Women on Top: Female Directors Rocked the AVN Awards in 2018

Pictured on the red carpet before the 2018 AVN Awards Show, from left, Joanna Angel, Bree Mills, Kay Brandt, Angela White, Mona Wales and Dee Severe. Photos by Jeff Koga/@KogaFoto

By Sharan Street

PORN VALLEY—There’s been a lot of talk recently about the glass ceiling for women in Hollywood—especially in the ranks of Academy Award-nominated directors. Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first began bestowing awards in 1929, only one woman has walked home with the Oscar statuette for Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.

This year there was talk of 2018 as a watershed year for women at the Oscars. But once the nominees were revealed, only one woman was up for Best Director: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. And Gerwig’s film was the only Best Picture nominee out of ten that was helmed by a woman.

In fact, in Oscar’s 89-year history, only three other women have been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties, 1977), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1994) and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2004).

By contrast, at the 2018 AVN Awards, half of the 10 titles contending for Movie of the Year were directed or co-directed by women—as was the winning title, Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy (Pure Taboo/Pulse), co-directed by Bree Mills and Craven Moorehead. (AVN Media Network's annual awards show, presented by MyFreeCams and staged January 27, took place at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas. For a full writeup of the show, click here.)

Mills, in fact, is not only co-director of Best Drama winner Half His Age but also head of production for Gamma Films, parent company for AVN Award-winning studios Girlsway and Pure Taboo. The charismatic, articulate Mills made her presence felt at the 2018 AVN Awards, with wins for Best Action/Thriller (Vampires, directed by Stills by Alan) plus three acting wins for studio projects (Sara Luvv in Girlsway’s The Faces of Alice and Kristen Scott and Small Hands in Pure Taboo’s Half His Age).

Mills’ presence on the stage was the first time the Movie of the Year acceptance speech was given by a female director, but it’s certainly not the first milestone for female directors in adult. Last year, director Jacky St. James was the first woman to win Best Director – Feature honors for her movie The Submission of Emma Marx: Evolved. Directors Joanna Angel and Stormy Daniels have both had multiple wins in movie categories (including Angel’s Joanna’s Angels 2 and Band Sluts, and Daniels’ Operation Desert Stormy and Wanted). And in 2015 the enigmatic Mason was named Director of the Year, though the famously reclusive director did not take the stage.

But the success of female directors at the 2018 show is still noteworthy for the sheer number of wins. Among the movie categories that are voted on for Movie of the Year were the following: Kay Brandt’s Adventures With the Baumgartners (Best Polyamory Movie; Adam & Eve Pictures), Angela White’s Angela 3 (Best Star Showcase; AGW/Girlfriends), Joanna Angel’s Jews Love Black Cock (Best Comedy; BurningAngel/Exile) and Kayden Kross’s Sacrosanct (Best Anthology Movie; Trenchcoatx/Jules Jordan).

White and Angel also won for Angela Loves Women 3 (Best All-Girl Movie) and Babysitter Auditions (Best Lewd Propositions Movie), respectively, while Kross won Best Director – Non Feature. (Side note: For a great read about the Vegas show overall and the AVN Awards Show, check out a first-person essay by Kross, complete with an evocative photo essay, on MonsterChildren.com.)

The Best BDSM Movie, Cybill Troy Is Vicious, was co-directed by Severe Sex studio co-founders Dee Severe and Jimmy Broadway. (“It's our first win—the Susan Lucci of Best BDSM Movie no more,” Severe joked. “I think we've been nominated like seven times in a row.”)

Three women took home trophies for their work directing trans titles. Coming in tied for Best Transsexual Movie were Dana Vespoli, director of Buck Angel Superstar (TransSensual/Mile High), and Mona Wales and Arabelle Raphael, co-directors of All My Mother’s Lovers (Grooby/Exquisite)*. And Aiden Starr picked up a win for Best Transsexual Series for Hot for Transsexuals (Evil Angel).

And 2015 Director of the Year Mason wasn’t left empty-handed after this year’s awards show. Movies from the Hard X helmswoman won in three categories: Best Ethnic Movie (Asian Anal), Best Oral Movie (Facialized 4) and Best Niche Series (Squirt for Me).

For those who would ask what kinds of adult movies are being created by women, the answer would be all kinds. There’s Half His Age, the edgy and violent story of a man who gets involved with the wrong teenage girl, contrasted by the light-hearted silliness of Jews Love Black Cock. And compare the high-end gloss and hardcore sex of Angela 3 to the dramatic lighting and quirky fantasies in Sacrosanct.

“I truly love the fact that all the female directors in the industry have such a different style of directing,” Angel of BurningAngel Entertainment said. “The term ‘porn for women’ always angered me because it generalizes us as if we all watch the same exact thing.”

That said, Angel added, “It makes sense that female directors are dominating the field. Women analyze and obsess over every aspect of sex in such a meticulous way—it's natural for us to bring it to life in a visual form.”

Asked about other artists who inspired her, Angel said, “My early female director influences were Belladonna, and Tristan Taormino.” 

Kross said, “I can't speak for every female director this year, but I know that the feeling that I have a right to be taken seriously in this capacity hasn't been long established and, going in with my first releases for TRENCHCOATx, I felt like I had something to prove. That, and I was bored by the porn I'd been watching men produce for the past decade. It felt like a huge gamble, but I decided to just make what I would want to make without the market dictating what that should look like. It feels surreal to have won. I don't think it's quite sunk in yet.”

It’s safe to say that many in the mainstream have no concept of the work that women are doing in adult entertainment. For example, witness that virtually no stories generated about Daniels during the media furor over her alleged liaison with Donald Trump even mention her work as a director.

Brandt agrees with this assessment. “Mainstream has NO concept,” said the veteran AVN Award winner (her movie Cherry 2 for Digital Playground was named Best All-Girl Release in 2012). “When I connect with my mainstream contacts and share what I've been up to for the past nine years, making adult films, they take the news in a strange way. It's like they simply don't know how to handle the information, or wrap their brain around me (or anyone) directing porn and actually liking the work. I don't just like it, though—I love it. That disturbs them even more. It's unfortunate that the industry can't just embrace how much of mainstream looks like (and is) pornographic material, mostly just to get high ratings, and stop throwing a stigma on the adult business as many steps beneath them. Game of Thrones, The Girlfriend Experience, SMILF, many late-night animated shows on Cartoon Network—I could go on—are all very pornographic, in my opinion. To me, directing X-rated material really isn't any different than horror porn, disaster porn, or dramas with very well-acted orgasms throughout.”

Asked if it was any easier working in the business now than when she first started, Brandt said, “I never saw me being a woman as an issue for getting projects made. Whatever hindrances I encountered were usually due to some other conflict not directly associated with me. I entered the adult business as a writer-director for Girlfriends Films, and they wanted a female behind the camera then. And, the same goes for the other companies I've made films for. I know my fans from the Girlfriends Films days were a mix of men and women who loved that a woman was making their erotica and have continued to support me throughout my journey."

And it's a journey that will continue for this talented group of erotic filmmakers.

"I am so proud to be among such an incredible group of accomplished women in our industry," added Mills, head of Gamma Films. "To see Angela White take a record-setting 14 trophies alone for her on-screen and behind-the-camera work is a testament to the unique creativity and attention to detail we bring as female filmmakers. I look forward to seeing what happens next year!"

* The original version of this article failed to credit co-director Arabelle Raphael. Our sincere apologies for the oversight.