In conversation with Stoya
According to reports, every five minutes, Pornhub transmits more data than the entire contents of the New York Public Library's 50 million books and apparently there were more video votes (120 million) than there were votes cast in the last US presidential election. As a product, porn is a readily available banality — just like your usual Amazon shopping, it’s instantly clickable worldwide, regardless of social or economic status. How could anyone deny the influence of an industry that generated US$90 billion last year? Once largely shunned by the entertainment industry, porn stars are commanding more space on primary TV channels and celebrity magazines, underscoring pornography’s steady migration from the pop culture margins to the mainstream. While there nothing seems peculiar about growing numbers of people and especially women consuming porn, it is the porn industry that lacks normality, still being loosely regulated and led by male-dominated production companies. Facts that leave actors, especially inexperienced newbies, with little control over their image in ways that can be callous, sketchy and cutthroat. Within this industry we find Stoya, not just another adult performer, but someone who has been pulling behind pornography’s curtain with her outspoken and independent voice, dispelling the ironies of the industry, conveyed in her naturalistic, matter of fact tone.
Born Jessica Stoyadinovich , to a Scottish father and Serbian mother in Wilmington, Stoya’s stage name is a nod to her grandmother's surname. Since the very beginning of her career, more than ten years ago, Stoya has been active as a writer, poet, model and an actress — first in pornography and then transitioning to television and film.
Stoya recently made headlines when she was awarded Best Actress for her role in Ederlezi Rising at the 46th FEST — International Film Festival Belgrade. The jury said Stoya's acting was perfectly controlled "by managing to depict the lead female character of Nimani following the exact vision of the film director with a precise acting expression, personality, and charisma." The Lazar Bodroza-directed film also won Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor for Sebastian Cavazza. We caught up with Stoya in NYC, just days before her award-winning trip to Serbia.
TIB: LET’S START WITH EDERLEZI RISING. I HEARD ABOUT THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE YEARS AGO, AND NOW IT’S FINALLY OUT. HOW LONG WAS THE WHOLE PROCESS?
STOYA: I went over for rehearsal in spring 2015, and then we filmed in at the end of 2015, but I agreed to do this project even two or three years prior. So much stuff in Serbia is culturally funded, so to make a movie you have to get permission from the government, which takes forever. We had some troubles because tabloids got the news about the film, so they made big deal out of it, saying that the Ministry of Culture is funding porn. Consequentially, everyone had to cool down before things progressed, and in the process of doing so, they replaced the lead actor with Sebastian.
DO YOU THINK YOUR CHARACTER, AS AN ANDROID DISPLACED IN FAR FUTURE, RADICALISES THE STANDARDISED POSITION OF WOMEN AS MALE COMPANIONS?
Most of the science fiction that's compelling to me transports an existing, real world social issue (or problem, in the to-be-solved meaning) to a far away place or time, which I believe enables us to step out of our immediate biases and life experiences and to examine things from angles we would otherwise struggle to access. I don't know that the character necessarily radicalises, aside from maybe the potential for innovative thought to be provoked by the situation?
IT MAKES ME THINK OF DONNA HARAWAY’S A CYBORG MANIFESTO, WHICH URGED FEMINISTS TO EMBRACE NEW TECHNOLOGIES AS TOOLS FOR FEMINIST ENDS, AS AN ANTIDOTE THAT WOMEN BELONGED EXCLUSIVELY TO NATURE. DID YOU EVER CONSIDER YOUR CYBORG AS A METAPHOR?
Thanks for reminding me about the Cyborg Manifesto. I really need to read that one of these days. While it's been super fun to do all this analysis during interviews and with people who've seen the film, I didn't interpret any metaphors until we'd wrapped on principal photography. During the filming of the movie I was way too focused on delivering the lines and emotions as dictated by the script. Remember, this was my first significant non-porn role, so I had a lot of basic acting stuff to wrap my head around.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH SEBASTIAN?
Amazing, and not only because he is such a good actor and has vast experiences, but he is also a great teacher! Straight away he was able to see where I was, meet me there and teach me a bunch of stuff.
