A lonnnng while back (truth: in March of this year, what the heck!), Mark Hay, writing for Playboy, approached me with questions about an interesting person to discuss: Sunny Leone.
Leone is a Canadian-born Indian-American actor and model. She is currently active in the Indian film industry — Bollywood — and formerly worked as a porn performer from the early ’00s through 2013 (and also as a director). I interviewed her once during a podcast in around about 2011. She was super nice.
I don’t know whatever happened to Hay’s story, but I hate wasting all the insights I spout forth in these things. As such, here are the questions he asked me, as well as my responses in full — enjoy!
Mark Hay: Why do you think Sunny Leone was able to create a viable mainstream Bollywood career?
DrCT: This is an interesting question. In the U.S., we are so very sex phobic in general and so very hypocritical about adult content specifically. We consume stolen, pirated adult content from massive tube sites — thus exploiting the labor of the people who create it — at astronomical rates. At the same time, we publically disparage people working in adult entertainment and show very few efforts toward improving sex education and sexuality awareness in general.
For better or worse, perhaps Bollywood’s and the surrounding culture’s attitudes about these same issues served to open a door of opportunity for Leone that didn’t exist in Hollywood or North America overall.
MH: How much of this may be particular to her or a precise moment she found? And how much might it indicate some degree of openness to people from adult backgrounds in that film market?
DrCT: Leone’s successes are directly connected to her own unique characteristics as they manifested at various stages in her life and as they connected to various aspects of society at large at specific times. To suggest this could somehow be recreated – to suggest there could be “the next so and so,” as people often do – makes little to no sense.
From a numerical standpoint across eras, Leone’s case is far more of an exception than a rule and may be more of an indicator about how closed mainstream media markets are to adult performers, as opposed to a sign of liberalization or openness.
MH: Could she or any other adult performer have done the same thing in the U.S.?
DrCT: Possibility is always possible, but — for reasons I suggested previously regarding U.S. society’s disregard of porn performers and sex workers — I do not feel this is likely.
MH: In what ways do you see Leone’s career as still limited by her time in the adult industry and the stigmas attached to that?
DrCT: Though I cannot speak to every single story written about Leone, a few quick Googles showed me something very interesting. In Bollywood-centered coverage, she was referred to as an actor and celebrity. Perhaps her career in porn was mentioned, but only as an aside in, say, promoting her bio-pic or something.
In U.S. and other Western-centered coverage, she was almost invariably referred to as some iteration of “ex-porn star Sunny Leone.” This is very telling indeed.
(pictured: sunny sunflower image via Vinish K Saini)
Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.
Get your copy of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon here.