I made a vow, at the beginning of my third year of college, to explore movies beyond my usual rom-coms and contemporary blockbusters. This meant watching a lot of old school classics, historical depictions, and documentaries. Of all the documentaries I’ve come across since then, none has shaken me to my core the way “Black and White and Sex” has.
Set in present-day Australia, the movie is scripted as a documentary, enacting an interview between a sex worker named Angie and the director. And the title gives you the impression that the movie is going to break down sex in terms of black or white, right or wrong, good or evil, doesn’t it?
WRONG. The movie follows the bold experiences, thoughts, and philosophies of Angie, who is played by eight different actors; and there is nothing black or white about her.
With the distinct clap in the very beginning, the film wakes you up, demands your attention and begins to change the way you think about sex work.
Angie is an enigmatic hypnotizing individual, constantly changing roles and personas, both figuratively and literally, all through the interview. The fact that you never really know who Angie truly is, or even if any of the women you see is Angie, only adds to her depth and the movie’s uniqueness. You first see this transformation when she nonchalantly states “I have a science degree“. The director disbelievingly asks for confirmation, and she corrects “Organic Chemistry“. As soon as the director snickers, Angie challenges him with “What, a hooker can’t be educated?”
Angie defies the misconception that all sex workers are illiterate, drug addicts, with numerous children and no better way to support them than sex work.
Most people think of sex workers as slaves forced into the life. However, Angie shatters that too by admitting that she joined the profession mainly because she needed a job in college, and sex work pays well. She further discloses the pressure, expectations, and responsibilities of being a sex worker because there is a difference between being an amateur and being a professional (sex worker). Angie reveals that there are many layers to the job – such as dumbing down, because most clients don’t get turned on by overly smart girls.
Angie explains that sex work is hardly one dimensional, which is why often they perform different services, one of which is ‘kisses and cuddles’ – the client doesn’t really want sex, instead they want companionship in the form of just kissing, cuddling, and talking. Other services sex workers provide are ‘passionate’, where the sex worker pretends that to be the client’s lover and they make passionate, life-altering love. Then there’s ‘the girlfriend experience’, in which the client and sex worker pretend to do couple-y stuff like going on a date, having tea, and talking about their feelings, which ends in sex. And there’s also ‘rough sex’ which may or may not including multiple partners, sex toys, objects, or BDSM. Often it is up to the sex worker to figure out the difference between what clients say they want and what they really need. In most cases, Angie says, sex workers become the means for people to blow off some steam and let themselves be 100% authentic. According to Angie “the wives should love us. They don’t, but they should“. And despite the bad rep, she still proudly says “I love what I do“.
The back and forth of ideas and the challenging of one another that occurs between Angie and the director is one of the crucial elements of the movie. You can see it in the beginning when both individuals are testing the water, then they beginning to tempt and challenge one another. Angie explains sex work as “a job. J.O.B. And the sooner everyone figures that out the sooner we’ll get proper occupational health and safety.”
Over the course of the movie both interviewee and interviewer go through a rollercoaster of emotions, sometimes being vulnerable, aggressive, flirty, and friendly. This is a representation of the how dynamic and multidimensional sex work can be. In this context, the sex worker takes up whatever persona or fantasy the client pays for. My favorite is when Angie exerts her power over the director and takes up the role of a dominatrix by making him take off his clothes and wanking himself to her satisfaction. This detail of the movie flips the perception that sex workers are at the mercy of their employers, because in Angie’s world she has the power and control.
The most eye-opening thing about the movie, according to me, is the way Angie defines and unravels intercourse. She opens up about how women are harder to read therefore more complicated to please, unlike men who are very straightforward. She says the other difference between men and women is that the one is dry and the other is wet. She also breaks down the controversy of a woman’s orgasm and how clueless men truly are about it. She pokes fun at the director, commenting on how most people can’t recognize which orgasm is real and which is fake. Further, she explains how for women, unlike men, it is often an overwhelming combination of both pain and pleasure.
The film pushes us to think more deeply about sex work. In almost all communities, it is perceived as work for the damned or immoral. This is as true in Australia as it is in India. However, Australia’s decriminalization of prostitution in 1995 has proven to support claims by UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International that in order to stop or decrease exploitation in the sex industry it would be better to support decriminalisation of prostitution.
Studies in 1995 and 2005 found no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers in Australia . So what does this mean for the Indian sex industry? Taking Angie as an example, this means there is a possible future where people can take up sex work as an actual career choice without fear of persecution. The government’s acknowledgement of sex work as an actual profession will prove to be a major step to eradicate forced sex work and slavery, as well as act as a mean to rehabilitate members of the industry into society.
And for all our sake’s, it is high time we accept there is nothing black and white about sex.