Laverne Cox Drops Out Of New Play After Sex Workers Raise Concerns

Published on January 8, 2021

Actress, activist, and producer Laverne Cox has exited a film about sex work called Sell/Buy/Date. Cox, who’s best known for Orange is the New Black, faced online outrage for her participation in the adaptation of Sarah Jones’ one-woman show. Cox was executive-producing the movie. Some sex workers felt she had “co-opted” their stories. 

As a result, Cox — who recently faced a transphobic attack — stepped away from the project. “When I agreed to come on as an executive producer of ‘Sell, Buy, Date,’” Cox wrote, “I did so because I was so deeply moved by Sarah Jones’ brilliant play and her unbelievable, undeniable talent as an artist, as an actor. I have so much love for her as a human being. But I am not in an emotional place to deal with the outage by some around my participation in this project. So I have decided to pull out. To be clear, I am no longer involved in any capacity in Sell, Buy, Date. I have to take care of my mental, physical and emotional health. This is all I have to say on the matter.” 

For years, Cox has been an outspoken supporter of sex workers. The actress has supported the decriminalization of sex work and spoken out against the stigmatization. However, her statement on Twitter continues to face criticism from sex workers, even though she stepped away from the project. Many have a problem with the project as a whole since it hails from producers Meryl Streep and Rashida Jones

For years, Steep has supported anti-sex work causes, like SESTA/FOSTA. Jones, too, produced the doc and Netflix docuseries, Hot Girls Wanted, which many sex workers took issue with in the past. The series allegedly persuaded sex workers to appear on the show under false pretenses

Unlike Cox, Streep and Jones remain involved in Sell/Buy/Date. “I cannot believe Rashida is doing another documentary about sex work after all the criticism she’s received from her other two,” said Autumn Kay, a sex worker. “She puts on a front as if she cares for us but all we are to her is a way to get a ton of views.” Jones starred in a variety of hit shows, including one the most streamed show ever on Netflix, The Office. In the past, Jones has defended Hot Girls Wanted, saying it represents experiences but not all experiences. 

Sell/Buy/Date was first performed in 2016. Sarah Jones spent three years interviewing sex workers. The show itself was polarizing, which isn’t surprising given its subject matter. Reviews were mostly positive, but some critics took issue with its conflation of sex work and sex trafficking among other issues. 

Most took issue with the film adaptation not involving actual sex workers behind the scenes but movie stars. It’s a fair criticism. D’Adamo, who’s a sex workers’ rights activist, explained the problem best to Rolling Stone. “I think it’s exploitative to take stories from a community, and present them and capitalize on them and give nothing back, and not engage or platform people who are impacted by these kinds of things,” she says. “Now more than ever, people need to create platforms for where sex workers can participate. I literally am struggling to organize around laws because I can’t use ‘sex worker’ without getting flagged. It’s infuriating that people can be so thoughtlessly taking up space in a conversation while doing nothing to support people who are struggling to simply exist.” 

To be fair, at least in the case of Laverne Cox, she has supported the sex worker community for years. Again, Cox was going to be an executive producer. The role of an executive producer ranges widely throughout the industry. Some executive producers are creatively involved, while others have their name on a project to help get more eyes on it. No matter how creatively involved Cox was, she’s out.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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