“Perhaps if we weren’t still so consumed with guilt and shame about sex, neither watching nor performing in these films would carry the weight it does…” -Candida Royalle
Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry whose content consumes as much as 20% of internet traffic. As entertainment goes, its revenue beats out all forms of professional sports combined. It is a behemoth industry that has used and, some would argue, abused, women in the name of profits and largely male entertainment. And then Candace Vadala, or Candida Royalle, as she called herself professionally, came along. Initially she entered the industry as an actress, playing parts in films like the Hot, Saucy Pizza Girls and Kinky Tricks. But it didn’t take long for her to tire of what she termed the misogynistic wham, bam, thank you mam plots and poor treatment that most porn actresses accepted.
Re-inventing an industry like pornography could be compared to cleaning up the ocean. So vast and daunting are the problems that most people look away. Candace was bold in her vision. She started her own company, Femme Productions in 1984 and was a pioneer in developing a new genre of porn that was infused with plot, passion and even some romance. She insisted on safe sex, restoring some dignity to the female actresses and launched an entirely new spectrum of couples’ porn, which is still growing today. Her early films, Femme and Urban Heat were produced with her ex-husband Per Sjostedt. What was most notable was the distinct shift away from the traditional voyeuristic narrative of catching bodies in the act of experiencing involuntary pleasure to a more graceful and deliberate dance of bodies performing pleasurably for each other.
Candace went on to found Feminists for Free Expression, defining the space that has come to be known as sex-positive- opposing censorship and one of the first sex worker support organization, for actresses who had been exploited by the porn industry. Her leadership in these organizations, and the outspoken ways she took on both objectors outside the industry and producers within it, demonstrates not only her courage, but her determination to elevate sexual films to an art form.
This week Candace, or inimitable Candida Royalle, succumbed to Ovarian Cancer, which she had been fighting with the same vision and courage for over 5 years. She was 64 and in the midst of what she said was her greatest work – a documentary called “While You Were Gone” chronicling her search for her mother who abandoned her at 18 months and the life she lead in her absence. Candace literally instigated a sea of change in the world of pornography, not only for participants but for a whole generation of women viewers who gained the voice and the tools to discover their own erotic potential.
Her work will long be remembered as the first bricks in the re-construction of a sex positive world, one that will have the capacity to heal not only our intimate connections with each other, but with our ability to embrace the deeply sexual nature of life. Thank you Candace, we will miss you.