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Think about films that include sex workers and you’ll be hard pressed to come up with one where the character isn’t portrayed as either a victim, a damsel in distress, or simply the butt of an unfortunate joke. A rigid dichotomy of what sex work is has emerged, presenting it as either a life of luxury or one of seedy vice, with little in between.

What’s consistently missing is an honest slice-of-life depiction that’s truly representative of sex workers’ lived experiences. We’ve seen the extreme examples, but what about the stories that don’t end with marrying a millionaire or death by tuberculosis?

Enter Cam. The hit techno-thriller from Blumhouse Productions (Get Out/Paranormal Activity) was released on Netflix in November of last year, instantly garnering critical acclaim and putting the debut writer/director team, Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber on the map.

Based on Mazzei’s own experiences as a camgirl, Cam is a bold subversion of everything we’ve come to know about sex work through film. Main character Alice (Madeline Brewer) leads an all but “normal” suburban life working from the comfort of her own home as a camgirl. She’s on her way to breaking into the cam site’s “Top 50” until one day, a doppelganger hijacks her online persona, locking her out of her account and setting her on a fraught journey to regain control over her cam show and, by extension, her identity.

It’s clever, suspenseful and intoxicatingly alluring, but perhaps most importantly, unlike others of its ilk, Cam is not a cautionary tale and no one is rescued.

As the demand for first-hand narrative storytelling continues to grow, mainstream media is being introduced to far more nuanced depictions of sex work, like Cam, which demonstrate just exactly why representation matters. Subtly, tales like Mazzei’s and the success of Cam open the door for more authentic stories of sex work — all its troubles and joys, triumphs and tribulations, the actual work and the humor — to be told moving forward. 

In between developing another project for Blumhouse and preparing for the upcoming release of her memoir Camgirl, Mazzei sat down with XBIZ to discuss her time as a camgirl, the process of developing her first feature film, and her thoughts on how to continue amplifying authentic sex worker representation in mainstream media.