Nina Hartley has starred in over 700 adult films. In recent years, she has appeared in the mainstream film Boogie Nights and has become a free speech activist. She sat down with the Capitol Weekly on Monday during the annual Adult Entertainment Lobby Day.
How long have you been politically active in free speech issues?
With the Free Speech lobbying day specifically, it’s been at least 12 years. But I come from a politically active family, so it runs in the blood. Civil rights, mainly, especially in Alabama during the 30s, and of course in the anti-war movement of the 60s. My father was blacklisted, which got him out of organized politics.
Tell me about your father.
He had a very popular radio show in San Francisco in the 50s. He was the radio equivalent of Herb Caen, if that makes any sense. He was heard by 125,000 listeners every week. He went to a meeting, not undercover but quietly, and it turned out it had been infiltrated. Someone called him out by name, and that’s all they needed. The story he told about that was he was work—he was at CBS radio, actually, it was called “This is San Francisco,”—and a gentleman showed up and said “Hi, is your name Jim Grady?” That was his stage name. My father said yes. And he said, “I want you to know my wife and I never miss a show,” then served him. In the end he was vindicated, but he also lost his job. He was never fully employed after that. He’d get a job, and then in a couple of weeks a couple guys with suits would come by and tell him to come see the boss and my father would be unemployed again. That obviously did have an effect on the family.
We’re not facing that kind of oppression today, but we still are facing 1st Amendment issues. We’re here lobbying against Calderon’s AB 2914, which, besides all the unfairness of it all, is also unconstitutional because it is a content-based tax.
Maybe it’s to go back to his constituents and say “I am trying, them damn Yankees just aren’t letting it pass.” I am surprised that someone as intelligent as Mr. Calderon thinks this even has an ice cube’s chance in heck. The Republicans are no fan of our business, but they recognize an unfair tax when they see it. Obviously, adult entertainment fans come in all ideologies, but in terms of publically being able to acknowledge it…
Part of the thinking against adult entertainment is that somehow a woman’s choice means less if she chooses to be an adult entertainer. That her choice is somehow suspect or invalidated by the assumption that she is weak-minded or brainwashed or coerced. Most people work because they can’t eat for free. My point is, if a woman at 18 is able to vote, become married, become a mother, to have an abortion, then she is legally able to consent to make adult entertainment. Some people argue that women don’t have true consent because our system is so oppressive, etc. I don’t care to be infantilized in that way.
Don’t women basically control the industry at this point?
The main businesses are still run by men. The business has been legal only 35 years. There are now more female business owners in adult entertainment than there ever have been, and the number is increasing. But realize most dancers and adult film performers are independent contractors. There are thousands of small business owners with an operating staff of one. I’m responsible for my taxes, my benefits, my retirement. I pay taxes both as an individual and as a business owner. I’m not against taxes. I want the policemen to be paid. I want the schools to be built. But this tax is not fair because its content based.
With crossover stars like Jenna Jameson, there seems to be a mainstreaming of this industry that’s scaring a lot of people.
Yeah, she’s the main one. The business is being mainstreamed in that more people admit to having a dirty movie or two in their closet. But it will never be fully mainstream in that our culture is still very conflicted about sexuality, and particularly women’s sexuality.
I think they’re looking for any revenue stream in a storm. $14 billion is a lot of money to make up. But you can’t unfairly tax us and then give tax breaks to Hollywood. Also, they count on the consumer’s shame and embarrassment to not stand up and say “this isn’t right.” Which is why I’m always pleased that certain Republicans will be with us on this, not because of who we are but because of what this bill is—it’s a lousy bill, in my view.
People have often said, “Nina, you should run for office.” I don’t have that level of pluck in me. But it’s very important to be involved in this civic lobbying. The first time I was here, I was like “wow.” It’s still wow. This is where it happens—or gets bogged down in committee.
So you don’t actually meet with legislators?
In my personal experience, it’s 80/20, staff and legislators. Of course, with term limits, the staff is where the power is and where the in knowledge is. They’re the ones who actually look into the bills and give feedback to the legislators. In terms of what we want, it’s almost better to meet with staff. They know more. You can tell, I’m not a fan of term limits. By the time you realize how it works here, you’re gone.
Have there been any legislators who have been more willing to meet?
My team this year is meeting only with staff. I think a few other legislators have met with individuals. I think Mary Carey met with…from San Francisco? Yee? No. I don’t know his name.
Yes! He sat down with her personally.