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Candida Royalle, Who Made Erotic Films for Women, Dies at 64

SEPT. 10, 2015
 
Candida Royalle in her office in New York City in 1990. Credit Jim Estrin/The New York Times 

Candida Royalle, a former star of pornographic movies who became a self-styled feminist filmmaker, spurning what she called a misogynistic “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” genre to create erotica that would appeal to modern women, died on Monday at her home in Mattituck, N.Y., on Long Island. She was 64.

The cause was ovarian cancer, her friend and fellow actress and writer Veronica Vera said.

Ms. Royalle was 30 when she shifted from starring in movies to producing and directing films for her own company, Femme Productions. She defined her work as female-oriented, sensuously explicit cinema as opposed to the formulaic hard-core pornographic films that she said degraded women for the pleasure of men.

Ms. Royalle maintained that her niche foray into a male-dominated industry gained a degree of dignity for performers and a belated recognition that women and couples could enjoy blue movies together. She also saw an untapped market.

“Women were curious and wanted to see if there were some sexy movies they could enjoy with their partner, and there was nothing out there for that,” she told Smashing Interviews magazine last year.

“What has united Candida’s work, the common thread throughout it all,” Angie Rowntree, a producer and publisher of pornography, said in an email, “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.”

Still, some critics disagreed. Norma Ramos, general counsel of the advocacy group Women Against Pornography, said in a 1992 Elle magazine interview that there was no distinction between Ms. Royalle’s work and other pornography that “eroticizes women’s inequality” and accused Ms. Royalle had engaged in of “prostitution on paper or celluloid.”

Ms. Royalle was a founder of Feminists for Free Expression, a so-called sex-positive organization that opposes censorship; created a support group for actresses in erotic films who are exploited by their employers; insisted on safe sex in her films (when some distributors objected); and infused them with plots, passion, seduction and even romance.

Candice Marion Vadala was born on Oct. 15, 1950, in Brooklyn. Her father, Louis, was a jazz drummer. Her mother, the former Margaret O’Bannon, left her and her sister, Cinthea, when she was 18 months old. She was raised by her stepmother, Helen Duffy.

“You basically grow up thinking, ‘I wasn’t good enough for my own mother to want to stick around,’” Ms. Royalle told Smashing Interviews. She had recently discovered that her birth mother had apparently left to escape an abusive husband and had died of ovarian cancer.

She is survived by her sister.

Ms. Royalle graduated from the High School of Art and Design in New York and attended Parsons School of Design, now part of the New School. She moved to California after that and appeared in some two dozen pornographic films, with titles like “Kinky Tricks” and “Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls.”

“My parents, now deceased, were shocked when they first learned of my clandestine life as a porn star but ultimately declared their love for me, and respected what I created in terms of my production company and the business woman I became,” Ms. Royalle wrote on her website.

In 1980, she returned to New York to pursue an entrepreneurial career.

“It was unthinkable that an X-rated actress or model would go on to play such a strong executive role,” Tracy Quan, author of the novel “Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl,” said in an email. “Candida changed all that.”

She teamed with Jandirk Groet, a Dutch designer, to market ergonomic vibrators. She also gave lectures and in 2004 wrote a book, “How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do: Sex Advice From a Woman Who Knows.”

Mostly she wrote, directed and produced movies, originally with a partner, Lauren Niemi. Ms. Royalle’s husband, Per Sjosted (they later divorced), also produced. Members of his family, who were film distributors in Europe, helped finance Femme Productions in 1984 and its first videos, “Femme” and “Urban Heat.”

In those films, Linda Williams wrote in “Hard Core: The Power, Pleasure and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible,’” “there is a distinct shift from the confessional, voyeuristic mode of much feature-length narrative — a quality of catching bodies in the act of experiencing involuntary pleasures — to the performative mode of the jam session — a quality (akin to Astaire-Rogers) of bodies performing pleasurably for each other.”

Given her lofty aspirations to elevate the art form, Ms. Royalle was asked by nytimes.com in 2012 whether pornography still deserved a bad rap.

“Perhaps if we weren’t still so consumed with guilt and shame about sex, neither watching nor performing in these films would carry the weight it does,” she replied. “But then, perhaps we wouldn’t be so interested in them, either. If the fruit were not forbidden, would anyone care to take a bite?”




 
 


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