Understanding Montana Fishburne—Sex Tapes, Celebrity and Race

Understanding Montana Fishburne—Sex      Tapes, Celebrity and Race

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I understand Montana Fishburne. No, really I do.

I understand that when I was her age, I wanted to walk into the great halls of adulthood and thought having sex was the key to opening the door, especially since sexual activity is viewed in this society as the providence of grown-ups. Sex, I thought, would lead to gravitas, to being taken seriously by the people I wanted to be, who were in the stage of life I thought I was in.

So, I decided to lose my virginity at 21. In my head, it was the first “adult” act, something I fully, consciously did without anyone’s permission but my own and my partner’s. For someone who survived sexual violation at a very young age, this decision was monumental. (For the more curious: my virginity-losing was intimate (my partner and me); it was pagan; it was great. That’s all you need to know…)

In a spirit of mother-daughter sharing,-and thinking that I just walked through that hallowed door-I told my mom. Wow, did I underestimate my mom’s openness: she didn’t speak to me for a couple of weeks because, she admitted later, that’s not what young women do, “just lay up like that.”

Watching and listening to 19-year-old Montana, I get the distinct impression of someone who 1) also wants to be seen and taken seriously as an adult, 2) wants to have fun in life because her privilege should allow it, 3) really wants to be viewed as free-thinker and freer spirit, and 4) has a look of wondering if she’s in over her head with her long-lasting adult decision but is sticking with it to prove to everyone wrong.

In her own words:

“I think it was just wanting to explore sexuality,” she added. “Cause I know it’s such a big world I was just like, wow, well since I like sex … I wanted to see everything that I would like, every kind of fantasy I would like and porn is a way that I could explore that.”

And she didn’t want to follow her father’s path to success:

“I wasn’t really into mainstream acting,” she told Us. “People would ask me, ‘Do you want to get into acting? Do you want to be an actress?’ and I would say, straight up, ‘No.’…I knew I wanted to do adult [films].”

Filming herself having sex on camera for the first time at age 18, she told Us, “I liked it. I was like, ‘Wow, now I really want to do it. [I] just took it from there. I became really passionate after my first at-home video.”

And, as the cliché goes, the rest is history (probably in her eyes) and more than likely will be a footnote in the annals of pornography.

What is making a bit of a media mark is how her father, esteemed actor Laurence Fisburne, is reacting to her budding career. Now that the video is out (it dropped August 18), Montana said her dad stated he won’t speak to her until “she turns her life around,” that she “embarrassed” him, and that “no one uses their real name in porn.”

One radio interviewer asked her why did she use her real name, why did she “drag her father into so much drama.” Montana responded:

“I don’t think I have to hide my name. It’s my name, too. It did help get the career started, but if I decided to do mainstream work later…I wanted to do porn work first. If I had used a fake name, it would’ve come out anyway and it would’ve been more of a scandal. I’m not ashamed of my name; I don’t want to hide it. I’m proud of it.”

As for her father not talking to her, Montana told the interviewer that, though she “understands why he’s upset,” she thinks they won’t have the same relationship pre-video release until “he accepts” her career choice.

To be honest—and I don’t mean this as a cut—what Laurence Fishburne is known for or, as they say in the academy, what he’s coded as, is a Strong Black Man who keeps it Black in the eyes of quite a few African Americans, right down to his wife, reigning sci-fi/fantasy goddess Gina Torres (she’s idenitified as Afro-Cuban) and children. (And let’s not forget that quite a few folks also have childhood warm-fuzzies from his role as Cowboy Curtis on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.) So, Fishburne is seen as the Black actor who paid his dues from his days of supporting roles (like Apocalypse Now, One Life to Live, and the aforementioned Playhouse) to winning acting accolades and awards (an Oscar nod for What’s Love Got to Do with It?) and onward to gaining serious geek (especially Black geek) cred in one of the most popular sci-fi franchises of all time (the Matrix trilogy) to producing his own uplifting films (Akeelah and the Bee). He’s done right with his celebrity as far as some Black folks (and others) are concerned.

So, to hear that his Black daughter is not only a sex worker—which is, according to some people, what one turns to only “out of desperation” or is the path of “those (read: poor, uneducated) women,” though some sex workers would state otherwise-is something some people just couldn’t imagine Papa Laurence doing because he’s just too righteous for that. Laurence, like my moms, are what some would refer to as “race people” those Black people who are proud and try their damnedest to do right by The Race™, including rearing children who won’t embarrass the rest of The Race™ by, in the case of Black women, staying sexually “proper”—meaning no “laying up” and certainly not doing it on video for millions to see. And when their child shames them—and by extension, The Race™—sometimes punishment is swift and, in my mom’s and Laurence’s cases, silent.

No parent wants to be thought of as screwing up their duties. No one wants this to be their indictment:
I mean, they don’t grade fathers. But if your daughter’s a stripper, you fucked up.
~~ Chris Rock, “Never Scared”

And, if the responses on Twitter are any indication, no one wants to even dream that a race man like Fishburne could rear such a child:

I feel terrible for Lawrence Fishburne. I just can’t imagin[e] hearing that kind of news…

Everybody askin how does laurence fishburne feel what abt her mom gina torres?? I’m sure they equally upset…

Lawrence fishburne is going to die before the years out because of his daughter.

Dear Montana Fishburne: U r an ungrateful child. Let’s swap places. My dad is gone & I’d kill to have him back. I’d never disgrace him.
But because Montana chose this path:

Laurence Fishburne’s daughter, Montana, is stupid & taking advantage of her father’s fame only to embarrass & disgrace him!

