Tribeca Review: Troubling Doc 'Sexy Baby' Looks At The Indoctrination Of Women Into A Porn-Centric World

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by Gabe Toro
April 25, 2012 6:32 PM
8 Comments
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Sexy Baby,” a new documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, is problematic from it’s early, explicit pornographic sequences to its bewildering final shot close-up of an actual newborn baby. Ostensibly, the narrator-less film uses the stories of three separate white girls to illustrate the indoctrination of female objectification and pornography at a young age, though their subject seems awfully broad, and their net entirely too small.

One story strand, the weakest in the film, follows Laura, a young model from Virginia (all three girls curiously hail from the East Coast, nearly a continent away from the heart of the porn industry). Laura can’t find happiness, and it’s due to the discomfort she finds in her thick labia. Labiaplasty proves to be the only option, and it’s interesting that she takes on two jobs, one of them teaching small children, because she is self-conscious about her vagina and wants to feel “like a porn star” in bed, which is said to please her unseen boyfriend. The first world excess of unnecessary glamour surgery lingers over Laura’s story, obscured by the fact that she’s positively contributing to society in earning the cash for the procedure. However Laura, as a personality, is a bit of an empty void, prone to thousand-mile stares and monotone inarticulation.

Another story concerns now-retired porn star Nakita Kash. While no longer performing onscreen, she continues representing a fantasy through strip shows across the state of Florida. Though she entered the industry as a fantasy for males, she exited with the realization that women were also beginning to emulate her. Pornography in the digital age has permeated the bedroom, she argues, revealing that it’s created a distorted mirror where she sees a sexually timid housewife watching her films and fantasizes about being that girl. Amusingly, one of her part-time gigs is teaching stripping and pole dancing to amateurs, not so they can strip professionally, but so they can feel sexier about themselves. The bulk of Kash’s story soon transfers to her marriage, with both parties acknowledging the stress of trying to conceive. Kash's husband, who also works in the adult industry as a booking agent, notably refuses to answer a question about what to do about their chosen profession when their child reaches their adolescent period.

The unsettling tail of this triptych follows Winnifred, an unusually bright and precocious preteen girl. Winnie claims she does not watch porn, limiting her heavy internet usage to blogs and social networking. But her story forces you to question the very nature of pornography, as living in New York City, pornographic images are unavoidable, as the camera slyly captures fifty foot billboards and on taxicab advertisements spotlighting exploitative imagery of women. Winnie is young and materialistic to say, “Facebook is probably thirty percent of my life,” but self-aware enough to add, “and it shouldn’t be.” In addition to school and gymnastics, she puts on small plays and performances that deflate the notion of modern sexuality -- one amusing sequence has her dissecting the popularity of sexually explicit misogynist pop songs that nonetheless have permeated the mainstream with ease.

Winnie’s parents have allowed Winnie a tremendous amount of control over her own image, but it becomes clear that Winnie is too over-stimulated and too green. Just because she’s smart enough to recognize the danger of taking provocative photos of herself and putting them online doesn’t mean she can resist the temptation. Part of it is attention, as Winnie’s parents are separated, Mom allowing her to explore her freedom until a random reprimand, and Dad merely overwhelmed and terrified at his daughter’s blossoming sexuality. But Winnie is smart enough to realize its also about power, and that if her image might in some way titillate, it suggests she has control. She doesn’t worship Lady Gaga for the music.

First-time directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus are unusually aggressive about their first film being visually explicit, to the point where they capture their subjects in suggestive poses that actually reveal their vulnerability. Laura’s genitals are exposed in full detail during her surgery, a moment sure to make the MPAA apoplectic. The camera also makes sure to linger over the still-exceptional physique Kash sports in various states of undress as she performs menial tasks around the house. More troubling is the emphasis on young Winnie’s body, the camera managing to follow her posterior in mid-walk many times. Her parents rightfully show anger when she allows questionable pictures of her to hit the net, though what of this documentary, soon to be on film screens, featuring scenes where she prepares multiple revealing outfits for a Lady Gaga concert? By allowing the cameras to capture this young girl in these moments, it’s allowing her consent over the control of her image. Sandwiched between explicit hardcore pornographic images, Girls Gone Wild montages, and strip clubs, Winnie’s incongruous exposure suggest that there can be no appropriate consent to baring yourself, and no way to escape exposure from the oversexualization of young women. [C-]

