“Come with me, I wanna take you to my galaxy.”
– Missy Modell, “Galaxy” (a bop)
This past November, Netflix released Cam, a psychological thriller about a camgirl who has her identity and livelihood stolen, and she must do what it takes to get them back. Written by Isa Mazzei (a former camgirl herself) and directed by David Goldhaber, Cam is their first feature film. The narrative is compelling, and it shows a side of the sex work industry that doesn’t often get attention. The main character must deal with some of the issues that women and sex workers face all too often: stalking, harassment, slutshaming, sexism, and internalized misogyny from other women. The film never backs away from these issues, though. Instead, it presents the audience with a metaphor for these very real dangers and what it looks like to be made a nameless, faceless nobody in an industry where control over one’s identity is everything.
Alice (Madeline Brewer: Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale) is a camgirl who performs as Lola for a site called Free Girls Live. Alice is independent and able to fully support herself with her performances as Lola, but she is very cautious and particular about it. She follows a set of rules designed to protect herself and keep her identity as Lola separate from her life as Alice. She struggles with wanting to tell her mother, Lynne (Melora Walters: Boogie Nights, Magnolia), about what she does for a living. She’s afraid of how Lynne will react to the news, so she plans to wait until Lola makes it into the top ten on the site so that she’ll be “good enough.”
Alice is ambitious and a meticulous planner, as can be seen by a detailed calendar she keeps of all her performances and her rank progress. Every one of her performances is carefully curated, and she has a bubbly relationship with her viewers, all with the goal of earning “tips” (which convert to real dollars), gifts, and, most importantly, a high number of views which boost her ratings and help her climb up the ranks. Alice shows that she’s in it to win it. In the first scene of the film, she performs an elaborate and dangerous stunt to get more views and boost her ratings.
She is part of a network of other professional camgirls, and the business is shown to be competitive and “cutthroat.” Lola finally makes it into #50 spot, but she is sabotaged by another performer who uses her platform to convince viewers to lower Lola’s ranking in exchange for a striptease. Feeling desperate to regain her spot, Alice plans a dual show with another performer, Fox, performing yet another dangerous stunt. After the performance airs, strange things begin to happen with Lola’s camgirl profile; someone is streaming what appears to be old footage from her account. However, when she tries to figure out when she would have done that particular show, she cannot find it anywhere on her calendar. The doppelganger performs her own version of the drastic stunt that Alice/Lola performs in the first scene, and it causes her to panic.
Alice attempts to log in, but she is locked out and cannot get technical support to help her, as they cannot verify her identity. She can’t even make a new profile because she needs to have a photo ID on file, and her license is already in use under her profile for Lola. Whoever is running her account now looks just like her, but they begin to do things Alice would never do, such as performances in public spaces and on public channels. This leads to her family finding out in an embarrassing way and leaving Alice with little support while she tries to figure out what is going on. She even contacts the police, but they are of no help. Slowly, she begins bending some of the rules she keeps to protect herself, as she will have outmaneuver the system and save herself.
Until the end, it’s not clear who or what has hijacked her account and identity. The film leads viewers toward one possibility, a fan who crosses a line and takes things too far, but the film switches gears right toward the end. The ending implies that Alice’s identity and livelihood were stolen because she was too careless, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense because it conflicts with the cautious planner we see throughout the film. Is she then being punished for enjoying her job, her sexuality, and her independence? Maybe so, but if that’s the case here, Alice fights it like none other.
Although Cam is low budget, the story, acting, editing, and effects are all done really well. Blumhouse Productions is one of the production companies that co-produced the film, and they have a reputation for producing high quality, low budget movies, such as The Purge and Get Out. Most importantly for me, the story is handled in an appropriate manner. It does its due diligence in representing some of women’s issues in a way that addresses the topic and doesn’t let the lead stay a victim of the system, e.g., be unnecessarily raped or killed or generally defeated by the patriarchy. Cam passes the Bechdel Test (I actually submitted it to the Bechdel Test Movie List site, and it was accepted!), which is not always an accurate measurement of whether a film is “feminist,” but it’s a good place to start.
It’s not a requirement for films revolve around a feminist message, but if you’re going to tell a story about women and sex workers’ issues, you better damn well make sure you tell the story right. Otherwise, you risk alienating and enraging millions of powerful women, and honestly, who has time to deal with that kind of fury?
Cam is currently playing on Netflix.
Written by Alix Teague
(Alix is a fan of memes, puns, and unironically using words like “yeet.” She also has an MA in literature, so she’s clearly putting it to good use. She likes to refer to herself as the Millennial Bard. Follow me on anything at @alixplainlater )