Sex Work in the Cinema
Lessons from the 1970s
An uptick in films about sex work and other forms of immaterial labor in contemporary Latin America points to a crisis in our understanding of bodies at work. This crisisfinds a precedent in cinema of the 1970s, a moment in which sex work finds a particular protagonism on screen. During this period, artists and activists together posited a replacement of the prostitute as a metaphor of dehistoricized alienation with the metonymy of sex work aslabor. Grounded in a formal and material analysis of the Brazilian films and film networks grouped under the rubric Boca do Lixo (São Paulo, 1973-1982), I show how they queried, through sex work, what we imagine when we invoke the term work. Attentive to the sexual division of labor that structures these films, I also show how this relatively neglected and maligned moment in Brazilian film history offers a salient case study of how sex work in the cinema negotiates labor’s shifting fortunes, in and beyond Brazil, and into the present. As a limit case of what constitutes work in modernity, sex work in the cinema is uniquely poised to reveal its seismographic shifts.