James Deen is a very small man who has caused some very big problems. His fame turned to infamy back in November of 2015, when his ex-girlfriend and adult film actress Stoya accused him of rape on Twitter. Since then, her allegations caused a firestorm of other female adult performers to come forward and share similar experiences. Today that group has climbed to nine people, and many liken Deen to the Bill Cosby of the porn industry. Companies like Kink.com and Evil Angel cut ties with Deen, and his company, James Deen Productions, is currently under investigation by OSHA. But what would his reception be like at the AVN Awards, the "Oscars for Porn"? Surrounded by fans and colleagues he's worked with for years, would the trail of suspicion follow him to Las Vegas?
Yes. At the Adult Video News Expo, uttering the name "Deen" elicited side-eye and tight lips from performers and publicists alike. No one I encountered wanted to side with him, but no one wanted to publicly bash him, either. In the press room, rumors circulated about certain nominees who asked reporters to turn their recorders off if they so much as brought Deen up in an interview. And you can't blame them. Stars, directors, and writers alike work all year for this occasion, and their accomplishments are perhaps seemingly diminished by people asking about porn's boy next door gone astray.
When I first met him at this year's expo, my only thought was how unbelievably small this man was. Though his Wikipedia page lists him at 5'8", all five feet of me— wearing four-inch heels—looked him squarely in the eye. His slim frame and laid back demeanor are hardly characteristics that would normally draw attention, but flanked by handlers and crowds, you couldn't miss him. We shook hands and chatted about nothing in particular. At one point he alerted another reporter to some lipstick on her teeth, and we mutually agreed that's the kindest thing you can do for another person. "It's a mitzvah," I said, to which he nodded and laughed. He seemed affable, outgoing, almost charming—as his narrative so often goes. Until you remember the frighteningly vivid scenes women have described, including getting hit in the face so hard their jaws locked up, or being sodomized with a beer bottle.
But if the porn industry wants to downplay the ordeal, it certainly hasn't affected his public perception among fans. While mingling with hotel guests and industry professionals at the Hard Rock Hotel on Friday night, I witnessed dozens of people shaking his hand, telling them how much they loved his work, even buying him drinks. At one point, a Zach Galifianakis impersonator in full-on Hangover attire, complete with a fake monkey, approached him for a selfie.
I saw him again on Saturday on the red carpet, where he smiled for crowds and posed for photos. This year, Deen was up for a prolific 33 awards, including "Best Male Performer." And according to him, that's the only one that matters. When asked about his nominations, Deen told Maxim, "Male performer of the year—that’s kind of all I care about. I could be nominated for everything else, but that’s the one that always means the most to me. Because it’s the thing that I love to do the most, it’s perform."
In a year where his most performative role is perhaps acting nonplussed in the face of controversy, one wonders why he came to the awards at all this year. When I asked, he was again unfazed by the hint of skepticism in the question. "It’s always important for me to be at the awards every year. I used to not care. I used to just be like ‘Oh yeah, whatever, I don’t care about the AVN awards!’ and then I won one, and then every year after that, it’s the most important time of the year. If AVN was canceled...I would be sad," Deen explained.
He went on to tell me that Stockholm Syndrome was among his favorite projects this past year. An eerie choice, considering the film is about a woman who gets abducted by a criminal, and plays with boundaries of consent.
But if winning accolades is what fuels him, on Saturday night he was perhaps very disappointed. When his photo was plastered on the monitor as the nominees were read, no one seemed to cheer for him the way they yelled and clapped for the other performers. After all, who wants to applaud an alleged serial rapist?
Deen went on to win twice, in the "Best Double Penetration Sex Scene" and "Best Group Sex Scene" categories. His coveted "Male Performer of the Year" title went to Mick Blue. Since his wins were for smaller awards, he never graced the stage, and it's difficult to speculate what would have happened if he had.
While some of his fans might be quick to forgive and forget, it's clear from his presence this weekend that he left a bad taste in many people's mouths.
But is it bad enough for the industry to fully embrace him again? Only time can tell if there's any hope left for the boy next door.