of our lives. The goal of this project is to get people to feel, think, react and have thoughtful debates. No one is being demonized, no one is singled out for blame. But it is time to have an honest and sustained look, that’s for sure. Somebody needed to make this film in a big way.
*In New York, Q&As with filmmakers and/or subjects of the film will follow the 7:30 screening on Friday (10/19), Saturday (10/20), Tuesday (10/23), Wednesday (10/24) and Thursday (10/25).
Jill Bauer is a Hearst and SPJ award-winning journalist who has written for and edited Esquire, The New York Times, and more. She launched Smart Kid, a national parenting magazine. Ronna Gradus graduated from NYU and was a staff photographer at The Miami Herald, covering several assignments in Cuba and Hurricane Katrina. Sexy Baby is their first film.