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8 Comments

  • VOD | December 16, 2012 11:05 PMReply

    The idea and subject matter of this film is very interesting, and the filmakers should be congratulated for addressing the subject. But its troubling in terms of whether the film truly presents a complete picture for the audience to make a judgment. The portrait of Winnie leaves out so many seemingly critical details of her family life that it would seem to be useful to the audience in judging the impact of other factors in the film relative to Internet porn on Winnie versus direct experiences in the home.

    In general, its hard to imagine that any kid who is the daughter of multi millionaire parents in New York City experiences life in a manner similar to that of most kids in Amercia. But even moreso, its hard to imagine that factors such as bitter divorce between the parents involving allegations of affairs where the parents rarely talk to each other outside of the film, sex charged parties at the home that Winnie was exposed to, short skirts worn by the mother not that different from the ones Winnie looking at and just the overall uniquely accomplished individuals that are her parents . . . could not be factors that would be relevant to the audience in judging the relevant impact of internet porn etc.

  • Janet | October 5, 2012 3:50 PMReply

    I saw this film at Tribeca and felt the filmmakers really didn't go beneath the surface. It appeared intentionally exploitative in parts but, on the whole, nothing more than the average fare you'd see on 20/20 (though not as in-depth.) Not really clear why the filmmakers did this doc--all of this info has been gone over endlessly online and in the press. Yeah, sex sells, news at 11. Do we really need to see a doc about this? Not to me, unless you're just looking for more exploitation. Saw it was opening soon, googled some reviews (just to see if I was alone with this opinion) so adding my two cents.

  • Heidi | April 27, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    I have to wonder if this reviewer actually watched the entire film, or just made assumptions from the trailer. Sexy Baby brings up important topics that require mass discussion. I really admire the journalistic (and sometimes shocking) nature of this documentary and, sadly, I don't think the reviewer has the maturity to "get it". He's playing right into male stereotypes of objectifying the pre-teen character, which the movie did not do. Sad that a film of this importance was reviewed by a misogynist.

  • Anonymous | April 26, 2012 9:33 PMReply

    Winnie was in control of her own image all along. How could a parent "allow" a certain amount of control over their childs image.

  • Winnie | April 26, 2012 9:30 PMReply

    "Sexy baby" clearly went way over your head. You did not understand key points in the film, youve made assumptions that arent true, and much of your review makes little sense.
    -Winnifred

  • doc-lover | April 26, 2012 11:22 AMReply

    Wow, Gabe, you obviously COMPLETELY missed the point of the movie. Actually, it seems you have no idea what a documentary film is -- and a verite one at that. You need an education, why don't you read a review from a guy who is the real deal: http://www.indiewire.com/article/tribeca-film-festival-gender-based-insecurity-in-sexy-baby-and-mansome

  • Cindy | April 26, 2012 5:39 PM

    Agreed. I don't really understand the point of your review Gabe. What exactly are you critiquing? The film, the film makers, the subjects themselves, or culture? Are you a film critic or a parenting critic? You suggest that the film is "problematic" in the first sentence and then conclude that there is "no way to escape the oversexulization of young women" in the last sentence - isn't that the point the film leads you to? This review just sounds like its coming from a 20-something year old dude with no kids.

  • StephenM | April 25, 2012 8:53 PMReply

    Yeah, I watched the trailer for this and I was kinda weirded out. Is there any way a 13-year-old girl can really be acting naturally as she surfs the internet and talks about sex with friends while there are people with cameras standing right over there documenting her every move? And what kind of person "can't find happiness" until they get labia surgery? Even from the trailer, the movie looked like it had a really confused sense of its purpose, capturing people in provocative poses in order to criticize the fact that people are always seeing provocative poses.

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