OK, we get it: When you’re watching the latest Tori Black movie from the comfort of your bed, with the laptop positioned on your stomach, the last things you’re thinking about are profound societal issues. Chances are, you’re fantasizing about a walk-on role as Black’s oh-so-handy plumber, and jokes using the word “pipe” are coming to mind.
Which is perfectly understandable, but, as the fascinating and heartfelt new documentary Sexy Baby (which premieres tomorrow night at 7 p.m. EST in NYC, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival) points out, that degree of sordid entertainment is potentially much more damaging than one might think. And the negative effects stretch beyond the adult film industry, surfacing in everything from the lyrics in pop songs to the artists’ extremely sexualized music videos.
Directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, Sexy Baby focuses on three ladies from different backgrounds and of varying ages, using each one’s struggles with sexuality and identity to emphasize a larger statement about the impact today’s digital world is having on youngsters’ views of sex and sexiness. There’s Winifred, a rather mature 12-year-old living in New York who dreams of both gender equality and achieving the same physical appeal as Lady Gaga; Laura, a 22-year-old model unable to feel totally confident due to her unhappiness with one body part in particular; and Nichole “Nakita Kash,” a former adult movie actress and stripper who teaches pole dancing (through her Pole Champ business venture) and has long battled through the stereotypes and misconceptions placed upon women in her industry.
Though it’s never heavy-handed or melodramatic (both good things, of course), Sexy Baby drives its messages home with an acute poignancy, largely due to Bauer’s and Gradus’ palpable respect and admiration for their subjects. Complex recently spoke with the film’s narrative kick-starter, Nakita Kash, about the positives and negatives of the cyber universe, owning one’s sexuality, why kids shouldn’t use porn for educational purposes, and the unexpectedly complicated art of the pole dance.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
To find out more: Sexy Baby
How’d you first get involved with Sexy Baby?
I met the producers at an adult convention in Miami, in 2008, I believe. I was representing a company called X-Pole that sells home dance-poles, and they were just beginning to put the idea of the project together. They just inquired about women pole dancing at home for their husbands or for whatever reason, and what was involved with teaching women how to dance sexy and all of that.
That sparked some interest into my background and how I got into it, and, of course, being in an industry where I’m constantly involved in self-promotion and trying to get the word out about who I am and what I do, I jumped onto the project to speak whatever it is I have to talk about. [Laughs.]
In the beginning, did they fully flesh out with you what Sexy Baby was going to cover, or was it just about the basic pole dancing angle?
No, in the beginning they just had an idea. They’d seen women dancing on poles in nightclubs and regular women expressing sexual behavior, and they just thought that there would be a story behind that. They were literally in the process of investigating where the story could go, and I jumped on in the very, very, very beginning.
And how long did they follow you around, exactly?
It was probably about three years.
The film really goes all-access into your life, too. Were the directors constantly around throughout those three years?
Being in the entertainment industry, I actually had to do a lot of traveling, and the directors are based out of New York; I was on the East Coast a few times, so they met up with me there, and they came down to Florida, where I’m based, about three or four times a year, randomly, based on what I had going on in my schedule and if they wanted to be involved with it and film the process. Once, they just came to my house and asked, “What are you doing today?” And then they stayed and filmed a whole weekend of my life.
Was there ever any apprehension on your end, to let these two strangers so fully into your life and capture some very candid moments?
Absolutely. Being a public figure in the adultarena, you definitely put on a façade and you play a character to the public, so letting someone into your personal life and letting them know who you truly are is definitely nerve-wracking. I’m always open in front of a camera, and I usually try to be myself, but letting someone into my home and inviting them to spend time around my family was definitely tough. You don’t want to expose too much of your own personal being, but in a documentary you have to.
Was there a certain experience or interaction with the directors where you noticed that you started to feel more comfortable about that?
Well, you always try to watch what you say, because you don’t want to look back and go, “Oh my god, I actually said that?” [Laughs.] But, for the most part, the more time I spent with them, the more I realized that they’re a couple of great women who really have great personalities, and they’re actually really cool to hang out with. I know that I’d be friends with them aside from the project.
So they were really, really easy to talk to and be around, and they were very respectful. So, yes, as time went on it got easier, but I always had to catch myself and ask, “Am I getting way too comfortable in front of them? Am I saying things that maybe I shouldn’t?” I wanted to make sure to say the right thing. But we’ll see. [Laughs.] We’ll see how I’m perceived.
I think that I portrayed what I really, truly think and believe, so I’m totally OK with it all. But we’ll see what happens, though.
I always knew that it was an issue, but more so in terms of being an actor in the adult arena, and having amateur companies pop up makes things difficult for actors. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about who it affects outside of the industry, and as the project went on I started understanding more of how the digital age is affecting young women. Initially, I knew it was an issue, but it was more about how it’s changing the actual industry and the profitability. It was this project that opened my eyes to how it’s changing the everyday world and people outside of my industry.
On the flipside, do you see any benefits brought about by the digital age?
