Whatever happened to Belle Knox?
Three-ish years ago, the world was all Belle this and Knox that. Today, she’s essentially disappeared.
In case you forgot (or never knew in the first place), Belle “The Duke Porn Star” Knox took the world by storm in 2014 when she was outed by another Duke student for appearing in porn. Knox said she started doing porn to help pay her sky-high tuition — but according to the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD, the IMDB of porn), she hasn’t done nearly enough porn to put even a tiny dent in the $60,000-per-year cost of attending Duke. Consequently, there was always a bit of suspicious rumbling about her outing within the adult industry. Many people speculated it was contrived.
Contrived or not, Knox made a mega-huge impact on the mainstream media, especially because she publicly and vociferously defended her decision to do the work she chose. Post-outing, she went on a press tour, took a college-sanctioned break from school (and later returned), and brought about a lot of awareness regarding feminism and sex workers’ rights. Then, by 2015, she was gone.
Lifetime — dubiously tagged “Television for Women” — recently debuted From Straight A’s to XXX, a film “inspired” by Belle Knox’s tuition story. (Yes, the apostrophe-S typo that presumably pluralizes the number of A letter grades Knox earned is actually included in the official film title. It’s like nails on a grammar chalkboard, people!)
According to the Washington Post, the “Duke porn star movie” is “a scathing commentary on college tuition costs.” The Post article states:
Before Lifetime agreed to make a movie called From Straight A’s to XXX, inspired by the true story of a Duke University freshman who moonlighted as a porn star to pay for college, the network had one condition.
“[They] only wanted to do it if we told the story in such a way that it was not just about a salacious story,” said executive producer Sheri Singer. “We realized that the story we wanted to tell … was essentially about a young woman who made a choice. It may have been a choice that we wouldn’t personally make, or not everyone would make. But she made it and she had the right to make it.”
So as the film took shape, it became about more than the scandalous headlines that flew around the world in early 2014 when Miriam Weeks (who performed under the name Belle Knox) was outed by a classmate who recognized her in a movie. From Straight A’s to XXX … is also a scathing indictment of skyrocketing college tuition prices — and it has a lot to say about the double standards of men who watch pornography and then shame the women who star in it.
According to the Washington Post, the film is based heavily on a Rolling Stone profile published in 2014 because, though the Lifetime team allegedly reached out to Knox multiple times in an effort to collaborate and/or fact check, they received no response from the former performer.
The film, which debuted in early February, repeatedly emphasizes that Knox’s stressful financial situation — especially as she’s surrounded by wealthy peers at Duke — was her motivation for getting involved in the adult entertainment world. She didn’t want to be crushed under loans when she graduated, so the next step was clear: porn. The feminist empowerment part came after.
Per the Washington Post, Knox told the Duke student newspaper, “For people to tell me that doing porn and having sex, which I love, is more degrading than being a waitress and being somebody’s servant and picking up after somebody and being treated like a lesser, second-class citizen — that literally makes no sense. To be perfectly honest, I felt more degraded in a minimum-wage, blue-collar, low-paying, service job than I ever did doing porn.”
I want to like this story. There’s certainly a lot to like. The contemporary iteration of college is, at best, super expensive. At worst, it’s an overvalued game of bait-and-switch designed to sustain social inequalities, trap and brainwash young people, and draw lines between those who do and those who do not. These boundaries are all very much contrived and socially constructed, and Knox challenged them.
But this film — and the central notion we are compelled by Knox’s story because an elite young student/thinker must also do the unthinkable (porn) — is troublesome. For comparison, at any given time, there are a baker’s dozen students who also do porn enrolled at Cal State Northridge (CSUN), an academically ordinary university located in Southern California’s San Fernando “Porn Valley.” Is anyone freaking out over them? Nope. This is because of class hierarchies related to what money, fancy school and intelligence are “supposed to” be exposed to. (Hint: This does not include sex work.)
A young woman like Belle Knox is no different from countless other sex workers — from porn performers to cam models to sugar babies — enrolled in college. The sustained fascination with Ivy League Knox, however, points to class hierarchies and other class inequalities that tell us she is different.
Main image via tumblr.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s the trailer for From Straight A’s to XXX. Enjoy!