From Hip Hop DX
There are typically no mainstream accolades for milestones reached in the adult entertainment industry. Despite a select few stars achieving crossover status, don’t look for a breakout of approval among “the establishment.” Even as a billion dollar plus entity, America just isn’t ready to embrace pornography—at least while the sun is shining.
The individuals that comprise the industry are well aware of this and deal with the criticism accordingly. In the unique case of the black pornographer, the scrutiny and scorn sometimes cuts in more ways than one. Not only do black stars and starlets have little chance at achieving crossover status, but the very industry they’ve given their bodies to can seem so unappreciative at times. And though there have been several firsts for blacks in the adult industry, they’re not likely to make anybody’s “Who’s Who” list during Black History Month.
Diana Devoe is one such pioneer in the industry. Not content with the work she was getting from others, the nine-year vet and college graduate made her own way—earning the distinction of first black female porn director in the process. DX caught up with Ms. Devoe and got her thoughts on shady business practices, giving others opportunities she didn’t have, and why making good movies is more satisfying than making good money.
HipHopDX: One of the things people always want to know is, “What does your family think about what you do?”
Diane Devoe: My dad is actually sitting on the sofa right behind me. This is his second year at the convention, so [my parents] know what I do. I didn’t come in after college because I didn’t want to have a real job. I thought there was an opening—no pun intended—for me in this business. I wanted to elevate black porn, which I think I’ve been able to do in my own small way, if only to give new girls very good advice so they don’t go through the same pitfalls I did. You have your crack heads, and you have people being pimped, but you have that element everywhere. I don’t care if you’re a nurse or a teacher, whatever. There’s going to be an element that’s not as good as what’s on top. It is a stereotype, but it comes from somewhere. I’m not like that, and there are people here to work to make this better than the way we found it.
DX: Can you talk about some of those pitfalls for black actresses?
Diane Devoe: The biggest thing is the lack of self worth. If you’re a black American who grew up in America, you are not the standard of beauty. Black men have it a little bit better because dark skinned men are in right now; you’ve got black sex symbols. We as females don’t have that. We’re told we’re not as good, we’re ugly, we’re going to make half as much as white girls. When you hear that over and over it tends to be true. Especially when you look around this industry and you can count on one hand the number of black women who you see on these walls or in the AVN magazine. You’re thinking “Ok, I’m not as good so I can’t ask for anything.” If I can’t ask for anything why should I come with my weave done or my nails right or my shoes matching? Then they look at us and ask “Well, how come your weave isn’t done?” You’re only paying me half of what you’re paying the white girls. That’s why the white girls have the good weave and we don’t. It’s a vicious cycle and the way to combat it is to put yourself in a situation always where you’re not depending on anyone. Not your agent, not your boyfriend.
DX: How’d you get around that?
Diane Devoe: I got over it by diversification. I’ve always shot in front of and behind the camera. I’ve done mainstream stuff, I do music videos, I write scripts, I’ve run my own web sites, we’ve got two now. It’s not just about waiting by the phone for somebody to hire me. I can’t live my life like that. I don’t think anybody should.
DX: And you were one of the first black female directors?
Diane Devoe: The first black female director.
DX: What made you want to get into directing?
Diane Devoe: When I was in college, I fell in love with production. I wanted to take it further. I thought I’d be a big fish in a small pond in this business instead of trying to go to DreamWorks or United Artists asking for $20 million for a feature film. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t want to do that, but I like the autonomy of this business. When I do my features, I’m the boss; I don’t have to answer to anybody.
DX: Being the first black woman to direct, what have you brought to this business that’s different from other directors?
Diane Devoe: I’ve tried to bring—and keep—class and decorum on the set. I don’t like the way a lot of people treat the talent on set. We’re not animals. I think if I can keep everybody laughing, smiling, and having a good time, ultimately the consumer will enjoy the product more because they can see that everybody is enjoying what they’re doing. And it’s sex! You’re supposed to look like you’re enjoying it.
DX: What types of films do you like to shoot?
