This piece was originally published by Adult FriendFinder magazine in 2005.
Playing the Race Card:
Produced by Candida Royalle. Directed by Manuela Sabrosa. Starring Felinia, Nicole, Susan, Paola, Yinna, Sol, Max, Spider, Bruce, Danny Boy, Red Phoenix, and Adrian. 84 minutes. Femme Productions.
First, let me ask you this: Have you seen any of Candida Royalle’s movies before?
If you haven’t, let me explain real quick. Candida Royalle was the first smut producer to make movies specifically for women, and she pretty much single-handedly invented the “couples” video. Her company, Femme Productions, makes videos aimed at what women want to see in dirty movies: compared to most mainstream pornos, they feature more foreplay, a slower and more sensual pace, less focus on genitals and insertion shots, more full-body sensuality, better production values, greater variety in body types, more plot and character development, an emphasis on sex in the context of relationships and romance, greater attention to the woman’s experience and pleasure, fewer money shots, and better-looking men. Much, much better-looking men. Candida’s work has been hugely influential on the porno industry: her success made other producers realize, not only that straight couples liked to rent dirty movies, but that both women and men were hungry for passionate, labor-of-love porn with good production values and not-completely-stupid writing and acting.
Although I usually prefer my pornos to have lots of raunchy sex and not much plot, I’ve always been fond of Candida’s movies. She does a great job of conveying the unique pleasure of sex with someone you actually love and care about, something most dirty movies don’t even get close to. And even if the sex in her videos isn’t usually my favorite type to watch, her work does a beautiful job of expressing passion and enthusiasm, getting across what the characters are feeling and why they’re enjoying it… which automatically makes it hot. (That’s often true in porn, video or written or whatever — if you get a good strong sense of the characters’ excitement, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the kink they’re enjoying is your personal fave.) I’m always happy to watch Candida’s videos, and I’m always curious to see what she’ll do next.
So anyway. Candida Royalle has a new-ish video out, “Caribbean Heat.” Now, this one Candida didn’t actually direct. She produced it, and supervised the direction; but unlike every other movie Femme has made, this one was directed by someone else: a new female director, Manuela Sabrosa.
And Candida’s absence does show. I liked “Caribbean Heat” a fair amount, but I didn’t wildly adore it, and I don’t think it’s one of Femme’s stronger efforts. It does have many of the company’s usual good points: a patient pace, a relative dearth of cum shots, attention to female pleasure in general and foreplay in particular, women who don’t look like Barbie dolls, and some seriously fine-looking men. But it has some weaknesses that are unusual for a Femme production. The editing is often awkward and choppy, with oddly abrupt jumps that skip over some nice bits and generally interrupt the erotic flow. There’s an odd lack of focus and direction; there’s no clear sense of mounting excitement and passion, and while the performers’ pleasure is visible, it’s not particularly infectious. And the format (five separate, unconnected vignettes) means that one of the things I like best about Femme videos — namely, a reasonably well-written story sustained long enough to get me caring about the characters and their sex lives — is completely absent from this one.
More to the point, the sex didn’t really wind me up that much — although to be fair, that’s largely a matter of taste rather than actual artistic failure. The sex in “Caribbean Heat” is sweet rather than fierce, gentle rather than intense, romantic rather than passionate. This is often the case with Candida’s movies, but it’s even more so in this one. Even the “casual sex with strangers” fantasies are more romantic than they are nasty. And even the supposedly kinky scene — the master and maid one, with the leash and the cage and the riding crop — is quite gentle overall, with the actual kinky elements getting very minimal play. The pacing adds to this quality as well: instead of insistently building a driving tension towards an intense release, the sex scenes feel more like rolling hills of sensuality, with arousal rising and falling in gentle waves. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing; for porn viewers who are sick of being pounded like a jackhammer by conventional smut videos, it may be a positive blessing. It’s just not my style. (As anyone who’s been regularly reading this column knows, it’s really, really not my style.)
But “Caribbean Heat” does have something good going for it: something very special, almost unique, a trump card that all by itself makes the video worth checking out.
That trump card is race.
Here’s the thing. Virtually all contemporary porn videos fall into one of two categories. The vast majority of them are white as the driven snow: their performers are 100% lily white, with not even a single person of color onscreen to upset the delicate sensibilities of the porn-watching public. And the ones that aren’t all-white tend to be racial fetish videos: nasty black women with big booties, fiery Latina tamales, mysterious and submissive Asian ladies, hugely hung black studs fucking dainty white women, that sort of thing. Adult videos starring people of color that treat their performers like regular people instead of stereotypes and that don’t descend into creepy fetishization of their race… those are rarer than hen’s teeth. There are some exceptions (the interracial Romeo-and-Juliet movie “West Side” leaps to mind), but there are damn few.
“Caribbean Heat” is one of them. With a vengeance.
“Caribbean Heat” was filmed on location in Central America, and features an all-Latino cast. But unlike most adult videos with a non-white cast, this movie treats its Latino characters like… well, like characters. Like people, with their own sexual feelings and desires and experiences. They’re depicted as the subjects of their own sex lives, not the exotic hot-tamale objects of white lust; the sex is seen from their perspective, not the perspective of white people who are hot for them. To add even more to the authentic “this is how we see ourselves, not how others see us” quality, the dialogue is almost entirely in Spanish. (Subtitles are added when they’re really necessary; but of course this is porn, and not particularly chatty or plot-driven porn at that, so subtitles mostly aren’t needed. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get the gist.)
The video was directed by a Latina woman, which almost certainly makes a huge difference. The box cover says that director Manuela Sabrosa “shows you what lovers in her corner of the world do,” and for once, the box cover does not lie. Sabrosa is revealing her own erotic world in this video, and she’s clearly seeing the skin and flesh of her performers, not from the outside, but from within.
And this quality alone makes me give “Caribbean Heat” a solid thumbs-up. Racism in porn is one of the largest and most active bees in my porn-critic bonnet. And it’s not just about politics, either — it’s about pure, selfish pleasure. All-white casts don’t just seem racist to me; they seem freakishly artificial, and they add hugely to the ticky-tacky “they all look just the same” look of so many dirty movies. And the racial fetish videos just make me queasy. But “Caribbean Heat” is a delight. It’s such a sweet and rare pleasure to see a beautifully wide range of naked skin colors in a porno, without those skin colors being framed as exotic, alien, slightly bizarre fetish-objects. It’s so much fun to see non-white porn performers revel in the pleasure of their bodies, without those bodies getting slotted into someone else’s kinky pigeonholes. To some extent, all pornos display their performers as objects of other people’s lust, and I don’t usually have a huge problem with that. But when it comes to race in porn, the objectification thing gets grotesquely out of hand, to the point where it’s impossible for me to enjoy it at all. It’s a genuine treat to see a porn video that shows people of color as regular hot people who are fun to watch while they fuck.