Sex workers on film, from fallen women to anti-bourgeois rebels

“In various sex worker communities, one of the major points of discussion is how we’re represented” in films and popular culture, says Carol Leigh, the woman who coined the term “sex worker” in 1978 and the director and founder of the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Video Festival. "Since many people think there are links between representation and criminalization and policing, we’re actually hypersensitive.” During a recent telephone conversation, Leigh explained that her festival was intended as something of an antidote to misrepresentations of sex workers that proliferate in the mainstream media and Hollywood cinema, as well as to provide a context to “critique these representations within our own community.”

Unlike other ethnic or sexual minorities that remained more or less invisible in films until fairly recently, sex workers, particularly prostitutes, have been front and center as protagonists in movies since the inception of the medium.

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