Money Shot on Netflix review: this PornHub documentary treads familiar ground


Money Shot: The PornHub Story is Netflix’s new feature-length documentary, charting all the ‘success and scandals’ at the world’s most prolific porn website.

It is an ambitious investigation told through multiple fascinating interviews and dealing with a tangled web of issues that include the non-consensual uploading of intimate content, the impact of censorship on sex workers and even human trafficking. It does well to resist easy binaries and unnecessary moralising – though by the end, does buckle under the weight of the legal complexities it’s attempting to tease out.

Still, porn’s always kind of interesting.

We begin by tracing PornHub’s history from a seedy tube site (it once did little more than aggregate ripped videos from paid-for porn creators) to the pre-pandemic period, by which point it had basically crossed over into the pop culture mainstream, becoming one of the world’s most recognisable brands (they even had billboard ads in Times Square).

During the latter half of the 2010s, in particular, PornHub became the acceptable face of online sex work, allowing erotic content creators to monetise their videos via the platform, giving them new levels of freedom to work outside of the old studio system. Self-shooting performers could dictate when and how they worked, and thanks to PornHub’s massive reach (it was once in the top ten most visited websites in the world), they could make some real money.

Siri Dahl in Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (Netflix)
Siri Dahl in Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (Netflix)

But of course, it wasn’t just verified (safe, happy and consenting) erotic performers and producers who were able to upload videos to PornHub - like most social media sites, anyone could anonymously post a video, which made it easy for bad faith actors to exploit the site. Did MindGeek, PornHub’s Canadian parent company, do enough to stop videos featuring statutory rape, and the rape of trafficked people profilerating on the site? That was the question posed by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof in a damning 2020 opinion piece titled The Children of PornHub: why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?

The article, which featured horrifying first hand testimonies from young people whose worst moments were, to quote Kristof “captured in amber” and available for all to see via PornHub, sent shockwaves around the world. For all its cuddly, libertarian packaging, PornHub came across as a faceless tech giant, which, at best, failed to take swift enough action to deal some truly horrifying content on its site.

Intervention from the Canadian government, as well as credit card firms (Visa and Mastercard, who said they would prohibit use of their cards on the site) led to PornHub taking down around 10m videos, and changing their rules so that only verified accounts could upload.

In the documentary this story is told through a good balance of viewpoints. We hear from ex-employees of the company, as well as porn performers like Siri Dahl, Cherie DeVille, and Asa Akira and on the other side, Kristof and campaigners who’ve made it their life’s mission to have the site held to account and even taken down.

The problem is, though, none of this feels particularly new. Kristof’s story made international headlines in 2020, and the impact of increased censorship on sex workers in the industry was widely debated at the time. In fact it takes around 48 minutes (out of 134) for me to feel like I’m hearing anything new at all.

That comes in the guise of an anonymous interview with a person who was once employed by PornHub to work as one of about 80 moderators, each of whom, they tell the documentary makers, was expected to watch a minimum of 700 videos a day (as another interviewee points out, Facebook employs some 15,000 moderators).


“I can’t tell from a video the age of someone,” explains the anonymous moderator. “It’s really hard to determine if a 17 year-old is more than 18 – they could be 14, they could be 19. Basically we would just guess, then my manager would decide if the video would be taken down for good or go live again. The rules would constantly change.” It’s damning, disturbing testimony, and a fascinating insight into the inner workings of an internet behemoth. It doesn’t look good for PornHub.

The latter half of the documentary deals more with the rise of OnlyFans as the platform of choice for sex workers – and the ripple effect that censorship laws continue to have on the industry.

As I said, the film resists easy binaries but that naturally doesn’t make for a satisfying ending. And by the end, we’ve chopped and weaved through so much legal jargon – read aloud at some points, by different interviewees – that the film kind of loses momentum.

The question of who should and how we police the darker corners of the internet is a huge one, and PornHub is just one indicator of the fact that, as a society, we still haven’t hit upon any satisfactory answers. Money Shot does its best to contain all the many moral, legal and financial strands and viewpoints which feed into this issue – and at times it almost succeeds. Almost.

Money Shot will air on Netflix from March 15