Well, I would say that it stays more of a negative. The world constantly evolving and changing is natural, and I believe that the adult industry actually pushed the digital age to be what it is; there are probably more porn on the Internet than anything else. They also encourage different aps and different digital enhancements of this and that. So I think that the adult industry is encouraging the digital, but at the same time, the digital age is hurting the industry. Everything’s a natural progression.
In Sexy Baby, the filmmakers talk to a bunch of kids on the street, and some of the guys they interview talk about how watching porno movies has given them certain expectations of how women should act in the bedroom. That’s pretty alarming, to think that teenage boys are watching porn and then going out on dates expecting the girls to do everything they saw on their laptop.
Yeah, and this project actually opened my eyes to that, also. I’ll go back to what I say in the film, and that’s that adult film actors are just that: They’re actors. They are going above and beyond in a fantasy world, and that is meant for entertainment, not reality. It’s a very competitive industry where everybody is trying to one-up each other, so what you see on camera isn’t what you would experience at home—what you see on camera is an actor, a producer, a director, and a production company trying to one-up, for cash money purposes, their competition. They’re trying to win awards and make money; they’re not necessarily trying to capture someone’s heart.
There’s a scene in the film where you say that porn isn’t for “teenagers to learn about sex,” which speaks directly to that point. Outside of something like Sexy Baby, is there any way to educate kids about the realities and misconceptions of the adult industry? Because people who watch porn online are searching for instant gratification, not the bigger picture.
Right, and as a teenager, it’s always about instant gratification. That’s emphasized now because we’re in the digital age, and they get information immediately, which allows for them have gratification immediately. It’s definitely a world now where everything is at your fingertips, whether it be information, food, or sex, especially for teenagers. If you think about when youwere a teenager, it was always about what was in front of your face, not what’s happening down the line in ten years.
Teenagers even have a hard time coming up with, “What am I going to do for a living?” Let alone, “How am I going to have a relationship?” Decisions that are about the future are really difficult for a teenager to make, anyway.
The filmmakers do a clever, slick job of weaving in popular song lyrics and video clips to emphasize how distorted views of sexuality are all over the forms of entertainment that teenagers enjoy, as well.
Absolutely, it comes from all sides. In fact, I was just at the mall the other day, and I started stripping in 1994; I was in high school, and I had to go incognito to the mall to find a pair of shoes that were acceptable for stripping. They were four- or five-inch heels, and for a 17-year-old girl to buy a pair of shoes like that, there was something very wrong with you. I had to be very sneaky; I had to buy them at a mall that was nowhere near my house and not spend too much money so nobody saw how much money I was spending. And there was only one store that I could buy those shoes at, so I could dance.
Now, when I go to the mall, every shoe store in the mall has a pair of what, in my industry, we would call “hooker heels.” They’re presented for anyone, from size 6 for women to size 12 for men, to wear. That wasn’t the case when I first started dancing. Even in shoes, songs, or whatever, sex is everywhere now. It’s thrown in their faces constantly. For kids, it’s normal—they don’t know anything else.
One of the other subjects in Sexy Baby, the young girl, Winifred, watches her younger sister—who can’t be any older than six or seven—emulating everything she sees happen in a Lady Gaga video that’s playing on the TV screen. So it’s even trickling down to kids who aren’t even teenagers yet.
I don’t necessarily agree with sheltering a child, but why not have your six or seven-year-old sing happy songs? Songs from the ’50s, maybe? [Laughs.] There was a time where everything was about love and happiness, and not necessarily sex.
In the film, you also talk about how there are many women who see you as Nakita Kash and want to be like you, but what they don’t realize is that you want to be more like them. Younger girls see women in your industry, it seems, and they think that’s how you are all the time; they don’t realize that you’re a real person who goes home and strives for a normal life once the cameras turn off.
That’s very true. Having to be on, perfect, and 100% all of the time is exhausting, it’s difficult, and, for the most part, it’s not real. Everyone likes to play dress-up, and everyone likes to be super-sexy and pretty, thought of as someone that others want to be or be with. But when you go home, you want to take off all of the makeup, put on some sweats, and cuddle with someone you love, who doesn’t care about seeing you in five-inch heels, makeup, and fake eyelashes, or showing boobs and butt in your dress.
Winifred actually sets up a “photo shoot” to get new “sexy” pictures up on her Facebook page. That’s what makes Sexy Baby so effective, and important: It brings a lot of what’s negatively affecting young girls to light.
I think that if the words “pretend,” “fantasy,” and “playing dress-up” are used with a child who’s under ten, they’ll probably understand that it’s for play. It’s about communicating with them about how that’s now how they should be all the time, or in public. Having a sexy dance isn’t necessarily something they should go to pre-school with. [Laughs.]
I got into the industry because it was something that I wanted to do. It is, and always be, a form of getting attention, but I enjoy getting attention for something I’m good at and can do well. To be in control of my own sexuality, my own body—nobody told me do anything. I shared it with the world; from the very beginning, I shared it with friends and family, and anyone who would watch or listen. But it was something that I wanted to do. No one told me to do it, no one encouraged me to do it—in fact, people tried to discourage me from doing it.
