Sex is everywhere. From beverage commercials to lipstick ads, hardly anything in popular culture is sold without some semblance of eroticism embedded in it. Since the 1970’s, depictions of sex and sexuality have only gotten raunchier, more explosive and often exploitative. It’s a subject also now stands at the forefront of our society — and yet the way in which we discuss sex and more importantly sex work is not exactly progressive. The Wire creators George Pelecanos and David Simon wanted to shift the conversation. The duo has returned to HBO with a spectacular new drama, The Deuce. The series focuses on the rise of the porn industry and its legalization in New York City’s seedy Time’s Square beginning in 1971. By honing in on the people on the streets — the bartenders, mobsters, the sex workers and their pimps, The Deuce is both incredibly detailed and piercing. Once again, Simon and Pelecanos have worked diligently to flesh out characters who would typically be cast aside as one-dimensional fixtures in other series and films.
On a late Thursday morning, at the HBO building which sits just two avenues over from the tourist trap that birthed the porn industry, I sat down with Pelecanos, Simon, James Franco who stars as identical twins Vincent– a bartender and Frankie, a gambler and degenerate. Also present was Maggie Gyllenhaal who is exquisite as self-made prostitute Candy, Gary Carr who plays the volatile and charismatic pimp C.C. and The Wire alum Lawrence Gilliard, Jr who portrays kind-hearted cop, Chris Alston.
For Simon, this moment in our history was the perfect time to bring The Deuce to life. “You can’t tell me that after 50 years of the increasingly ubiquitous nature of pornography in the culture hasn’t made it more and more permissible for everybody from the President of the United States to the anonymous voice on Twitter to basically call women whores,” he emphasized. “It’s become our discourse, almost a default any woman tries to say anything publicly. There’s something pornographic in our whole demeanor.”
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