Netflix's documentary 'Money Shot' examines 2020 Pornhub scandal: 'I wanted to tell all sides,' says director

"There are voices missing from this story of the largest porn platform — and it's the people whose backs the company profits off of," explains Suzanne Hillinger.

Netflix's Money Shot: The Pornhub Story explores the success and scandal of the world's largest porn website. Director Suzanne Hillinger talks to Yahoo about the new documentary. (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)
Netflix's Money Shot: The Pornhub Story explores the success and scandal of the world's largest porn website. Director Suzanne Hillinger talks to Yahoo about the new controversial documentary. (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)

When you scroll through Netflix's new releases on Wednesday, there's a title that's sure to catch your eye: Money Shot: The Pornhub Story. The documentary, simply put, looks at the success and scandals of Pornhub, the world's largest porn website.

"We knew going into making this film that there was going to be a built-in audience for people who use Pornhub on a regular basis, whether they admit it or not. Or people who are just curious: 'What is a documentary about the porn industry doing on Netflix?'" director Suzanne Hillinger tells Yahoo Entertainment. "I think it felt like a great responsibility to tell a really honest and nuanced story to not continue the oversimplification or sensationalization of porn performers and porn in general — which often happens movies about the industry. We wanted to sort of lure an audience in and then teach them some things."

Those "things" are a lot more dense than its title suggests, though.

Money Shot begins by examining Pornhub's rise online that coincided with the rise of social media. The porn platform completely changed how adult entertainment is made and distributed, and, for more than a decade, the company thrived despite its typical anti-porn detractors. But in December 2020 the website, a money-making machine with little moderation, faced its first serious blow.

Journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed for the New York Times accusing Pornhub's parent company, MindGeek, of sex-trafficking and alleged the website featured thousands of child pornography and rape videos. The article, titled "The Children of Pornhub," featured interviews with victims who detailed how Pornhub would not take down non-consensual content they flagged multiple times. And if a video was taken down, an unverified user could jus repost it again within hours. The cycle continued. Within days of the publication of the Times article, Visa and Mastercard suspended its credit card services with Pornhub, sending a ripple effect across the platform. Pornhub quickly changed its policies to ban unverified uploads and disabled more than 10 million videos. But when Hillinger read the op-ed two years ago, she was surprised "that only two porn performers were quoted in the piece."

"I just thought there are voices missing from this story about the largest porn platform — and it's the people whose backs the company profits off of. So, I really wanted to tell the story of Pornhub, mostly through the lens of people making consensual pornography, because I just felt like it was really missing from the conversation," she adds.

Money Shot features interviews with porn stars like Cherie DeVille, Siri Dahl and Gwen Adora, who talk about how they were effected by the scandal and wider-spread implications. Hillinger interviewed porn performers "who had really been financially impacted" by the backlash in 2020, but found it difficult to get lesser-known creators to speak on the record.

"The folks really depending on Pornhub to pay rent, to keep a roof over their head, to provide income, to pay for children or education or whatever — they were really financially vulnerable people and it actually felt quite dangerous for them to participate in the film," Hillinger says. "I had conversations with people that they were like, 'I don't think I can show my face in your documentary because I could lose my apartment.'"

DeVille and other porn performers believe the war on Pornhub is a façade, and that this is really a war on the legal sex work industry. The documentary touches on how far-right Christian groups are behind some of the anti-sex trafficking campaigns with the purpose of dismantling the porn industry under the guise of "let's save the women and save the children." If they cared about sex-trafficking, the performers say, then these groups should go after tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. However, Money Shot addresses the other side of the argument: Pornhub had a total lack of moderation that led to the website distributing non-consensual material, sometimes of minors.

"I always wanted to tell all sides," Hillinger explains, "and let an audience decide for themselves."

Hillinger adds, "I think porn is one of the most polarizing topics on earth and people have their own opinions about it, if it's good or bad. They have their own opinions about that as work and I really just wanted to present all angles of the story and let an audience grapple with it, face their own biases and figure out how they feel about the story now having heard it from all sides. Because there's not a clear takeaway and that was always really important for me. There's no narration in the film and that's really intentional because I just didn't wanna have any kind of voice of God being like 'and this is what you should think about the story.' I just wanted everyone to sort of share their own, their own take on it."

Hillinger hopes viewers get two main takeaways from the documentary.

"That sex work is work and the people who create pornographic content, many of them do it consensually and ethically. They own their material and they come up with their own ideas and they consent. They are doing jobs. They're content makers, much like people who make viral videos on Instagram," she says. "These are their jobs, jobs that they're passionate about, that they love to do, that there is an audience for. The fact that they can support themselves on this work should give so much relevancy and credibility to that."

Hillinger also hopes viewers understand "there's so much that needs to be done by platforms that rely on user-generated content to create profit."

"Moderation is a complicated thing and you need highly skilled moderators. I think when people say like, 'Oh, you know, the internet is Pandora's box and once you open it like it's the wild, wild west.' Well the internet was created by people and there are smart people who still are writing code and creating software. Surely, there's a much safer world that we can have without censoring free speech," she concludes. "And it's going to be really complicated. I would hope that this is an issue that once people realize it's an internet problem, not a porn problem, it can maybe be taken much more seriously and sort of holistically."

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story drops Wednesday, March 15 on Netflix.