It was something that I knew I would be good at, and it was something I knew I could do on my own with my interests and under my own terms. My entire adult career was on my own terms. I wasn’t exuberantly successful, because I didn’t listen to anyone else; I wanted to do what I was comfortable with, but I owned it and knew how to present myself in a very sexual manner, the way I was comfortable doing it.
And some young girls don’t understand the fact that your kind of perspective is even possible.
I think that, also, the digital age has both helped and hurt that issue. Meaning, when stars have a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, or whatever other way they can connect with fans, and they post a picture of them having dinner with their family, or just hanging out with a girlfriend—something very, very normal.
When stars get caught by camera carrying their child down a street, and they’re not wearing their full rock star get-up—those kinds of things help, too, because it shows that they’re real people. Like, when stars do zit cream commercials, kids can see that they don’t always have perfect skin. Things like that make them realize that stars are real people, and that they’re not perfect 100% of the time. Well, hopefully they realize that.
They should check out magazine photo shoots before they hit the printing press, too—sometimes, they might even recognize that sexy, “perfect” female celebrity.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it’s all lighting and air-brushing.
At the end of the film, you and your husband welcome your first child into the world: a boy. How has working on Sexy Baby informed how you’ll try to raise him in this digital age?
He’s a year old now, and I think everyday about how I have to raise a gentleman in this society. My husband thanks God everyday that he doesn’t have to raise a daughter in this society. [Laughs.] Not that we won’t ever raise a daughter, but he thanks God that he does have a son. I think everyday how I have to raise a gentleman who respects people, and I think everyday about what digitally I am and how to expose him to that.
I still 100% believe that computers, iPads, tablets, and things like that should not be with a child alone in a room. I do understand that in ten years, when it becomes a necessity for homework or such, it’s going to be a family affair. Keeping my son honest and respectful is definitely more so on my end now, not just because I have one, but because of this project.
Your husband makes a good point: It has to be much harder and more stressful to raise a daughter these days.
[Laughs.] Chris Rock said that his entire fatherhood is about keeping his daughter off of the pole. And I do understand that. I don’t necessarily 100% agree with the wording, but I do understand what he means. [Laughs.]
Obviously, I’m retired from doing films, but I’m still involved with the industry, and it’s an industry that I can see myself staying involved in for the rest of my life. It’s an industry that I grew up in, and one that I love. But, going back to what Chris Rock said, I have been doing national pole dancing competitions all over the country to find more people who have the same enthusiasm and who have natural ability on the strip club stage.
Do you find that a lot of women approach your pole dancing lessons with the wrong motivations or intentions? Meaning, they just went to drop it like it’s hot?
There’s probably four genres of women I work with in the pole dancing arena. One is a plain stripper: She’s going to be a stripper until she figures out what to do with the rest of her life; she just happens to have some dance or gymnastics background, but she found the pole and it came really easily to her. That’s usually a young girl who doesn’t have any other communication skills—she doesn’t know how talk to men in the strip club, so she just hangs out on stage and does her thing.
Another type of girl is someone with a dancer/gymnastic background, she stumbles onto dancing in strip clubs for necessity purposes or whatever, but she really wants to be a competitive pole dancer and step outside of the adult world.
Then, as a teacher, I get two kinds of people. One woman is bored with every other type of fitness, and she thinks that maybe she’ll try the pole to work out. I love that woman. [Laughs.] I absolutely adore that woman, because they respect fitness; they respect the process of pole dancing. It’s very, very intense, and there’s a lot of danger involved, and they’re patient with it.
My least favorite, which is kind of how Jill and Ronna started this project [Sexy Baby], is the woman who thinks that she’s going to learn how to pole dance and go upside down and learn all of these crazy, sexy, awesome things in five minutes, so that she can take it to her boyfriend or husband at home, or to a nightclub, and go, “Yeah, I’m hot!” That’s my least favorite person, because they don’t understand it, they don’t respect, and, most importantly, they don’t have the respect understand that the pole is a very dangerous object, and something that should be treated with a delicate balance of, “I’m a responsible adult, I don’t need to be shaking my butt at nightclubs for guys, for attention, because it’s just not necessary.” [Laughs.]
And does that least likeable woman make up the majority of people who sign up for your lessons?
Yes. I’d say at least 60% to 70% of the women just want to shake their butts and look hot, which I usually pawn off on my assistant. [Laughs.] I can’t deal with those women. I have a hard time if they don’t take it serious; they’re not very respectful to it, and this is something that’s been near and dear to my heart since I was 18-years-old, and I’m 35 now. Anybody who doesn’t take it seriously and isn’t able to learn in the way that I teach, I’m not very patient with those people. [Laughs.]
Who knew that the world of pole dancing was so fascinating—it sounds like you have another documentary just waiting to be made.
[Laughs.] Yes, it actually would be a great one.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
To find out more: Sexy Baby