Sell/Buy/Date [SXSW ’22] Review

Sell/Buy/Date still of Sarah Jones and her characters

Entertaining, honest in Sarah Jones’s confusion, Sell/Buy/Date skillfully touches on the main points regarding sex work, sex trafficking, and decriminalization.

Sell/Buy/Date, a docudrama mixed with comedy, premiered at SXSW Festival. It stars the director, Sarah Jones, with a story by her and David Goldblum that looks at the sex industry via the intersections of privilege. The documentary or, as Sarah Jones calls it “unorthodoc” is about Sarah Jones trying to make the documentary based on her play of the same name. Entertaining, honest in Sarah Jones’s confusion, Sell/Buy/Date skillfully touches on the main points regarding sex work, sex trafficking, and decriminalization.

Explores The Backlash Is A Dramatic & Effective Way

Sell/BuyDate presents both stances regarding legalization, particularly the decriminalization of sex work. Sarah Jones uses various characters she portrays to add comedy. They have their own opinion on Sarah Jones’s documentary and sex work. On her journey, Sarah Jones also meets up and talks with actresses like Rosario Dawson and Ilana Glazer about the backlash. Laverne Cox did pull out of the documentary following online anger.

Sarah Jones addresses the backlash she faced for even making the documentary. After all, Sarah Jones is not, nor ever has been, a sex worker, so people were angry that someone would speak for the community without their input. She speaks with Lotus Lain who explains the importance of allies in the fight, but also ensuring you do not speak for the community you support. These discussions require more comprehensive exploration that a movie cannot provide. Still, Sarah Jones uses entertainment to explore the issue. She shows the different opinions and how it ties into her life.  

The Question Around Decriminalization

Sell/Buy/Date headshot of director, creator and star Sarah Jones.
Sell/Buy/Date director and creator Sarah Jones Photo credit: Tom Rauner. Courtesy of SXSW.

Sarah Jones speaks with various people through Sell/Buy/Date, traversing from California to Nevada to meet people in the industry. But Sarah Jones also uses her characters to show the various opinions. She has the critical elderly Jewish woman, Lorraine, Nereida, a Puerto Rican activist, and Bella a white college student studying sex work. Nereida highlights the issue with legalizing sex work. Other places in the world legalize sex work and the majority of the sex workers still live in poverty and are victims of sex trafficking. Legalizing it will not alter that despite some vocal, supportive advocates.

In Sell/Buy/Date, Sarah Jones talks with white women in the industry about how freeing it is for them and their choice. Yet for Indigenous women, like Terria Xo, and transgender women, like Esperanza Fonseca—both of who Jones speaks with, sex work is about survival. Criminalizing sex workers will not fix anything, but nor will decriminalizing it all. The only way to ensure a proper conversation is with the most vulnerable and at-risk groups. Sex workers who are Black, Brown, trans, Indigenous, etc. should lead the discussion.

Sell/Buy/Date Gives An Engrossing Overview

There is no simple solution to this issue because the issue extends beyond sex work. Transgender, Indigenous, Black people and people of color will still face danger because of societal views. We know this will happen because of other situations in the US—marijuana legalization is a recent example. The ones who suffer the most under criminalization are the most vulnerable. The ones who benefit from decriminalization are the privileged as evidenced by Sarah Jones’s journey.

Sell/Buy/Date delivers both sides, then shows where Sarah Jones lands in the debate. But, it also drives home that sex work does not have to be an either/or stance. We can support those who choose sex work while also addressing the issue of sex trafficking. Sarah Jones’s “unorthodoc” wields sketch comedy qualities with personal storytelling and the larger issues in the sex industry woven together. It is not an in depth exploration, but does the job of using an entertaining vehicle to inform audiences of the discussion and decriminalization. It is up to viewers to dive deeper.

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