Interview with Shine Louise Houston, Feminist Pornography Filmmaker

Shine Louise Houston is a feminist pornography film maker and the founding producer and director of Pink and White Productions, an independent production company creating queer and feminist pornography in San Francisco. Her works have become the new gold standard of adult cinema.

Bethney, V Word Producer: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. We are just so stoked that we have the chance to talk with you. Before making films, you used to work at a sex shop and I’m really curious how that influenced or led up to the work you do now.

Shine: Well actually it was the mid-90s and the economy still wasn’t that awesome. And working in the film community was just like really really competitive, so I just couldn’t get a foothold into any kind of internship because they were so limited. So, you know I was like, OK well I’ll get a job at an adult bookstore, that’s cool right?

B: I’m sure every day was different. What was it that made you want to take the next step and start creating porn?

S: A lot of times people would come in, especially guys, and be like, I want to watch porn–specifically lesbian porn, but I don’t want to piss off my girlfriend. But there wasn’t a lot of well-made lesbian porn. Everything was mainstream. And you know, there weren’t really people from our community representing our community. So there wasn’t a lot of diversity in the titles.

And when queer folk came in and were looking for stuff I’d be like, well, I’ve got these three titles…

B: Wow, that’s crazy.

S: So at that point, I was having like, you know, my 30’s crisis. I don’t know if it was a crisis or not but I was like, Goddamn, I’m 30 and I’m still in retail. What am I doing? And a lot of people were saying there was kind of like a porn renaissance happening at that time. So I was like, well you know, I have a film degree and I have like five to 10 years of market research. Let’s make it a business. And it looked like the community needed something that was more sustainable and was going to create good content.

B: Yeah, and I’m curious starting out, did you realize in trying to fill this void that you were going to be a part of this huge, incredible movement.

S: Well, I was like, I am just going to make this thing. I wanted to make a business, not just a movie, and it might have been a different attitude than everybody else before me, but I do consider myself a filmmaker and an artist. And I think that my business is one of the most successful art pieces that I’ve ever made. It kind of has its own life, and a lot of times I feel like I’m just keeping up with it [laughs]. But you know, it’s this really intense interactive piece that’s been going on for the last 13 years.

B: Yeah. I mean it’s certainly been bigger than just one film. So in our episode on feminist porn, we talk a lot about a feminist edge and inclusivity, and I’m curious, do you describe what you do as feminist porn or queer porn, or what term do you prefer?

S: It’s very interesting–feminist porn and queer porn are kind of interchangeable terms. Generally, we market ourselves as queer porn because I think you know, colloquially, the way our community understands queer is very gender inclusive. So while I think you can describe my work as feminist because it does value female autonomy and power and female sexuality, we do hold space for other genders and gender. I think for me, queer is about empowering and making equal all genders and all body types and all kinds of gender expressions. Does that make sense?

B: Yeah totally. It seems like it’s in the spirit of feminist porn and that definition can mean to a lot of different things to different people. I was looking at your website and equal pay and sexual health are two prominent themes. Can you explain why those are priorities for you and your company?

S: The whole reason why we do a flat rate [for payment for actors] is so that we have an equal playing field for everyone. There are some people who will come in and maybe not want to take off their clothes and that’s OK. Also if you want to come in and take all your clothes off and have crazy monkey sex, that’s great, but you get the same price. Regardless of whether you’re cis or trans, you get the same price. I feel like there’s kind of tiered payment in mainstream porn. A lot of times I get why they do it, but some of the reasons why they do I feel are not great. Depending on how light or dark your skin is or if you’ve done gay porn before, it can sometimes affect how much pay you’re going to get. I feel like it’s once again, leveling the playing field and making everybody equal monetarily. I want people to do what they’re comfortable with on set.

B: Got it. And I mean that seems all in the spirit of making it a more ethical environment for the people actually doing this work. What are some of the challenges you maybe are still facing today?

S: Our work is not completely normalized. It was really hard to get workers comp for example…

B: Wow. Well one thing that is impressive to me is that you can be on set with people that are so willing and open to express themselves. I’m sure it’s a pretty inspiring thing to get to be a part of. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you feel like listeners should know about your work?

S: I think something that people don’t realize about the industry is how much emphasis there is on sexual health testing and keeping your tests current. You know, people outside of the industry are actually at higher risk of STDs than people having sex within the adult industry because they know their status. The HIV tests that performers get are the RNA test, not the antibody test. It’s a very short turn around window. It can detect HIV within a two-week window. A lot of other tests that you get at your clinic or at your hospital are like anywhere from a three to six-month window of detection. So people are really on it and honest about their sexual health here.

Another interesting fact is that we’re also a member of the Free Speech Coalition which is the adult industry lobbying group. We also support a PAC which is the adult ad Advocacy Committee.

B: That’s amazing.

S: Right. Right. I mean everything is sort of on a scale and never black and white. Hopefully audiences and media consumers are becoming smarter too, and more nuanced about what they want to watch. I would at least hope.