Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Cam writer Isa Mazzei penned an excellent essay about sex worker representation in cinema

Photo: Netflix

One of the best originals to hit Netflix last year was Blumhouse’s Cam, a stylish, razor-sharp techno-thriller about a cam girl who encounters her doppelgänger online. Cam got a lot right, but Isa Mazzei’s smart script emerged alongside star Madeline Brewer as one of the film’s biggest assets. There’s a reason for that—Mazzei is a former camgirl herself, and the specificity she brings to the gig’s mundanities resonate, as does her lack of judgement towards the characters.


“By blending millennial anxiety about how we present ourselves online with the psychologically and politically loaded symbol of the twin, Mazzei’s Cam script appeals to both the viewer’s conscious and subconscious minds,” we wrote in a recent interview with Mazzei. “She’s asking us to see a sex worker not only as a relatable human being whose fears we understand and whose triumphs we celebrate, but also as the hero of her own story.”

That makes Cam a must-watch for anyone interested in weaving sex work into their writing. It also makes Mazzei’s new essay, published on the personal blog of feminist pornographer Erika Lust, a must as well.

Built around the dos and don’ts of sex worker representation in cinema, the essay begins with Mazzei breaking down why her points pertain to more than just storytelling. “[I]f you put a sex worker in your movie and do a poor job representing them, all you’re doing is making their livelihood more dangerous while waltzing directly into cliché,” she writes.You’re not being edgy, you’re not being risky, and you’re definitely not cool. When we make the interesting things about sex work the same things that kill sex workers, we only encourage a system that perpetuates violence, shame, and stigmatization.”

Mazzei’s advice challenges the writer to not only break from the tired themes of victimhood that plague depictions of sex workers—Don’t save your sex worker from sex work,” she stresses—but also to surround yourself with people who live and operate within that world. By doing so, you can better illustrate what Mazzei calls the “job-y parts of sex work,” the depiction of which she says is a must. You’ll also get a better idea of the temperament of the average client. “Clients should not inherently be bad characters just because they consume sex work,” she writes. “Portray respectful clients, who listen to boundaries and pay up-front. This is the behavior we need to be normalizing.”

Following the piece with a viewing of Cam is especially helpful, as all of her advice is manifested right there on the screen. Watch its trailer below.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.