I don’t get the Montana Fishburne thing. I mean she don’t need the money. Is she doin it to get back at her dad cuz she hates him? #confused

If Laurence Fishburne reprised his role as Ike Turner and beat the shit out of @tanafishburne I wouldn’t be mad…not at all

wow montana fishburne must have no talent.. degrading herself 2 PORN KMT sad times chick..sad desperate times

Poor Fishburne, young girl said her goal was to do porn like kim. Your dad is a celeb and ur main goal is porn n ur proud of it? Soo sad!!

Not only is Montana Fishburne a total disappointment… she won’t shut the fuck up about her hoe-spirations

I hate Montana Fishburne. When I was a young girl I would have killed to have a dad like hers. <Right! Booo!

Laurence Fishburne daughter i[s] straight TRIFLING.

I’m not going to say she made a right or wrong move by doing adult films: indeed, she’s legally grown and she’s doing her. And, truth be told, I wish her much luck and success in her chosen path. I simply hope she realizes that, if she remains in the adult industry, her name—depending on her father’s fortunes—may only take her so far. The reality is it’s rough for a Black woman to make it in the industry. Says adult-video star Justin Long (link NSFW):
Does any one think it weird that at AVN there are 15 males nominated for Best Male Performer and every year there are never more than three Black males in that category, and 95% of the time it’s won by a white or I’ll say non-Black performer that is hooked-up with the Vivids and Wickeds and VCAs of the industry. However, even more funny is if you look at the nominees for Most Unsung Male Performer at AVN, there are usually around 8 or 9 guys nominated and the list is predominately Black male performers. How about equality? It’s just an idea. How many non-Black males are under contract right now? How many Black males are under contract right now? How many white females are under contract right now? Now how many Black females are under contract right now? Starting to get the picture? Black people are starving and getting real jobs and leaving the industry ’cause they can’t pay their bills, but their counterparts are like nothin’ major has happened because half are under contract with guaranteed money and the other half are working because the economy put mostly smaller companies out of biz not the big ones.

Top companies, and girls often could give a flying fuck about Black females. How is it that Black females on average make less, and work less th[an]n white females?

And, as some bloggers have touched on, Montana may not grasp the fact that, though she may roll with admitted inspiration Kim Kardashian and the other celebutantes:

1) Kardashian has an entire family going along for the ride. Paris Hilton’s wealthy family stayed hang-wringingly silent while she leveraged her sex-scandalous celebrity for the time she had it. The other notable celebutante of color, Nicole Ritchie, also had a famous dad who stayed rather quiet while during her escapades (most notably with Hilton), but she decided to become partnered and a mom. Though Montana says her performer mom, Hajna Moss-Fishburne, supports her, Fishburne’s more famous father refuses to deal with her.

2) Kardashian didn’t want the sex tape to become public, whereas Fishburne not only made her sex tape public, she’s consciously going into the commercialized sex work. Though some consider Kardashian a fame-seeker, her (ostensible) blush of sexual decency may have helped her in this fame game.

3) Even white female porn stars like Jenna Jameson, Katie Morgan, and Sasha Grey acheived a certain modicum of crossover fame because they parlayed their long-gained fame for a “mainstream” project, like writing (Jameson), television (Morgan), or acting in film (Grey-and even at that, she first starred in an Steven Soderburgh indie flick about a sex worker. Nowadays, she’s guest-starring on HBO’s Entourage as Vince’s girlfriend.) The only famous porn star of color, Vanessa del Rio, has an certain amount of pop-culture cred and sex-blogger lurve as a testament to her longetivity and her breaking ground as a woman of color doing it.

4) The reality is Kardashian is coded as white (albeit an “exotic” one) in this society, and bodies coded as white or are white are both the default and the idealized sexual bodies. As one person commented on a Tumblr post :

we here on tumblr have found every single way imaginable to admire white girls. soft white girls, fat white girls, dreadlocked white girls, naked white girls, bicycling white girls, hairy white girls, clean white girls, white girls in shower, white girls catching butterflies, white girls cooking, white girls cooking naked, white girls with babies, white girls with kittehs, white girls with tats, white girls in catholic school girl dresses, white girls with hippy clothes….what fucking other ways in heavens green earth and jesus can we find to admire white girls?

As I said in my piece about John Mayer giving his now-infamous interview in Playboy:
… Mayer says all of this in a publication that is still considered a brand name in assigning cis women’s fuckability factor and, even for its (spotty) efforts at visually racial diversity, serves as one of the main echo chambers of melding and perpetuating the meme of White cis women’s idealized beauty and fuckability.

It’s not like Montana doesn’t have other examples. A prime one: award-winning porn star Midori. Like Montana, she has a famous relative—her sister, singer Jody Watley; unlike Montana, she didn’t use the Watley name as juice to get into or stay in porn. Similar to Montana, she tried to use porn to cross over to the mainstream, namely into music. However, Midori is more famous for her romantic/sexual relationships with musicians like Kid Rock than any of her cuts. Her wiki page says that she retired from porn, but her web page says it’s been a minute since she’s produced any music.

A reductive conclusion in conversations about Montana—and to some extent, Midori and other women of color who want to move from porn to the mainstream- is the idea of “black girls (or other women of color) thinking they’re just like white girls” or, more pointedly, how dare this Black girl think she can roll like a white (-coded) girl like Kardashian, especially in the “laying up” arena. What’s not getting nuanced in this statement is the deeper notion of what Latoya Peterson describes as the Montana’s and Midori’s “double marginalization”: that “black bodies are devalued, both in mainstream media and in porn” so, by extension.

What happens when a performer bumps up against two different glass ceilings: a porn industry that devalues her based on her heritage and a mainstream that doesn’t see black women in star[r]ing roles?

While Montana has creamy visions of porn success dancing in her head as she’s considering her next move, that’s a question that I really want her-and everyone else—to understand.

Andrea (AJ) Plaid is the sex columnist for Racialicious.com.