Last week, the Los Angeles Times devoted over 2,100 words to tell us, in lurid detail, the story of Richard Nanula, a financial wiz who rose up the ranks at major companies like Disney and Miramax, and then crashed spectacularly when his misbehavior was revealed on the internet.
The lack of focus of the story disturbed me. This wasn’t a take-down like the sort we see against debauched politicians. In fact, the article did more than show us how Nanula rose through the ranks — it painted an image of business acumen bordering on genius. And then it forgot to push the icon off the pedestal. Sure, there’s cheating, sex workers, a divorce — even a passing mention to a sexual harassment suit now in arbitration. But it kind of reads like the writer is sorry to be doing this at all.
Mostly, the piece is an excuse to talk about a loophole that enables people to pay for sex without risk of running afoul of the law. The difference between making porn and engaging in prostitution is more than simply having a camera running in the room, of course — doing porn right means screening for sexually transmitted illness and HIV, as well as acquiring city permits, negotiating with the agents of the performers that are going to be involved, signing a stack of documents, and so on. You could probably read the Erotic Review from end to end in the time it’d take you to set this exploit up, so perhaps words like loophole, exploit and cheat aren’t the right ones.
But say you have copious time — or at least copious resources. Then, yes, it’s perfectly legal.
Oh, but one more thing. If you negotiate with a star to put her on a website, you are pretty much contractually obligated to put her on a website. Which means — you guessed it! — you’re pretty much going to end up on a website (and likely a host of pirating tube sites to boot!). Even if it’s just you two, and you film the whole thing point-of-view, your voice and bits of you — yes, including that bit of you — are going to end up online.
And that’s kind of a problem. Actually, that’s exactly the problem that forced Richard Nanula to resign from Miramax and the private equity firm Colony Capital.
Nanula never considered that the porn industry, constantly under pressure by lawmakers, takes care to separate itself from the illegal side of the sex industry, and that many performers feel very strongly about not being associated with activity that might be construed as prostitution. As it turns out, Samantha Saint, who was once duped into filming with Nanula, is one such performer. After being handed the money she was owed for her scene in a Colony Capital envelope, the Wicked star and host of the upcoming 2014 AVN Awards became suspicious and had her agent and attorney ensure that the scene she’d shot went online as agreed.
And that’s pretty much how TheDirty, a blog that loves to air everyone’s laundry, got hold of stills of Nanula in flagrante delicto.
Sarah Shevon, another performer, has since come forward with suspicions that she, too, might have shot with Nanula last year. Shevon was approached twice. First, Trinity St. Clair hit her up about doing a “private” (industry lingo for a paid date) involving oral sex, for $1,500. Shevon declined. A year later, Shevon was approached again by St. Clair through Shevon’s agent, Mark Spiegler. This time, she offered Shevon a scene involving oral sex to be featured on trinitystclair.com for $300. Shevon accepted. Shevon has never seen the video resulting from that shoot. When she spoke to the LA Times, she admitted that she felt like she’d basically participated in a private, though this had never been her intention. She’s not alone in that sentiment.
“I just find it disturbing,” Saint said in an interview with AVN. “I have nothing against girls that choose to do stuff on the side, it’s just not for me. Many of my friends do it. I just choose not to. But someone put me in a situation where that decision was made for me, and I didn’t know about it. It’s just not right.”
The story here isn’t a cautionary tale about the dangers of sexual appetites. Nanula isn’t a bad guy because he likes sex or wants to sleep with a lot of women, whether these women are in the sex industry or not. Nanula is a bad guy because he knew that some of these women wouldn’t consent to a specific sort of act with him so he deceived them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think there is a difference between porn and prostitution. It doesn’t matter how many people in the adult industry engage in escorting. At least two of the women involved do see a difference. They ended up doing something they didn’t want to do. They were conned. Richard Nanula played them. That’s wrong. That’s why he’s a bad guy — and that’s why that sexual harassment suit the LA Times piece mentioned in passing should have gotten more attention than it did.
People aren’t dangerous because they love sex. People are dangerous when they don’t think they need consent from other people to do what they want.
Header image by Ian Brown.