Upcoming film “King Cobra” explores the inner lives of kings and princes in the gay sex industry through the fortuitous tale of Bryan Kocis and Brent Corrigan. With a slew of recent male entertainers succumbing to suicide and drug related overdoses, the film has sparked a debate over whether there is an epidemic of unacknowledged mental illness among the young men who perform in pornography. Fellow performer Connor Habib believes that there is less an epidemic, and more an unfair stigma associated with pornography that the media uses to label adult film workers as “sick.” Is there an underlying problem in one of the world’s largest industries, or simply a lack of understanding by a public still uncomfortable with porn?
“King Cobra,” directed by Justin Kelly and starring James Franco, is constructed around the 2007 murder of Bryan Kocis, owner of gay pornography output Cobra Video, and his relationship with protégée of sorts, Brent Corrigan née Sean Paul Lockhart. The film has generated buzz in the LGBTQ+ community since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival due to racy teaser clips and semi-nude Instagram posts by the actors. The story is an interesting piece of history all its own: ripped from the headlines – a young boy taken under the wing of a possibly mal-intentioned older mentor. Money, sex, and power spin into a climax of scandal, exploitation, and murder.
The context is less than salacious. Pornography is often viewed as an industry that preys on the young and insecure, bartering their relative beauty and youth for an opportunity at fame and fortune. This is seen more predominantly in the LGBTQ+ community, where obsession with beauty and youth, coupled with a lack of acceptance or self-esteem (this is a generality, though as generalities go, it is apt) can lead to drug use, unsafe sex, anxiety, depression, illness, and volatility.
The Advocate recently published a piece on “King Cobra,” using the film as a segment into the topic of sudden and unpredictable deaths within the gay pornography industry.
“Disturbingly, there is little to no research to confirm if there is an industry-wide problem concerning mental health or substance abuse.”
It would seem performers are dying at an alarming rate – none older than 40 years of age and each in a manner that is concerning. With little to no press coverage and a shrug of the shoulder by most, it is likely you have not followed or paid much attention to these unfurling events. Or “King Cobra.” Or exactly what is at stake.
“There are human lives that are at stake and it appears that these performers are not getting the support they require,” a claim by the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.
The article, by Daniel Reynolds, places blame on all levels: the industry for carelessly exploiting its performers, the community for remaining ignorant to the issue, the media for avoiding what could be a more problematic endemic, and the public (otherwise known as “consumers”) for the stigma they help maintain about porn. “King Cobra” stands to be a discussion piece above all else, showing more than it tells or questions.
“Yet in Kelly’s hands, the story exposes the pain and loneliness simmering and shaking beneath his characters’ well-muscled facades.”
It is likely that pornography attracts a certain type of person, a specific personality into its ranks. Like most occupations, there is a correlation between where a person comes from, how they were raised, how they live, and what makes them tick that puts them in their current role. When the lens is narrowed onto the LGBTQ+ community, these psychographics are often warped by the still unproven psychological trauma many gay men and women incur coming of age in secrecy and, at times, with both inflicted and self-inflicted shame. But is this an epidemic? And is the industry to blame?
“People die. They still do. It’s important to stay grounded and stay connected to yourself,” actor and “King Cobra” star Spencer Lofranco.
I venture to say that before this moment in time, performers, both gay and straight, have died tragically; that this instance of death has occurred in higher and lower numbers for a while now. I also venture to agree with Connor Habib that there are plenty of “happy and healthy” performers working today, satisfied with their work and home for dinner. In actuality, “King Cobra” displays the dark side to pornography and its creators. The underbelly where bad things can and do happen. And in the world of sex, where bad things can and do go unseen. As Reynolds looks for blame or cause in order to find the root of the problem, there may not fully be a singular figure to pin. It is possible that the young men who lost their lives suffered from deeper personal distress unrelated (though, certainly ignored) in their line of work.
This is a tough call. Where change could be needed, where an industry could be better regulated and monitored, where our LGBTQ+ youth could be provided a world in which their lives and their choices, and even their love of sex, were accepted, there lies a real chance that the fix is not as simple as placing blame. This issue requires a larger discussion on removing stigma, encouraging passion and talent in all its forms, and judging less. Like I said, no simple task. Does the sex industry require change and regulation to protect its performers? And where do we stand as a society – can lives be saved with a call to action? Or do we accept that we are often unable to help those with mental anguish?
Excerpts sourced from “King Cobra Reminds Us: In Gay Porn, People Are Still Dying,” written by Daniel Reynolds for The Advocate.