I kept my eyes out for James Deen at the 2016 AVN Awards, which were held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I wondered if I'd see him at the Expo, where performers were poised at booths before towering drywall plastered with porn branding. The casino had become something like a village, the sex-centric hub in the fantasy land of Las Vegas. But if Deen was there, I missed him.
Every year, the Adult Video Network decorates top performers and producers of porn. For Deen, the annual event came shortly after a series of seven women in the industry publicly accused him of rape and assault. One of Deen's alleged victims is his ex-girlfriend Joanna Angel, the major porn professional behind Burning Angel productions who was nominated for nine awards at AVN this year. The tension around Deen went largely unacknowledged on Saturday, but it was palpable nonetheless. Angel hosted this year's award show; it was possible that Deen might receive an award for sex on the same stage as one of the women he allegedly assaulted.
Read More: Joanna Angel Accuses James Deen of Assault
My interview with Joanna Angel was scheduled early in the afternoon on Saturday, January 23, hours before the AVN Awards began. We were to meet at the Burning Angel booth. An hour before the interview, an AVN publicist emailed me to say that Angel wouldn't agree to an interview in which Deen was discussed. Another reporter had asked her directly about the allegations, and she immediately ended the interview, according to the publicist. Our meeting was eventually canceled.
At the awards show later that evening, several seats next to mine were empty. The rows in front of the stage were filled with porn performers and other industry professionals. Older men and women were seated together along the balcony in front of me, and as the show began our attention focused on the stage below. Angel appeared with her co-host Anikka Albright. For the next few hours they officiated the event, introducing award presenters and entertaining with porno quips. They even sang a song about cum, cocks, and balls. Angel was captivating but seemed slightly nervous—some of her jokes were delivered awkwardly, and some fell flat.
The night before, rap artist Waka Flocka Flame walked through the White Party, a fancy dance held at Vanity, the luxe nightclub located in the Hard Rock Hotel Tower. At AVN, he broke onto the stage at the start, and again approaching the end, of the show. The audience seemed engaged for most of the night, though at one point the cheers seemed to taper off and then rose less frequently. At that point, one presenter yelled loudly and enthusiastically into the mic before mentioning that he'd been instructed to make some noise in order to wake up the audience.
Deen's enlarged face covered multiple flat screens as his nomination for Male Performer of the Year was announced. I flipped on my recorder and leaned forward in my seat to catch the crowd's response. Their only reaction was a distinct lack of reaction: Few cheered, none protested, and the moment passed altogether when Deen's face was replaced by that of the next nominee. Then the winner was announced: Performer Mick Blue took the coveted title.
I watched attentively until the evening concluded, but somehow I completely missed the fact that Deen took home two awards that night. It wasn't obvious from my seat, but apparently Deen was included in the award for Best Group Scene, in Gangbang Me 2. Deen didn't go on stage for that award, which made it easy to miss the fact he'd won anything. It is challenging to attribute a group award to one person, and these are not the awards that performers want most. As Deen told Maxim this year, "Male performer of the year—that's kind of all I care about."
But Deen did not take home the award he most desired. His second, final win was in the category of Double Penetration Sex Scene. That particular scene occurred in Being Riley (which won 5 awards, including Best Cinematography). In this Being Riley scene, Deen and Erik Everhard fuck 24-year-old starlet Riley Reid. Overall, it didn't feel like Deen or Everhard were the real winners in that scene; Reid, the miniature, beautiful, and multi-award winning porn actress, was easily the darling of the 2016 AVN Award show. In all, she received six awards on Saturday. Among other titles, she was named Female Performer of the Year, Fan Favorite Performer of the Year, and Social Media Star. At one point, Reid took the stage bound in a custom rope dress that covered little more than her crotch and gushed into the microphone. She gleefully asked the crowd if they were sick of seeing her yet, clearly overyjoyed at her success, professional recognition, and general admiration.
It could be argued that Deen was shunted from the award category that would have given him the most attention. Instead, he was handed two smaller awards and never made an appearance on stage that evening. Deen didn't personally accept either award. Who knows if the fact that Deen won in those minor categories was the AVN's attempt to placate the alleged rapist, a way to honor his collaborative efforts, or if the wins were completely unrelated to him at all. Before Deen's ex-girlfriend Stoya tweeted in November of 2015 that he had raped her, he'd had a year filled with mostly positive media coverage: He was portrayed as a feminist in Elle, for example, and he spoke out against racism in the porn industry. However, in the wake of his seven accusers' claims, Deen's minimal success at the 2016 AVN Awards may be a harbinger for a harder year to come.