I WANT TO TALK ABOUT SEX IN PORNOGRAPHY. ALONG WITH EATING, DRINKING, AND SLEEPING, SEX IS ONE OF THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN DRIVES. USUALLY, THE MORE WE’RE EXPOSED TO SOMETHING, THE MORE WE TEND TO SEE IT AS ACCEPTABLE. BUT IN THE CASE OF PORN, IT’S STILL NOT COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE, EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE WATCH IT ALL THE TIME…
We're in this really weird place globally where the United States has been the predominant culture for a long time, and in a one directional kind of the way. I mean there’s Europe, which is obviously a tiny bit more relaxed, and then there are the Balkans, which are more comfortable than the rest of Europe, in my opinion. American media is crazy, I mean, people write about porn, but it's highly censored!
In Balkans, things are freer. Even when media was covering the festival and writing about me coming to Belgrade, my naked pictures were all over the daily news; it was not a big deal at all.
I feel like America has a hard time accepting porn as something normal. Other cultures are better at that — if we take away religious stance.
STOYA, DO YOU KNOW OF SEVERINA?
You mean the Croatian pop star that did the porn movie?
YES, THAT ONE. DID YOU MAYBE SEE THE MOVIE?
No, someone send it out to me, but the file was too big for me to download.
I MEAN, YOU’RE NOT MISSING OUT ON ANYTHING, BUT WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS IS WHAT MEDIA MADE OUT OF IT. AFTER IT HAPPENED, SHE WAS ALL OVER THE NEWSPAPERS, FOR WEEKS, NAKED, AND MOSTLY UNCENSORED. IT’S KIND OF INSANE TO THINK HOW BIG THIS NEWS WAS, AND HOW PICTURES AND VIDEOS WERE EVERYWHERE, AND THAT WAS BACK IN 2004…
Yes, and a similar thing happened to Kim Kardashian. Then she got a reality show out of it. It's funny how they cover entertainers, but when it comes to the porn industry, it switches.
WE LIVE IN A WEIRD WORLD. ANYWAY, I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR WORK AS A PRODUCER…
I have a series called Around the World in 80 Ways. It's me, a little video camera, and then some male performers — usually one partner, but every once in a while there are two of them. In the series, I travel around the world and fuck in various cities and hotel rooms… it varies.
DID YOU EVER FILM IN THE BALKANS?
Yes, in Krk, Croatia. There is The Haludovo Palace Hotel, an abandoned hotel that was built in 1971. Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine, invested US$45 million in the project and officially opened the Penthouse Adriatic Club casino in the hotel in 1972. However, the casino went bankrupt soon after it opened, and it got shut down. But while open, even Saddam Hussein stayed there at one point. The hotel was a ridiculously opulent place! In the time of war, it was used to house refugees, now it’s occasionally used for parties, and it served as a scene for my porn. In the opening scene of my movie, I talk about the stuff I just told you, while giving a blowjob.
ARE YOU EYEING ANY OTHER BUILDINGS IN EX-YU THAT YOU WANT TO FILM IN?
Right now, I’m trying really hard to get a residency visa for Serbia, so I don't want to fuck my chances up by filming. I once did a pin-up shoot where I was dressed as one of Tito's pioneers; I feel like that is about as far as I will go for now.
WHY DO YOU WANT THE RESIDENCY? WHY DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN SERBIA?
I spent a considerable amount of months in the Balkans. I've been all over the United States, a chunk of Canada… I've seen a bunch of Europe, Asia, and out of all the places that I've been to, the Balkans served me with the most respect. I've never had a bad experience there! It happened once that a man put arms on me, and that was because my purse was falling off my shoulder. On the contrary, American male public can be very aggressive, and it can get very scary if you don't respond how they want you to. But, in Serbia, even if they're fans, they treat me with respect. Long story short, it just feels really nice to be treated as a normal human being.
YOUR GRANDPARENTS ON YOUR MOTHER’S SIDE ARE SERBIAN, AND YOU TOOK A PART OF YOUR GRANDMOTHER'S SURNAME AS YOUR STAGE NAME. HOW DID SHE REACT WHEN YOU TOLD HER ABOUT THE NAME?
She was super cute calling me “a nudie girl in moving pictures”. I had a really close friend in my teenage years named Jessica — my real name is also Jessica — and at one point she had orange hair and I had blue, so people started calling us BJ and OJ.
My mother didn't like that, and she brought up Stoya at the time. Apparently it was also briefly considered as a name when I was a baby. So, when I started taking my clothes off in front of cameras, I needed a name. I went with Stoya.
Interview: Katja Horvat
Portrait: Pavel Voz