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

Which pop-culture depictions of sex work resonate most with actual sex workers?

Maggie Gyllenhaal in HBO’s The Deuce
Maggie Gyllenhaal in HBO’s The Deuce
Photo: Paul Schiraldi (HBO)

The Deuce, David Simon’s sleazy, big-hearted look at porn and prostitution in ‘70s New York City, returned for its second season last night, delivering a compelling hour reintroducing us to sprawling ensemble. Still, though the show may offer a raw, empathetic look into the era’s subculture, that doesn’t mean it resonates for those who actually know what it’s like to be ogled for a living. As writer and stripper Antonia Crane points out in a new piece for MEL Magazine, the show was created by dudes and the writing room is more or less dominated by them. (Contrary to the article’s claim, however, The Deuce has invited as many female directors to the show as male ones, and, according to IMDB, that trend will continue into the second season).


So, though characters like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Candy exude humanity, they don’t necessarily offer an authentic look at the life of a sex worker. That’s why Crane reached out to a number of her colleagues—strippers, cam girls, fetish models, etc.—to see which depictions actually do resonate as true. The answers are fascinating; Crane, for example, finds truth in Sharon Stone’s turn in Casino, while others cite the likes of Hulu’s Harlots, multiple Jennifer Tilly films, and the sheer existence of Anna Nicole Smith.

Interestingly, the name to pop up most was Sean Baker, the director behind critically acclaimed looks into poverty like The Florida Project and Tangerine. That authenticity, however, comes not from him, necessarily, but rather for his approach—especially in Tangerine—of casting those intimately familiar with both sex work and the marginalization that often accompanies it.

And then there’s the response of Domino Rey, a stripper who names a minor character from Friday Night Lights, proving yet again the endlessly fertile nature of that beloved show.

She says:

Domino Rey, Stripper: My favorite sex worker is Mindy Collette from the TV series Friday Night Lights. Friday Night Lights was run on a major TV network and treated sex work with dignity, didn’t sensationalize or sanitize it and gave the sex-working characters depth and empathy. Mindy is a stripper at The Landing Strip in small-town Dillon, Texas, in a show that revolves around the lives of the football players at Dillon High. Mindy is the girlfriend/wife of Billy Riggins, older brother of tailback legend Tim Riggins and sometimes Dillon High football coach. What’s most refreshing is that Mindy’s job is treated as just another gig in small-town USA, where opportunities are slim. Her job is neither celebrated nor denigrated.

Mindy is a complex character: a mother figure, mentor and voice of reason. The scenes at the Landing Strip aren’t gratuitous. If anything, they’re admirable, relatable stripper-humor moments — like where she complains about having to dance for all the cheap farmers who come in for the lunch buffet during the day shift. She also comments on the indignity of being demoted to day shift after making a concerted effort to lose all of her baby weight post-partum. FNL is a critical darling, not least because of its level-headed approach to depicting sex work as extremely common, quotidian work for thousands of women across the country.

Time for a rewatch. You can read the rest of the article here.

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.