Video Sundays: Lizzie Borden's "Working Girls"

Recommended viewing: "Working Girls" by Lizzie Borden, a look into the everyday lives of sex workers in New York City.
Kelley Dong

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to lockdowns and closures of film festivals, cinemas, and screening events worldwide, a number of filmmakers have made their titles available online. One of these, a true gem, is Lizzie Borden's Working Girls (1986), a film about a group of escorts who live together in Manhattan, and their interactions with their exploitative employer as well as the fantasies of their leering clients. Borden, best known for the feminist dystopian film Born in Flames (1983), shared the film this past week, urging her followers on Twitter: "Please stay safe, especially sex workers." Amid the ongoing crisis, sex workers including escorts like the protagonists of the film (many of whom were sex workers themselves) comprise an especially vulnerable group, facing layoffs and housing instability among other forms of financial loss, as well as exposure to the virus. Borden's online release of Working Girls draws attention to a form of precarious work frequently overlooked by the public, especially in the face of crisis. And yet the film, alongside its cool, calculated, and zeroed-in focus on labor, contains a light sense of humour, epitomized by its splashes of solid pinks, reds, and blues against the pearly-white walls of apartments and hotels.

In a career-spanning interview with Cinema Scope, Borden emphasizes that at the core of the film's themes of sexuality and its sexual politics is a critique of capitalism: "In Working Girls I basically ask, what is worse? Forty hours a week in some boring office job, or eight hours in a brothel? It depends on what you can handle. Some people can’t deal with it, but is renting out your body for eight hours really worse than renting your mind for 40 hours by, say, working at Kinko’s?"

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