Brown Sugar
Theorizing Black Women’s Sexual Labor in Pornography
You are not supposed to talk about liking sex because you are already
assumed to be a whore.—Jeannie pepper
In a private gathering following the East Coast Video Show in Atlantic City
in 2002, legendary performer Jeannie Pepper received a special achievement
award for twenty years in the porn industry, the longest career for any black
adult actress. “It’s been a long, hard road,” she said to the audience of adult
entertainment performers, insiders, and fans as she accepted the award from
popular adult film actor Ron Jeremy. “There weren’t many black women in
the business when I started.”1 In 1982, when Jeannie Pepper began her career
as an actress in X- rated films, there were few black women in the adult film
industry. Performing in more than two hundred films over three decades,
Jeannie broke barriers to achieve porn star status and opened doors for other
women of color to follow.2 She played iconic roles as the naughty maid, the
erotically possessed “voodoo girl,” and the incestuous sister in films like Guess
Who Came at Dinner?, Let Me Tell Ya ’Bout Black Chicks, and Black Taboo. She
traveled abroad as a celebrity, working and living in Germany for seven years.
In a career that spanned the rise of video, dvd, and the Internet, Jeannie
watched the pornography business transform from a quasi- licit cottage in-
dustry into a sophisticated, transnational, and corporate- dominated industry.
In 1997 Jeannie was the first African American porn actress to be inducted
into the honored Adult Video News (avn) Hall of Fame. By all accounts,
Jeannie had an exceptionally long and successful career for an adult actress:
she was well liked by her colleagues, and was a mentor to young women new
to the porn business. Yet, as her acceptance speech reveals, her experience of
being a black woman in the porn industry was shaped by formidable chal-
lenges. As in other occupations in the United States, black women in the adult
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