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LGBTQ

The Gay Porn Industry Is Still Super Racist

After calling out an awards ceremony for a "Best Ethnic Scene" category, a white porn star is juggling support and backlash.

Reneysh Vittal

Photo courtesy Hugh Hunter

Adult film star Hugh Hunter was having a good week.

On November 22, nominations for the GayVN awards, a prominent gay erotica industry honor, were announced after a seven-year hiatus. Hunter was nominated in three major categories, a highlight after another busy year in the competitive world of gay porn.

But the next day, Hunter publicly turned down his nominations and denounced the awards show on Twitter, due to the inclusion of a “Best Ethnic Scene” category, made up exclusively of minority performers. A handful of actors of color were nominated in other categories, but sparingly so. He used his public statement to ask a barrage of incisive questions, both of the GayVN Awards and the industry more widely, continuing an ongoing conversation about the gay porn industry’s often-blatant racism.

He said he had been warned before that such concerns “fall on deaf ears in this industry.” Fortunately, this time, he was wrong. His message provoked media coverage and debate, leading to other performers declining their nominations in turn. In response, the GayVN awards removed the category completely, explained it was intended to “provide a platform for smaller producers to receive more attention,” merged the listed nominees with "Best Duo Scene," and issued an apology from its parent company, Adult Video News.

Whether Hunter’s impact will spark broader change within the industry remains to be seen, but it's a promising sign from a business long plagued with issues when handling race. VICE spoke with Hunter about GayVN's response, the murky nature of gay porn categorization, and the most surprising reactions he's seen to his letter.

VICE: When did you find out about the nominations? And what did you think when you read everything, including your own name?
Hugh Hunter: I saw the nominations the day after they were posted. I knew that the GayVN awards were coming back, but I'd be lying if I said I paid a lot of attention to award shows. I kind of perused them and wasn't even looking for my name, just at what the categories were.

I ran across that particular category, and it really made me feel ill at ease. I just couldn't fathom why, in 2017, they would even think to have this.

I had to do a little research to see—is this an old category that maybe just got carried over from prior AVN award shows? I found out that it was a new category, one GAYVN admitted they had just created.

I wanted to decline my nomination because I don't want my name associated with racial bias, and maybe I can start a conversation if I present something articulate and thoughtful.

No Best Actor or Supporting Actor was a person of color, and only three of the Performers of the Year, out of 15, were men of color. Yet they found some 20 scenes to nominate for Best Ethnic Scene. Why couldn't they have just nominated everybody in Best Scene? It doesn't make a difference. If they're good enough to be nominated, they're good enough to be nominated.

What is your opinion of how they've handled all of this since?
I appreciate the removal of the category, and maintaining all of those nominees. And I do appreciate that they apologized.

However, my issue is that they provided reasoning for why this category was created. And the methodology used in creating that category still smacks of a racial bias. They never seemed to apologize for this, and that doesn't sit well with me, but I don't know that's a fight that I can take up again.

Now I want people to take it up and run with it back to their studios and directors and casting directors and distributors and really try to make some changes at that level. I, as one white performer, can only make so much noise before it feels like I’m being the token white guy outraged over inequality. Unfortunately, a few people have already tried to say that. That was not my intent. I'm not trying to be the angry white man for the men of color. I'm not trying to represent them. I don't understand the prejudices that they've experienced. I don't know their stories.

The proverbial white knight.
And truthfully, I never thought of it that way. My thought process was, people will pay attention because I was going after AVN. Not because I was a white person talking about race. That was never on my radar.

You've mentioned there has been positive reinforcement from your colleagues and people in the industry. Have you had any negative reactions from friends?
There have been a few defensive statements. I reached out to a personal friend who has a lot of clout, and when I have asked for help in getting this message up, I was told that they couldn't. They thought it was commendable and that they were well aware of the problem, but they couldn't help because they had to think of their clients, and it would be bad for their business.

I also had another veteran director, two or three decades in the industry, tell me that I should not tag them in anything I post, because they don't want to be dragged into this on social media, and they considered what I was doing unnecessary drama in an already drama-filled business.

Another very well-known performer who has transitioned to somewhat of a content-side mogul said that all of this fighting is nonsense, that studios are making more films than ever, and people should just be happy they're working.

There were a number of people who supported what I did. However, I’ve yet to see a studio, director, casting director, producer or a major VOD site say a word about it. And those are who really need to be part of the conversation, because they influence how people are represented in films and can bring on more diversity and inclusion.

Do you plan to keep this going?
I'm always willing to lend my input, but I can't share experiences that people of color can share. And not being on the other side of the camera, I can't influence the casting people. I'd be happy to sit at the table. I do want to be an ally and an advocate for a more inclusive environment.

Do you think the way porn is classified by genre now—with divisions between “fetish” or “daddies,” where actors are often white, versus separate genres with performers of certain ethnicities—is necessarily evil?
Yes, unfortunately. The debate of preference versus prejudice isn’t going to be solved anytime soon. Have I ever shopped for porn and looked up “black” or “Latino”? Yes, I have. But it's such a muddy gray area.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Follow Reneysh Vittal on Twitter.