Burgeoning porn star Belle Knox is the subject of a new docu-series focusing on her introduction to the adult film industry and the notoriety that comes along with it. Produced by Condé Nast Entertainment and Stateless Media, Becoming Belle Knox consists of five short segments in which we watch the now 19-year-old transform from bookish Duke University freshman Miriam Weeks into "The Duke Porn Star"—a young woman who made her porn debut on FacialAbuse.com, quoted Sheldon Richman in her Time writing debut, gets gangbanged on film in pigtails, participates in a libertarian-feminist discussion group I'm a part of, has appeared on The Independents, and tweets about buying lingerie with Bitcoin donations.
Weeks didn't set out to become the latest sex-work poster girl; she set out to make some money to pay her tuition. Having seen her parents struggle to payoff their student loans, she elected not to go that route. "I Googled how to be a porn star," she explains at the start of the docu-series. The next day, she was paid $1,200 for the Facial Abuse scene.
At the time, Weeks thought she could keep her "alter-ego" secret. But a male classmate soon found out and blabbed. Rather than wallow in embarassment or let others spin the narrative, Weeks began telling her own story online.
"I like the assertive, passionate person that I'm becoming because of porn," she says in chapter two of the series (although it "gets kind of annoying…always having cum in your hair"). In chapter three, she talks about doing porn simply being "like acting." Belle, she says, "is Miriam's very sexual side." But by chapter four, Weeks says she was naive to think she could "compartmentalize" Belle and Miriam.
Most of the tension seems to stem from the realities of the Internet and the porn industry these days—you can't be a really successful adult film star without an online presence and persona. Yet being so publicly out there as "Belle" makes it hard for her to remain Miriam in the eyes of those of around her. (I was reminded of William Deireiwicz talking about how the millennial self is by necessity "an entrepreneurial self", since the digital world has obliterated the lines between personal and professional worlds).
It's not solely a problem of others' perceptions, however. Watching the series progress, it's clear Weeks herself is struggling—as anyone who plays a public role must—with how much to give and how much to withold. "If you start becoming Belle," a colleague told her, "you need to leave the industry."
By the final segment, Weeks has been traveling a lot and is homesick, feeling alienated from family and old friends and frustrated with some of the working conditions in the porn industry. She's tired. Her early, unadulterated enthusiasm for getting paid to have sex has worn off ("the experience has aged me," she says). Some will undoubtedly use this as evidence of the unconscionably negative toll porn takes on women.
But I thought of that inevitable scene in tour documentaries where the lead singer is sleeping fitfully on a bus seat or talking forlornly with someone back home. Life as a musician on tour—it's not all peachy! Life as a rising porn starlet—sometimes it sucks! "Porn is like any other job, it's labor, and I think that liking it is irrelevant," Weeks says in segment five.
Response to Becoming Belle Knox has been positive, Weeks told me, and she's happy overall with how the series turned out. "I think that the documentary told my story beautifully, and I am so glad that I was able to reach people through my open and honest discussions of what it means to be a sexual woman," says Weeks. "I have garnered an incredible response from my fans, who have written me to tell me that I inspired them and that they related to the issues I discussed."
Watch the whole series at Sex.com.