Money Shot: The PornHub Story (2022)

| March 15, 2023

Let’s face it, PornHub redefines the idea that sex sells, just ask any of its content creators who are earning enough money through the site to buy houses and cars.  PornHub, in spite of it’s potentially forbidden implications, remains a ridiculously popular site with a snarl of traffic that rivals the L.A. freeway – a cursory Google search at the time of this writing ranks it as the 12th most visited site on the internet, right above  Damn, I love this country.

The popularity of the site comes from having picked up where others leave off.  Content sites like YouTube disallow pornography and so it becomes the bread and butter of an entity like PornHub, in which users can upload their own content.  But there’s a back and forth there.  While the site has bred a healthy living for online sex workers, it has become a hive of criminal acts with videos featuring rape and child pornography, for all the world to see.

This controversial back and forth is at the heart of a fascinating new Netflix documentary Money Shot: The PornHub Story, in which director Suzanne Hillinger takes us on an unusual journey through the site’s success and into its darkest heart.  The amazing thing is that while we are privy to the content creators like Siri Dahl and and Cheri DeVille and Gwen Adora (who are all interviewed), the film is not exploitative.  Hillinger’s aim it to give us an intelligent upside and the downside of a cyber-world that has become increasingly open and casual about sex, but also it’s limits as a public domain.

The upside is what PornHub represented – a measure of freedom for its creators, particularly women, who are freed from the contracts and stipulations of a film distribution company or it’s questionable lip-service to questions of consent.  With PornHub, men and women could independently make a living displaying their bodies and/or their sex lives to subscribers and make a great deal of money.  Creator Siri Dahl reasons, “it paid for this house.”

With that, the film is very good about giving a face, a name and a personality to these creators without shaming or judging them, but that’s the first act.  The second act is where Hillinger begins to slip into the problem area not just with PornHub but with any content site that deals in porn.  With so much access to content and a platform to display it, PornHub became a magnet for those wishing to display content that was disturbing and even illegal.  Thousands of videos uploaded to the site featured non-consensual sex and even child pornography by users whom the site doesn’t verify.  In the film’s most powerful moment, sex worker Cheri DeVille reasons that “If you let just anyone upload anything, you’re going to get anyone uploading anything. And that’s not okay.”

This became the firebrand (justifiably so) for a call-out to MindGeek – the Canadian-based corporation that owns PornHub – to better moderate it’s content, it’s users and the people uploading these videos.  That, Hillinger reasons, put a stain on PornHub that drew in the far-right conservatives to shut the site down and for credit card companies like Visa and American Express to withdraw themselves from any association.  That forced PornHub’s users to move off of the site and be able to create on other sites like OnlyFans.  But that only raised further questions.  How do sex workers creating content for sites like PornHub keep on working and earning a living with sites that won’t fight against those who post illegal content?

It’s an unanswerable question and that’s the value of Hillinger’s film.  It stands on a positive ground but allows those questions to hang in the air.  This is a film with a dizzying amount of information, of personalities and of questions about freedom of speech and of expression.  But the two faces of sites like PornHub will always be a reality.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
Filed in: Documentary