The New Approach to Sex Work in Film

February 16, 2023

Sex work in movies is nothing new it has been seen in every category: prostitutes, strippers, burlesque dancers and pornstars. They have been portrayed in horror, comedy, romance, action, western, and even sci-fi.

One of the first-ever films to focus on prostitution was 1962’s “Vivre Sa Vie,” where a young woman finds herself struck by poverty and a marriage that is falling apart. Hoping to become an actress and break into films, she is once again disappointed when nothing comes of her dreams, and soon she turns to a bleak life of prostitution. When she meets a man who truly cares for her, her hope returns but her pimp may have the final word.

This film does an incredible job of not only giving the viewer a sense of pity for the woman, but it also provides a sense that she is viewed more as an animal in a zoo than as a person, something for the viewer to feel sorry for and want to save.


There have also been times sex work was glamorized in film, such as in “Pretty Woman” where the main character gets “saved” from her lower-class lifestyle where she must rely on sex work to make rent; only to be swept up by a sweet handsome wealthy businessman.

Such lighter fare doesn’t deal with the violence that comes along with the lifestyle being discussed, however, more recent works are more successful in attempting that approach.

In the film “Last Night in Soho,” our point of view is an outside perspective of a woman seeing visions of another woman attempting to follow her dreams, but her dreams turn out not quite as she expected, and she is coerced into prostitution.

Where “Last Night in Soho” differs from many films is when the one looking in on her story discovers there has been a murder. She stops at nothing to get justice for the woman only realizing things were not as they appeared, giving the viewer a bittersweet feeling leaving you questioning what is truly just.

This film has an immaculate approach to the topic of sex work by getting the viewer to look at the subject as a person not just as a pawn and not just as some sex object. By the end, you will be rooting for her, yet it’s still not overlooking the violence many of these women face on a day to day basis. It also doesn’t glamorize the work in which they are doing.


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