"I still have so many questions."
Sex work has long harbored a stigma of shame and regret. Until recently, society has given a sharp look to those who participate in the commercialization of sex. Tony Award-winning Sarah Jones' Sell/Buy/Date, based on her 2016 off-Broadway play, works to de-stigmatize the conversation, opening the floodgates to allow a better understanding of the diverse and evolving landscape of the industry.
When initially announced, the project received a mountain of backlash that overshadowed Jones' purpose. A blend of documentary and narrative style storytelling, Sell/Buy/Date works to simplify an immensely complex story when taken in the context of our current culture.
Utilizing several of the characters introduced on stage, and with the forthcoming movie as a backdrop, Jones interviews current and former sex workers/prostituted women and the (mostly) men who buy and sell their services. The topic is sensitive to all sides of the equation, and Jones approaches each subject with respect and curiosity.
It is this curiosity that ultimately allows the film to work. In a world where slander and judgment exist before critical details are known, Jones sifts through the emotions to provide insightful, educated, and diverse interviews that promote all aspects (and opinions) surrounding the sex industry.
Jones' journey takes her from her comfort zone of New York City to the streets of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the latter where the Sex Industrial Revolution Conference is taking place. In Vegas, she teams up with a series of persons, all from different sectors of the industry, who shine a bright light on their personal experiences and feelings on the commercialization and legalization of sex work.
These stories and interviews are honest and controlled. Though Jones often leads the conversation, asking the questions that many are thinking but refuse to vocalize, her subjects take center stage. They provide perspective and clarity, sharing how the industry makes them feel, act, and ultimately exist.
Before returning to New York City, Jones visits a trio of Indigenous women. Their words, spoken with notable confidence, are momentous as they provide yet another perspective to the situation. This interview, literal cooler talk outside their RV van, highlights the vulnerability that the sex industry exposes.
Jones's melody of characters drifts in and out at leisure. Primarily used for comedic relief, their presence becomes a distraction the further Jones ventures from home. This is her journey, her self-discovery as she analyzes her own relationship with the industry. However, occasional monologues deepen the conversation, most notably from Nereida, a girl/women's rights advocate whose opinions stem from her connection to her home country of the Dominican Republic.
Limo shrimp aside, Sell/Buy/Date is a bold film that allows honest, authentic conversations. Though it does become a bit one-dimensional, mimicking documentary styles of the early 00s, Jones is able to showcase a diverse range of subjects, each of whom gets to speak their truth in their own words. I'm not sure the world is ready for such an unapologetic film, but that doesn't mean we don't need it.