Review – Beyond The Green Door

by Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, Ph.D.

I have always been a bit uneasy about Behind the Green Door (1972).

Though many call it groundbreaking and amazing (and in many ways, it was), it always struck me as rapey and racist. A woman gets kidnapped and is told by another woman that she can’t do anything about what’s about to happen to her so she might as well just enjoy it. And then… well, this is some of how I described the film in an academic paper I published in 2010:

…In Behind the Green Door, a young woman [played by Marilyn Chambers] is kidnapped and held captive for the purpose of performing in a live sex show. After she is ministered to by an experienced woman mentor, the main woman character engages in a three-act stage performance in front of an audience of approximately 20 persons. The majority of the film’s run time is taken up by the stage performance and the audience’s reactionary orgy.*

The “three-act stage performance” I mention includes an all-girl gangbang, a boy-girl between Marilyn Chambers and Johnnie Keyes, and three guy blowbang with Marilyn in the middle.


Although Behind the Green Door epitomizes the Reel era in generic content, there are elements within the overall sex show performance that distinguish it from other films in this era. Specifically, in the second scenario, the main woman character has sex with an African-American man performer [Marilyn and Johnnie, respectively] while being held down by several robed women attendants. This specific scenario is unique within the context of the era and within the context of this sample. Men of color are very rarely featured as talent. Moreover, shown walking onstage with a lurching, stalking gait while costumed in ‘tribal’ face paint and a necklace made of bone/teeth, the feral black man’s tryst with the young white woman is clearly presented as a taboo.

The performance ends when the exhausted young woman is carried off stage by a man in the audience. It is implied that this man, who was present in the beginning of the film, was one of her kidnappers. The film ends with a romantically depicted sex scene between the young woman and her kidnapper/rescuer/lover.*

Honestly, I still read this film almost exactly the same. In other words: when reconsidering text I wrote in 2008/2009 (academic publishing takes forever), I don’t disagree with anything I said. In fact, the intra-gender dynamics amongst women and many psychological issues related to survivors and their abusers stand out even more to me today. I wish I had highlighted those more.


Recently however, I watched some BTS footage included with Vivid’s the new behind the green door (2013), and – regarding disagreeing with my previous assessment – I think Johnnie Keyes might.

Johnnie is featured in a fascinating retrospective included with the DVD version of tNBtGD, and he maintains that his scene in the original film represents the ultimate woman’s fantasy – the depictions are not so much racist as they are primal and liberating. Though I in no way question the authenticity and significance of Johnnie’s perspective and I understand that all texts can be read in an endless number of ways, I struggle to see this specific sequence in a similar light.

But let’s keep going and consider Vivid’s “reboot”:

Shot with true “Golden Age” porno stylings, wherein sex is interwoven throughout a story (vs the stop-start sex-narrative more common today), Vivid’s the new behind the green door (2013) is a second installment built off the original film (vs a parody or a direct sequel). It follows the decline and eventual vitalization of a young woman named Hope (played by Brooklyn Lee).

Hope Perdito – or “lost hope” – is getting on near the end of her proverbial rope. She’s been searching for her birth mother to no avail and seems sexually dissatisfied to the point of a knife’s edge – she lusts for something different than what she has (not) been getting from her truly annoying, entitled loaf-about boyfriend, Mitch (played by James Deen). Topped with rapidly dwindling finances, this trust fund baby doesn’t really have much to inspire her. In fact, poor Hope has been saddled with just about every possible rich girl/first world problem, to which my reaction generally is yawwwn. But Brooklyn manages to make us care.

So anyway, while crashing a party that they have to walk to (the horror!), Hope and Mitch meet skeevy creepy Harvey (played flawlessly by Steven St. Croix). Harvey knows some secrets that we can all guess and gets one of Hope’s conveniently placed high school acquaintances to bait and lure her with allusions to an Exclusive, Secret Sex Soiree. Hope – of course – manages to sneak the info, and off she goes…

The narrative falls apart some here as Hope goes from interloper to main attraction during (via?) a voyeuristic walk down a hallway. This time though, the main attraction doesn’t involve a “three-act stage performance.” This one involves a three guy gangbang (which, it’s important to note, is not rapey at all) between Brooklyn, Jon Jon, Nat Turnher, and Prince Yahshua – one act only wherein Johnnie’s character from the original film is played by three black men (though the gangbang here transitions into a blowbang resembling the original’s mechanics and staging, thus we get notes of two of the three original acts in one scene).

PS – the notion that Johnnie’s character is being played by three men in tNBtGD is expressed in the BTS retrospective by Johnnie himself.

Then Hope really hits bottom with some nasty dude in a pawnshop (Herschel Savage), completely breaks down emotionally, ditches her Mitch, and moves on into a totally new, empowered, and hopeful direction.

the new behind the green door is quite good – high production value, amazing San Francisco settings, great original music, and gorgeous sex. Hope is not kidnapped or forced to do anything (even though that’s what she fantasizes about), and the gangbang in front of a live audience is more about sexual satisfaction than it is about juxtapositions between white (women) and black (men).

So in many ways, tNBtGD helps me begin to understand Johnnie’s point – that both (both?!) these films are about shedding social, cultural, and self-imposed strictures and embracing your desires. Though Behind the Green Door is still extremely problematic in my eyes, perhaps it is as Johnnie says? Or, perhaps it’s as Johnnie says while also pointing to versions of racism as they operated in the 1970s? Or maybe it’s all of these things? (or none of them)

I am working to consider the possibilities.

Buy your copy of the new behind the green door and/or watch the feature here.

The DVD version of tNBtGD includes a copy of the original BtGD, so you can make all these comparisons and whatnot for yourself – what do you think? The DVD BTS also includes footage from two deleted scenes and a 15-minute retrospective featuring Johnnie Keyes and Marilyn Chambers’ daughter McKenna Taylor – not to be missed!


*quoted text from: Tibbals, Chauntelle Anne. 2010. “From The Devil in Miss Jones to DMJ6 – Power, Inequality, and Consistency in the Content of US Adult Films.” Sexualities 13(5). Read the paper in its entity for more on the three eras of adult content production – Reel, Video, and Digital/Virtual.

Images used with permission.

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