I find the world of cam girls absolutely fascinating to be honest and anything that gives an insight into the very real job of sex work is compelling to me. There’s a really good indie horror flick called Cam on Netflix which is nothing like this one but that I really recommend.
Anyway, this week’s pick is also a low-budget independent which gives it to us through the lens of a young black woman who’s not only trying to make ends meet, she’s also dealing with immense grief.
In the last days of her mother’s life, 19 year old Tiffany crashes with five family members in a Las Vegas studio apartment. In order to make ends meet, her older sister, a phone sex operator, introduces her to the world of internet fetish cam girls.
Tiffany (Tenille) is sleeping on her sister Sabrina’s (Perrier) couch indefinitely. While she occupies the sofa, Sabrina’s daughter JuJu, boyfriend David (Bobby Field) and brother Dominic also crash there. Sabrina works the phone line like a pro, talking blue to men to pay the rent. While she’s doing an honest nights’ work, the men go out drinking and Tiff does little around the apartment. All this while the girls’ mum is dying in the hospital.
Our sisters share a close bond, perhaps exacerbated by these circumstances and when Tiffany and David row about her contribution to the household (despite him not having a job either), Sabrina hooks her up with an audition for a local webcam business. As they prepare Tiff for her interview, Sabrina shares some of her phone-sex spoils with her sister – via a secret PO box address – namely a beautiful wig called Jezebel. Obviously Tiffany smashes the audition – a creepy one in which her new boss Chuck (Dennis Jaffee) simply must validate how good her body is by making her strip in his tiny, dank office.
Tiffany later chooses her onscreen name for the gig – Jezebel, obviously – and her new life begins.
Chuck runs the business with the help of his sister Vicky (Zoe Tyson), also a cam girl and a couple of other performers. Vicky is friendly to begin with but – as Sabrina suggests – you can’t trust girls in this industry. Which is a damn shame if you ask me but the girls do share a certain competitive streak, and relations between them start to become strained when Jez’s popularity rises very quickly, particularly with regular Bobby (voiced by Brett Gelman).
Meanwhile, at home David and Dominic rag on Tiff/Jezebel for her new career in the sex industry. After constantly bitching at her for failing to bring in rent or bill money, they judge her mercilessly for being a ho, like her sister. But, unsurprisingly have zero issue tapping up Sabrina for bus and brunch money. Sabrina however, is incredibly supportive of her baby sister and looks on wistfully as Tiffany tries on skimpy bikinis to mix it up for her clients.
As Jezebel settles into the flow of her new workspace – which is pretty grimy and surprisingly low-tech – she gets the other girls’ backs up by being just a little too cocksure. Bobby begins to request private shows with Jezebel exclusively and when her mum finally passes away, is there to comfort her. It’s not long before he starts sending Jezebel her own gifts and suggests they meet IRL.
Jezebel also moves into her own apartment but when Bobby requests a private dance with another girl (to cover their tracks), she becomes enraged and ignore his pleas for forgiveness. Chuck, who’s been monitoring the private chats, fires her for ignoring one of their best clients, despite it being part of their foreplay. He also fails to do anything when a customer uses the ‘N’ word against her. The girls – Vicky, Bianca (RiRia) and Samantha (Jessa Zarubica) – argue that they get called names too but Jezebel is furious, and rightly so.
Luckily, Jeze has been approached by Chuck’s newest employees, two seasoned porn stars who are leaving around the same time to set up their own female-only cam business. They seal the deal with our girl by suggesting that if she were racially abused on their watch, they would have her back immediately.
On hearing this news, Sabrina worries that Jezebel is getting dangerously close to crossing the line into pornography, but she promises it will be the same deal but better because there will be no men.
Again, sis has to remind her that just because it’s all girls doesn’t mean it will be shangri la all the way. Will Tiffany navigate her way safely through this new sex-orientated terrain? Will she meet Bobby in the flesh?
Will men just fuck off please?
There’s one fatal flaw with this film in that it ends suddenly and I wanted to know what Bobby looked like! Despite this, I did enjoy the ride despite it being quite low-key.
In some ways it bathes sex work of this nature in quite a good light, making it look easy and I highly suspect this isn’t the case. One of the girls had a regular who just wants to look at her lying down, fully clothed. I could nail that very easily.
The film is aesthetically pleasing and put me in mind at times of a little known film I also enjoyed called Starlet.
I’ve never thought sex work should be frowned upon but I do understand that it’s been portrayed poorly in all art forms since forever. This doesn’t glorify it per se and just frames it as a job, same but different to the one you and I do. If anything, the film’s lack of gratuitous sexual detail makes it seem almost wholesome. (The fact the girls must remain clothed unless in private chats and can’t show any penetration to avoid a prostitution charge helps).
The film treats Jezebel as an equal to her counterparts and the character is able to explore her sexuality through this role without being fetishized which is good to see on screen, however we’re quickly reminded that these same colleagues have no interest in making the environment better for her as a black woman. Chuck’s MO to put his clients above the comfort and safety of his girls is appalling and he’s a stone cold douche bag as you’d expect.
The other men in the ensemble are quick to reinforce the double standard of not respecting what the women do to keep the roof over their heads, while still coining in on their filthy money. Dave is generally creepy and unappealing, particularly when questioning Tiffany on how she’s getting on at work.
There’s also a white saviour/fairy tale element to the Bobby thread which I can’t really put into words. Sabrina’s Dave is a former punter and it seems history could easily repeat itself for Tiffany with her star client. While Dave is hardly the catch, he brings some security to Sabrina’s life that obviously appeals to Tiff.
I really like the question mark over whether this gig is a gateway to more hardcore sex work too. Sabrina’s experience in the industry, while not as glittering as her sister’s gives us good insight into what she could face and she’s proved right a lot, particularly when it comes to watching her back with the other girls. I just wish there had been more girl power for them all.
Both (triple threat) Perrier and Tenille are really good, particularly in their hyper real scenes together. The camera obviously adores Tiffany and I don’t blame it. She’s truly beautiful and despite her ever-evolving confidence (and negotiation skills), she also has a vulnerability that makes her very appealing to the viewer (or voyeur). Maybe it is best to have finished the film where it does so we never have to see anything horrible happen to her.