In Memory of Candida Royalle, Pioneer of Women’s Erotica

As a woman who directs, produces and publishes pornography, there’s not a day which goes by without me thinking about the life and work of Candida Royalle. This won’t change with her passing, which only gives more reason to appreciate everything this amazing woman gave us during her remarkable life.

Candida Royalle

Read on…

Beyond her films, what I always found most inspiring about Candida was the clarity, quality and fabulous openness of her mind. Where most other feminists of her generation saw in pornography nothing but the potential for further exploitation, subjugation and degradation of women, Candida saw how erotica could be a freeing and empowering area of expression, allowing women to take agency over their sexuality in a way no other artistic medium could.

When you think of the words we most often hear when people are discussing Candida, it reads like a wish-list of things we all would love to be: bold, unflinching, individualistic, iconic, deeply honest, powerful, smart and compassionate.

Candida was all those things and more, an inspiration not just to those lucky enough to have known her personally, but to all who appreciated her work, especially those of us trying to follow in her footsteps as erotic filmmakers.

For those unfamiliar with her story, Candida (Candice Vadala)  was born in 1950, the daughter of an accomplished musician (her father, a jazz drummer). Her artistic efforts began early in life. In addition to City College of New York, Candida attended New York’s High School of Art and Design and the Parsons School of Design, where she trained in music and dance in addition to design. In the early 70s, among her many other endeavors, Candida worked with members of the legendary psychedelic theater troupe “The Cockettes,” helping them develop avant garde jazz and theatrical productions.

Candida got her start in adult films in 1974, performing in around 20 movies before returning to New York in 1980. Four years later, she founded Femme Productions, the first adult entertainment studio to be wholly owned and operated by a woman. Her early film work was just as groundbreaking as her company, with films like Three Daughters winning acclaim from adult and mainstream critics alike.

While it’s understandable that her films receive the most attention, Candida’s body of work doesn’t end with her movies. Prior to writing the truly wonderful book How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do in 2004, Candida teamed up with noted Dutch industrial designer Jandirk Groet to create the Natural Contours line of personal massagers in 1999. Well received by consumers, the massagers quickly became hot commodities, driven in part by positive reviews from Mademoiselle and Glamour, among others.

What has united Candida’s work, the common thread throughout it all, is a commitment to the principle that women have the right to explore, enjoy and celebrate their sexuality, openly and proudly, without taking any kind of metaphorical back seat to men. Candida’s work tells us – screams at us, even – that women’s pleasure matters, not just men’s.

The idea sexual pleasure (and depictions thereof) ought to be mutual shouldn’t be radical, or even the least bit controversial, but it remains so for many people, nonetheless. Inspired by Candida, though, a whole new generation of women are creating art, movies, literature – and yes, even hardcore porn – informed by the belief that if women entirely cede the enterprise of creating erotica to men, the egalitarian principles which propelled Candida’s work will fall by the wayside, leaving us with only the exact sort of porn to which many feminists understandably object.

For years, I admired Candida’s work from afar, never having the opportunity to meet her to express my appreciation directly. Over this past summer (2015), though, I finally was blessed to have the opportunity to interact with her, when she gracefully and generously gave her time to an online discussion hosted by Enthusiastic as ever, Candida eloquently related the story of getting her start in making adult films, never shying away from areas of controversy, demonstrating the manner of intellectual honesty and rhetorical frankness which have always made her so easy to admire.

The following week, Candida reached out to me via email. We had a wonderful conversation in which she generously imparted her wisdom and support.

It goes without saying Candida will be greatly missed – her indomitable, independent spirit, in particular. Thankfully, she left behind an immense and stunning legacy for us to admire and appreciate, and to which we can turn to for inspiration and encouragement.

Now, upon her passing, it falls to the rest of us to make sure Candida’s impact carries on with the full force it should have. We can never replace her, but we can honor her vision and carry on her legacy, by striving to match her commitment and artistic integrity, and by carrying on in the tradition of her brilliant, always wide-open mind.

Goodbye, Candida, and thank you; may you rest in peace.

[photo credit:]

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