He has been called the Tom Cruise of porn: a performer who parlayed boy-next-door good looks into unlikely fame and success.
For almost a decade, James Deen – the onscreen name for Bryan Sevilla – has been a de facto ambassador for the adult entertainment industry, a global star feted as a compelling advocate for a controversial part of Hollywood. He appealed to young women; he supported breast cancer charities; he was even hailed as a feminist.
“He’s accessible and represents the democratisation of our culture,” said the writer Bret Easton Ellis in 2012, explaining why he cast Deen in a mainstream film, The Canyons. “He’s not some hot-blooded, super-tanned caveman pumping it – he’s a cute boy you could have gone to college with.”
On Monday, that image lay in tatters after three female former co-stars – Stoya, Tori Lux and Ashley Fires – publicly accused the 29-year-old of sexual assault.
He emphatically denied the allegations, but in the court of public opinion it made little difference: overnight, he had become a pariah.
As social media erupted, demanding his prosecution, industry players swiftly dropped a star who had been garlanded with multiple “porn Oscar” awards.
The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee said Deen had resigned as chairman of its board because the allegations represented a conflict between him and other members. “The APAC Board wants to state unequivocally that we stand with performers and other sex workers who are victims of any sort of sexual assault,” the group said in a statement.
The film company Kink.com said in a statement: “Effective immediately, Kink.com will cease all ties with James Deen, both as a performer and a producer.”
The women’s entertainment and lifestyle site The Frisky dropped Deen’s sex advice column, saying it was not going to to await proof and that it “believed women”.
With the spectre of possible further allegations, the porn industry seemed to be facing its own Bill Cosby moment: a prominent, influential star suddenly cast as a predator.
It remained unclear if the accusations would lead to a criminal investigation or charges.
Stoya, 29, a porn performer and writer who used to date Deen, initiated the furore on Saturday with a tweet:
She followed up with another tweet: “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”
Deen responded on Sunday via Twitter, denying any wrongdoing in a series of tweets: “There have been some egregious claims made against me on social media. I want to assure my friends, fans and colleagues that these allegations are both false and defamatory. I respect women and I know and respect limits both professionally and privately.”
On Monday, two other former co-stars made separate allegations. In a personal account published in the Daily Beast, Lux said Deen assaulted her in 2011 after she had finished filming with another performer on the set of a film.
“I hadn’t even had time to dress myself when he said, with a smirk on his face, ‘Tori Lux, would you like to sniff my testicles?’”
She said he grabbed her by the throat, shoved her onto a mattress and slapped her five or six times. “He proceeded to straddle my chest, pinning down my arms with his knees. Then, he raised his hand high above his head, swinging it down and hitting me in the face and head with an open palm … Disoriented and nursing a sore jaw, I stood up – but before I could collect myself, he grabbed me by my hair and shoved me to my knees, forcing my face into his crotch several times.”
Fires told the Daily Beast in the same article that Deen almost raped her after she stepped out of a shower at a studio, pushing her against a sink and pressing himself against her before eventually heeding her protests.
Deen and Stoya did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Guardian on Monday.
The allegations polarised commenters on social media, with some lauding the three women for speaking out, and others querying their veracity, motives and timing.
In contrast to trade organisations which rushed to sever ties with Deen, some individuals in the porn industry said he should not be convicted on social media.
Dan Leal, a veteran actor and producer, said: “I believe in the American judicial system. If there is any truth to the allegations, that is the best and proper way to handle them. Twitter is a social network.”
Whether or not the allegations lead to a criminal investigation, a big question mark now hangs over Deen’s career.
Born in Los Angeles to parents who were both engineers, Deen started working in porn in 2004, at the age of 18. Within a few years, he was winning awards, a devoted female following and mainstream media attention.
ABC’s flagship news programme Nightline featured him as “porn’s boy next door” in 2012. The magazine GOOD described him as the only option for women “interested in watching a young, heterosexual, nonrepulsive man engage in sex”.
As his fame spread around the world, he pledged to donate 50% of the sales from his website to breast cancer charities and talked of creating a porn app.
Deen’s casting opposite Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons, a film noir directed by Paul Schrader, the screenwriter of Taxi Driver, underlined his potential for crossover success, though critics panned the film.
In a 2012 interview with the Observer, he came across as an everyman, albeit a highly sexed one. “I don’t go to parties, get drunk and take cocaine. I’m just kinda … normal-ish.”
In other interviews, he said his frequent scenes involving rough sex were acting – fantasy role-playing. At times, however, he has also joked about sexual assault. In 2011 he tweeted: “Things I’ve learned … It’s not rape if you yell surprise and if you put enough bbq sauce on anything it will taste OK.”
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