Diane Devoe: I like to shoot features. The ones with the beginning, middle, and end. I don’t get a lot of them because gonzo—the kind where you just [get straight to the sex]—is cost effective for most people. I do a lot more of that than features. I make less money on features, but I’d love to do them 24/7 if I could.
DX: Are you still performing or are you exclusively behind the scenes?
Diane Devoe: I am behind the scenes. I never say never. I hate those girls that say, “I’m retired and this business sucks,” and then a month later, they’re breaking their backs. I’m not going to say I’m retired, but it’d take a lot [for me to perform again].
The reason I like doing features is because I like to especially give black girls the opportunities that I didn’t have. To have sex in the rain. I have a rain machine. I have all the stuff I would’ve wanted to be shot in. I can write things for them and have them perform and still get the notoriety.
DX: What prompted your temporary retirement or sabbatical from in front of the camera?
Diane Devoe: People in this business—the people in charge—cannot conceive of one person taking two slots. I was either a performer or a director. Some people are able to do both; I was not. Whenever I was performing, they didn’t look at me as a director, and I had to make a choice. I enjoy performing. But, how many times can you do the same stuff? How many times can you do Booty Talk? It’s not going to enrich anything. When I wasn’t getting the parts I wanted I decided to make my own movies.
DX: There are a lot more women performing in front of and behind the camera; do you think you played a role in that?
Diane Devoe: I’d like to think myself, Vanessa Blue, and a few other people have paved the way for other females to say, “It can happen.” Not to make the comparison but, little kids now who are black can say, “Oh, I can be president.” It’s very powerful when you can see somebody that looks like you doing something you never thought you could do. I just hope I’m bringing that to the table.
DX: I’ve talked to a lot of black performers that mention the racism in the industry. Have things gotten better since you’ve been in the game?
Diane Devoe: They’ve gotten worse. They’ve gotten more divisive. Part of that is that us as black people have no solidarity. We’re always kind of backstabbing at each other. The men have issues with certain women that are not black not wanting to work with black guys or saying this one is too ghetto or too this or that. As a whole, black men fair better than black women. They can work more scenes in a movie; they can work more years than we can. They don’t have it as bad.
Black women, there is nothing for us. Most of the companies that shot black women consistently are not doing very well right now. Not because black women aren’t marketable, but because of poor management. I know of a company where their black on black porn is making the most money, but they use that money to finance white features that don’t sell.
DX: One of the big complaints I hear about black porn is about the lack of quality, is that still an issue?
Diane Devoe: It is. As a class of people, we’re looked at as second class citizens very openly. You’re not going to find this on a Hollywood set. You’re not going to find this kind of treatment because the NAACP is going to be up in [a studio’s] face. When it comes to porn, we really don’t have any social recourse. If we go out and say this person called me a nigger, they’re going to be like “Well, bitch you were not supposed to be in front of that camera anyway.” Based on the black community being in the church and what not, this is not looked at as a positive thing for us to be in, so [others feel like] we deserve the treatment we get.
It has gotten worse. Everybody has gotten into the business that has a camera and two brain cells to rub together. They figure, “Let’s shoot these black girls because they’re cheap.” And the black girls do come cheap. Then they shoot cheap product and all this cheap product is flooding the stores. It makes the prices go down and the consumer is unhappy.
DX: Does that affect your product at the end of the day?
Diane Devoe: It doesn’t affect our bottom line. We’ve kept our wholesale price point. We will not go lower. If you don’t want our product, that’s fine. If you want this lesser grade product you can have it. Usually, people come back to us.
DX: What should we keep an eye out for?
Diane Devoe: Check us out on our websites, http://www.ItsABigBlackThing.com. I’ll let you guys figure out what that means, and http://www.JohnEDepth.com. You can also hit John E on his MySpace at www. myspace.com/JohnEDepth. I do not have a MySpace, because I’m the only person in America apparently who doesn’t believe in MySpace. I’m cool, I don’t need a thousand friends, I’m OK.