Leilah Weinraub, Shakedown (2018), digital video, color, sound

From Shakedown (courtesy Leilah Weinraub)

Conceptual artist Leilah Weinraub’s 2018 documentary Shakedown is now available to stream for free on Pornhub (that link is safe for work, but is still on Pornhub). Part of a larger arts initiative by the porn distribution giant, the film will be accompanied by a series of live chats organized by Weinraub over the course of March 2020. According to Variety, after March, the film will be available on the Criterion Channel and in the iTunes store by summer.

Shakedown explores the world of underground lesbian clubs in Los Angeles that were owned and run by Black women throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. At the time of the film’s release, Hyperallergic called it “a bold, immersive documentary [that] enthralls and makes us question how we think about sex and its presentation on camera.” The planned live chats, a sister project Weinraub calls “Alone Together,” challenge the idea of pornography and sexual desire as a lonely and private experience. 

Since 2018, Pornhub has been investing in and distributing original film work. This includes Pornhub Art, the project Shakedown is a part of, and their Visionaries Director’s Club, which includes films by Brooklyn rapper Young M.A and actress Bella Thorne (neither link is safe for work). For over a decade, Mindgeek (Pornhub’s parent company) has been seen by many in the industry as an unwelcome invader. A tech company in the spirit of Airbnb, Uber, or Netflix, it immediately threatened pornographers and sex worker’s livings by disrupting traditional revenue streams. They’ve also faced criticism for partnering with ethically questionable companies.

Buying up the crumbs of the industry, Mindgeek has only grown in power and influence (they also own Youporn and Redtube, along with countless production companies), and they are now ostensibly trying to give back. As Kate Hagen wrote for Playboy last year, “We’ve only begun to flirt with respectful depictions of queer sex, kink and sex work on-screen, but those stories often live and die in the art houses. Countless nuanced perspectives remain unexplored by studios.” In that sense, Pornhub has stepped up to offer a space for filmmakers to explore eroticism. It isn’t easy to measure whether these initiatives will have a significant impact. 

It brings to mind the questions facing film fans who bemoan Netflix’s role in degrading the theatrical experience but admire the company for funding new films by Scorsese, the Coen brothers, and Bong Joon-ho. Pornhub seems to be operating under the same logic. The site has consistently made money off of other people’s content, and they only seem interested in rectifying the damage now that they’ve eliminated the competition. While Pornhub currently works to offer revenue streams to producers and performers, like many other tech giants, they’re chasing solutions to problems they’ve created.

Justine Smith is a freelance film writer based in Montreal, Quebec.

One reply on “Acclaimed Documentary Shakedown Has Made Its Streaming Debut on Pornhub”

  1. Pornhub merely ‘re-dealt the deck’, they did not ruin / damage anything or anyone.
    Netflix have also only re-dealt the deck.
    Consumers make choices.

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