Correction: Sex tapes don’t “work” for working and middle class women

The release of a sex tape featuring Love and Hip Hop Atlanta cast members Mimi Faust and Nikko Smith earlier this week has had the internet (mainly Black Twitter) abuzz. Per usual, everyone has an opinion on what appears to be a cliché publicity stunt.

One take from the blogosphere caught my eye though. In a post on Clutch Magazine with the bold headline “Dear Mimi: Sex Tapes Don’t Work for Black Women,” writer Britni Danielle argues that:

“Although it seems counterintuitive, sex tapes can have a huge upside for marginal celebrities, like Mimi and Niko, catapulting them into the mainstream and introducing them to a whole new audience. But there’s just one problem for Mimi: sex tapes don’t work for Black women.

While several White women—Kim Kardashian, Pam Anderson, Paris Hilton–have leveraged their “leaked” tapes in a slew of opportunities from clothing lines and magazine covers to TV shows and endorsement deals, Black women who’ve pulled similar stunts have not faired nearly as well.”

Danielle compares the success and experience of these women to several black women who have been involved in similar incidents. During the 1980’s, former sports broadcaster Jayne Kennedy was involved in the first celebrity sex tape scandal after a VHS of her and then husband was stolen from their home. In 2002, rapper Eve enlisted the help of the FBI to track down the person who released a sexual video of her and then boyfriend Stevie J and was blackmailing her. Montana Fishburne made a decision to work in porn (which isn’t the same thing as a sex tape) and regretted it. 

But Danielle’s argument could use some additional context. When the sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and then husband Tommy Lee was released in 1995, Anderson had already made the crossover from Playboy to primetime; she had appeared in Home Improvement with Tim Allen and was one of the stars of Baywatch. Hilton and Kardashian, while not yet big names in Hollywood, were both already wealthy and affiliated with celebrity circles when their sex tape scandals occurred. While Jayne Kennedy’s career suffered a blow thanks to her tape, Eve’s did not. Although “scarred” by its release (not to mention by being anonymously blackmailed), she went on to continue her career for several years.

I’m guessing that what’s more important than race in this equation is money.

Obviously we have adopted some pretty restrictive cultural narratives about who should be having sex and who should not — narratives that usually only seem to apply to women. (Almost ALL of the commentary about Faust and Smith’s sex tape revolves around Faust.) Instead of arming people with as much information as possible to make responsible sexual decisions and trusting them to do so, we use socioeconomic markers to determine who is capable of having acceptable sex and who isn’t. And we often see how unmarried women, young women, and most prominently, poor women do not make the cut.

While Mimi Faust might not be toeing the poverty line, she is known for her role on a show that Danielle herself refers to as a “reality TV ghetto.” The cultural associations with poverty that are invoked in the scripts of Hip Hop-branded reality television are real. And it is this context that affects how critical we are of Faust’s involvement in a sex tape. Unlike Kardashian, Hilton, Anderson, or even Eve, her proverbial shit wasn’t together before she started hanging from shower rods, and that was her transgression. That’s why her sex tape won’t “work.”

I would argue that footage of private, intimate moments initially leaked without consent (if that is the case as Faust would have us believe) don’t “work” for anyone. Anderson, Hilton, and Kardashian all publicly shared feelings of betrayal, embarrassment, privacy invasion, and vulnerability similar to Eve and Faust. Faust is a grown-ass woman. She should be able to have sex with whomever she likes, whenever she likes, for however much fame and publicity she likes, and with however many production crews she would like. She doesn’t owe us an explanation. That’s what reproductive and sexual freedom is, and it is broad enough to infiltrate the “ghetto” — both real and fictive.

Avatar Image Sesali wants to start a black sexual revolution…outside of her own bedroom.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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