Culture  A look Inside Lara Roxx

HIV and the porn industry

It’s not every day you get to meet a former porn star. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting as the emcee welcomed Lara Roxx onto the stage of the Concordia auditorium, but it wasn’t the thin, elegant young woman with short dark hair who faced the audience and said, “This is the closest I’ve ever been to being in a university.”

The screening of Mia Donovan’s documentary Inside Lara Roxx was organized by Concordia University and Cinema Politica. Shot over the course of more than six years, the film follows Roxx’s life after she contracted HIV in Los Angeles while shooting a porn scene without protection. Both Roxx and Donovan were present at the screening. Rather than being hesitant about sharing her most intimate experiences with hundreds of strangers, Roxx was incredibly open. “A lot of times people are shy to ask the questions they really mean to ask,” she said before the screening started. “Don’t be…It’s fine.”

The documentary begins in April 2004, when it was revealed that Roxx was had contracted HIV during one of her shoots, and became something of a media sensation. The 21-year-old, who had worked as a stripper, escort, and porn actor in Montreal, had moved to the porn mecca of Los Angeles to make some quick cash before moving on. She contracted HIV while shooting her very first scene in L.A.

The media frenzy faded away quickly, but Mia Donovan, a filmmaker and recent Concordia graduate, was determined not to let Roxx’s story be forgotten. However, as much as Inside Lara Roxx is about Roxx’s story, it is also an exposé on the many failings of the porn industry, such as the lack of regard for safe sex practices. There is pressure on actors to perform unprotected sex, which is more popular and thus more profitable – however, as Roxx learned, it is also very dangerous. Nevertheless, there is no easy solution: she believes that imposing condom use upon the porn industry would not put an end to unprotected sex scenes in films – instead, it would drive production of these movies underground and thus make it more dangerous.

The brutality of the porn industry was evident everywhere in the documentary. While many new actresses were originally unwilling to perform unprotected sex, their agents, who became powerful father figures for many of the women, were experts at forcing them far outside their comfort zones. Former porn star Dick Nasty says at one point, “You got to be realistic. It’s what the public wants to see.” Even Bill Margold, the founder of Protecting Adult Welfare (PAW), a charity organization trying to create safer working conditions for porn actors, vehemently denied that the porn industry was in any way to blame for Roxx’s tragedy. “You walked on a razor blade and you got cut,” he tells her in one scene.

But Roxx is not telling her story to assign blame, or to condemn the porn industry. She merely hopes that her story will be able help others avoid her mistakes. When asked about the personal costs of exposing herself to such a wide audience, Roxx said it would all be worthwhile if she could just help one person.

Despite its heavy subject matter, the film ends on a hopeful note. Roxx sits silhouetted on a beach, telling the camera about the night she thought about committing suicide. She traces patterns in the sand and says that she didn’t take her life that night because she realized, “Maybe my life sucked, but life didn’t suck.” And she had to live on in order to see more of it.

Inside Lara Roxx premiered at the Hot Docs Festival in 2011. Since then, the transformation in the young woman standing onstage has been incredible. As she took questions from the audience, she was poised, eloquent, and funny. One of her main messages in the film was that “HIV is not a death sentence anymore.” She says her health is now great, that she is currently working on a professional diploma in graphic design, in a serious relationship, and on good terms with her family. Both she and Donovan would like to see the film go in a more educational direction.

Roxx is optimistic about her future, but she is also now coming to terms with her past. In the documentary, she was asked if she was proud of what she had done. “Well,” she answered, “I’m not ashamed.”