A VR Film About Sex Workers Was Pulled from SXSW After Complaints From Its Leading Actor
Liara Roux claims that she never signed off on the final version of 'GFE,' including a nude scene.
Michael Jacobs, the director of a new virtual reality movie that premiered at SXSW, says that his film aims to give sex workers a voice. But according to its main and only character, real-life sex worker and indie porn director named Liara Roux, the movie, which currently doesn't credit her at all, includes nudity and intimate scenes that she didn't agree to have included in the final film.
GFE, which stands for Girlfriend Experience, follows an “anonymous escort” as she goes on a date with a client. Jacobs told Engadget that it’s a fictional "documentary fantasy" with the goal of “demystifying escort work and bringing a sense of empowerment to escorts, to women who do this work, and men." Roux, however, says that she never signed a release for the film, and that she felt that it was an exploitative experience.
A spokesperson for SXSW told me in an email that Jacobs voluntarily pulled the film on Thursday.
Roux told me in a phone call that she found out about the screening through a Reddit post on Thursday morning, and was given a cut of the film by Jacobs after it already started showing at the festival. She told me that she wasn't comfortable with much of what's included in the movie, including nude scenes she felt pressured into.
According to emails between Roux and Jacobs that Motherboard viewed, the production forgot to provide Roux with a release form at the time of the shoot. After she asked him for a release, Jacobs sent Roux a release form after the fact on May 22. On June 4, Roux replied that she didn't want to sign that contract because it's too broad, allowing Jacobs to change her dialog and presentation. According to the emails, Jacobs' and Roux's lawyers have been arguing about the terms of the release since then.
The initial outline of the film that Jacobs sent Roux in April prior to the shoot did not include mention of nude scenes, but in the final version of the film, Roux is in lingerie or fully nude for over a minute of the five minute film.
“He did not tell me I would be nude in this film until like we were almost done wrapping up and he was like, ‘oh by the way, can you get undressed,’” Roux claimed. “I felt really uncomfortable but he kind of pressured me into doing it.”
Roux is not credited in the film, according to cut that Jacobs sent Roux, which I viewed.
When I reached out to Jacobs for comment on the nude scene and Roux's complaints about credits and distribution, he directed me to his lawyer, George Rush. When I asked Rush on a phone call about Roux being uncredited, he said, “I know she consented to be filmed and was paid to be filmed, and that usually suffices.”
Films screened at SXSW reach thousands of attendees at the festival itself, and earn a certain prestige outside of the festival as well. To have your work shown at the festival is a big deal for filmmakers: Among this year’s film screenings are big-budget features like Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, as well as smaller works like Jacobs’.
“I do think documentary work is important and people should be able to talk about hard issues,” Roux said. “But I also think the person has to consent to talking about those issues. . .[Jacobs] obviously does not care about that at all.”