Netflix original focuses on online sex workers
“Go ahead. Kill yourself,” Visitor 003128 writes on Lola’s cam show as a stream of tokens fly in encouraging her to do it. Lola, taken aback by the comments, pulls out a knife and proceeds to slit her throat, then lays limp in her fluorescent pink room covered in blood, only to wake up and pull off the prosthetic neck with a grin over her face. These are the extremes Alice Ackerman (Madeline Brewer) goes to to become one of the top 50 cam girls through her persona Lola—in her case, performing and executing her own suicides.
CAM, which is available to stream on Netflix, is a technological thriller that explores the narrative theme of media being a literal force of nature. Inspired by films like Unfriended, The Ring, and Poltergeist, CAM delves into virtual obsession and looks at the life of a sex worker and what happens when she loses control over her online identity.
CAM is a sex-positive film that has stripped away the male gaze on what it means to be a sex worker and part of a business that is stigmatized and often ostracizes women within the industry. The film instead shows a business about expressing one’s sexuality and gives audiences a different perspective on the art form of what it means to be a “cam girl.”
“When did we lose our mind as a country?” asked Director Daniel Goldhaber at the on-campus screening and Q&A on Feb 13. He pondered when curation became an algorithm and how social media blurred the line between how people identify and express their real selves and their curated online selves. This blurring became the central idea of CAM, as Alice suffers a loss of digital agency over her body.
Reminiscent of Black Swan and Whiplash, CAM tackles the idea of an artist who succumbs to their art forms to the extent of sacrificing their physical and emotional well-being.
The film itself is a nightmare and behind the scenes was too: 20 days of shooting, a million-dollar budget, and a year’s worth of editing. Goldhaber and his longtime friend Isa Mazzei, a former cam girl herself, wanted to create a film that got an audience to empathize with sex workers and understand just how normal camming can be.
In a “casting nightmare,” Goldhaber and Mazzei, both CU Boulder alumni, had a hard time finding the lead role for Alice, as many agencies in Hollywood felt the film was too risqué. But when Madeline Brewer, known for her roles in Black Mirror and Orange is the New Black, auditioned, she was practically a shoe-in.
“We gave Madeline complete authority to have control over her body and created a community that respected what she was comfortable with and set boundaries on how nude she wanted to be in certain scenes,” Mazzei explained. “In scenes where [Madeline] felt Alice would be more nude here or how Alice would act in this situation, we would draw up the paperwork and listen to what she’d had to say.” This autonomy is reflected in the film, as Alice has the final word in how she chooses to represent herself in her videos.
CAM, which won both the Best Screenplay and Best First Feature awards at the Fantasia Film Festival where it premiered, is a daring and riveting film about the stark reality of sex work and about a woman whose body is not objectified, vilified, or victimized but rather is a protagonist in her own narrative.