A Wicked Eden provides a rare window into the lives of the people who make niche fetish internet pornography for a living. It calls to mind Nick Bloomfield's 1996 documentary, Fetishes, but while that movie never had much more to say than "man, some people get off to some weird stuff", Eden does a much better job of humanising the people who inhabit its world.
Its nuance, tact and empathy help make it a part of the vanguard that the current war on sex work has sadly made necessary, and mean it's never merely salacious and disposable (not that there's anything wrong with salacious and disposable). That war on sex work, waged by far-right politicians bowing to pressure from religious groups is highlighted in the documentary, but it's not so much a call to arms as a call for compassion.
The trials and tribulations of world-renowned dominatrix, Goddess Alexandra Snow give the movie its narrative spine. It's through her story that the viewer is slowly immersed into the wild, messy, sometimes confusing world of femdom, findom, kink, fetishes and adult entertainment.
The film takes a refreshingly measured, judgement-free approach to its subject matter. It doesn't pretend fetishes aren't weird, because it knows that they are. It just makes clear that there's nothing wrong with being weird. It doesn't pretend that sex work isn't without its risks or doesn't have a dark underbelly. It just makes clear that sex work can be lucrative, liberating, empowering and fun.
Most of all, it makes clear that the people involved in sex work and porn, from the people who make it to the people who watch it, are just that; people. As the movie's de facto lead character, Goddess Snow is intelligent, hardworking, confident, compassionate, and at times, vulnerable. She is a likeable lead, and for a documentary like this, that's important. But the story isn't hers alone.
Whether it's Daddy Des working tirelessly behind the camera and behind the scenes, industry veterans Ceara Lynch and Sarah DiAvola recounting their experiences with wit and charm, Raevyn Rose endearingly studying under Snow, or submissive Mo wrestling with what it is to be a submissive male in a society that still promotes toxic masculinity as desirous, A Wicked Eden does a commendable job of allowing its subjects the freedom to speak their truths, free of judgement, agendas, or editorialising.
Who the film is exactly for, presents something of a Catch-22. The people most likely to watch it are probably the people who are least in need of hearing some of its most important messages. Which isn't to say there aren't plenty of things for its natural audience to take away from it. Sex workers finally have a documentary that treats them with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Fetishists have a powerful document that speaks to their internal struggles and provides them with inspiration to proudly be who they are. Fans of the performers involved are given an unprecedented peek behind the curtain.
It's my hope though, that the movie can find a wider audience, as that's where it can do the most good. A Wicked Eden is a much needed antidote to sex work hit jobs like After Porn Ends and Hot Girls Wanted, whose anti-sex work rhetoric has helped to foster a cultural malaise that has left sex work, as an industry, vulnerable to censorious attacks from political and religious entities that don't just threaten the freedoms of sex workers, but of any individual who uses the internet.
Should it find its way onto television or a platform like Netflix, where a more general audience will be most likely to stumble upon it, it won't look or sound out of place. Despite its decidedly niche subject matter, A Wicked Eden boasts all the professional visual sheen that you'd expect from a more traditional, major documentary production, and its soundtrack is a perfect fit.
At a lean 96 minutes, it's perhaps not surprising that some aspects are covered more fully than others. But it has a lot of heavy lifting to do in attempting to make myriad abstract concepts palatable to an audience that may have little to no understanding of them. Some areas would have benefited from some additional context but overall, it does a good job of establishing the who, what and why of a world that to most, will be an enigma.
A Wicked Eden is ostensibly a documentary about one woman's life in sex work, how she came to find her calling, the hurdles she had to overcome to become successful, her relationships with her family, the minutiae of her day-to-day work life, her divorce, her peers, her plans for the future. But where it shines, is in being much more than that. It's validation and vindication for a group of people who are far too often marginalised, judged, and wilfully misunderstood. It's reassurance that our innate sexuality is not something to be ashamed of. In the right places, viewed by the right audiences, at the right time, it might just be a spark of hope.