Growing backlash against Duke porn star in adult film industry

Within the span of weeks, widespread support for Knox seems to have transformed into thinly veiled contempt

Published March 30, 2014 12:00AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot.

The Daily Dot When a celebrity—more often than not, a female celebrity—receives a great deal of attention in a short period of time, a cultural backlash inevitably follows. It happened with Anne Hathaway. It happened with Jennifer Lawrence.

And in the adult industry, it’s currently happening with Belle Knox, the 18-year-old notorious for being the “Duke porn star.”

For the uninitiated, Knox made headlines last month, when her sideline porn career was revealed by a fellow student at Duke University. She endured relentless harassment and slut-shaming on campus, which she wrote about in an xoJane piece that went viral.

At first, Knox was greeted with an outpouring of support from the adult entertainment industry, applauding her for her outspoken defense of sex work as a means of female empowerment.

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Since revealing her name and face as the “Duke porn star” in a follow-up piece for xoJane, Knox has become something of a mainstream media darling. Over the past few weeks, she’s spawned countless think pieces (some of which were more thoughtful and eloquent than others), as well as appearances on Piers Morgan Live and The View during a whirlwind NYC media tour.

For the most part, the mainstream media coverage of her story has been fairly positive, with many lauding Knox for her intelligence, resilience, and defiance in the face of social stigma.

“Belle’s essay struck a chord with readers because she obviously felt very persecuted, yet she remained defiant,” says adult film director and writer Nica Noelle. “She insisted she was doing nothing wrong, that she loves her job and it makes her feel ‘empowered.’ I think her rogue spirit and her refusal to be bullied moved people.”

Yet over the past few weeks, the response to Knox story in her own industry has changed drastically, starting with adult performer Belle Noire’s crusade to “expose” Knox. After tweeting at Knox for weeks, last week she published an essay called “Behind the Scenes: Belle Knox," alleging that Knox was “completely contradictory, irrelevant, and unknowledgeable of the porn industry.”

The essay alleged that Knox had arrived several hours late to set, refused to perform a blow job scene out of concern that she would share saliva with her fellow performer, and “cried” when she was asked to work with a veteran adult male performer she found “too old and disgusting,” although she had approved the scene days before.

“We all need to focus on the fact that Knox is just a young girl lashing out due to boredom,” Noire wrote.

Another blog post by a veteran female director also circulated on Twitter. The post criticized Knox for accepting a summer internship at the tube site Pornhub and tweeting a photo of herself wearing a tank top and shorts bearing the website’s logo. Many adult performers and producers believe tube sites like Pornhub have contributed to the spread of porn piracy.

“What the mainstream has failed to realize in their own ignorance is that our industry is home to MANY college educated performers,” the post, which does not directly refer to Knox by name, reads.

“These women would likely never use their popularity or fan base to promote a piracy-based tube site for their summer internship program, the way this person ignorantly did. Yet, this person is mainstream media’s current “voice” for our industry.”

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In an email to the Daily Dot, Knox refuted the suggestion that her endorsement of Pornhub was tantamount to an endorsement of porn piracy. “I am very excited to start working as an intern at the site [and] I reject the motion that Pornhub steals from porn companies,” she wrote. “On the contrary, Pornhub drives traffic to porn sites and many sites actually run ads through it.

It seems, however, that many of Knox’s colleagues in the adult industry disagree with this assessment. Within the span of just a few weeks, the widespread support for Knox seems to have transformed into thinly-veiled contempt:

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To a certain extent, much of the backlash could be attributed to sour grapes. If you're a performer, unless your name is Sasha Grey, James Deen, or Jenna Jameson, you're lucky to get a tenth of the media attention that Knox has received in a month.

“Porn is filled with people who are not by any means privileged. The fact that Knox goes to Duke causes many to suspect that she’s just a 'visitor' here, and not in it for the long haul,” says writer/director Nica Noelle.

“So not only is she going to emerge from this media blitz with a prestigious degree from a respected university, she’s also stealing the thunder of 'real' porn stars… Very quickly she’s gone from being the underdog to being a spoiled brat who’s using porn to get even more advantages for herself.”

Yet Knox’s endorsement of Pornhub, combined with rumors of her bad behavior on set, seem to have prompted a great deal of genuine vitriol within the porn community, particularly among those who have worked with her, who see the excessive media coverage surrounding the “Duke porn star” as a poor reflection on the adult industry.

“People may be coming out in support of the words coming out of her mouth and the issues she’s addressing,” the veteran male performer mentioned in Noire’s piece told me. “[But]  the consensus is, ‘who the fuck are you to come into an industry and have so little experience and so little time and so little engagement with people who have been doing this for years?”

The male adult performer, who asked not to be named, said that Knox’s agent had booked a scene with him. He said she had approved him beforehand, as is standard protocol in the adult industry. Yet when he arrived on set he was told she did not want to work with him because he was too old.

“I understood that people have their boundaries and they want to be comfortable with someone before they go ahead and perform on camera,” he said. “But she looked at me like I was a three-headed monster.” Although they eventually shot the scene, the performer says he was repulsed by Knox's behavior and “sense of entitlement” on set.

“She had an opportunity to say she was uncomfortable with the situation, which is an opposite reaction what she says in the media, which is that she’s empowered and doing it on her own terms,” he says. “There’s a gap between what is being said and what I observed.”

When asked about the male performer’s allegations, Knox denied throwing a “temper tantrum” while working with him, saying that she did not know the age of the performer in question before agreeing to shoot the scene.

“From day one, I have been adamant that I will not work with men over the age of 35. It is nothing personal. It simply makes me feel uncomfortable to have sex with significantly older men,” she wrote. When she arrived on set, “I discovered that I had been booked for an old man/ young girl fetish site. I was upset that my boundaries had not been respected.”

Knox’s agent, John Steven of Matrix Models, blamed the booking on his own agency in a separate email to the Daily Dot. “[Knox] was informed that she would be shooting with [the male performer] but we should [have] informed her that he was an older male talent,” he wrote. “[Knox] has worked with over 20 companies and we have not had any other negative feedback about her attitude.”

Knox says she has since apologized to the performer in question, something he refutes. She also says she is considering pursuing litigation against Belle Noire, the adult performer who circulated the “behind the scenes with Belle Knox” essay. Knox alleges that Noire has been “harassing” Knox and her family on social media.

Noire declined to speak on the record for this article.

Yet by far the most common—and complex—criticism leveled against Knox within the adult industry does not stem from rumors of diva-like behavior on set, or her endorsement of tube sites, or even resentment of her relative privilege as a young, well-spoken, college-educated, attractive white woman.

It primarily stems from a concern that by devoting so much attention to the Duke porn star’s narrative, the mainstream media is effectively positioning Knox as a “spokesperson” for industry issues. That's despite the fact that there are many other bright, articulate, college-educated performers who have spent years advocating for porn as a tool of female empowerment, such as Nina Hartley, Joanna Angel, and current UCLA undergrad Tasha Reign, who came out staunchly in support of Knox in an interview with the Daily Dot and in an op-ed on the Huffington Post last month.

“For her to be seen as a spokesperson for the adult industry in California is wrong because she hasn’t been in the industry that long,” the veteran male performer says. “That would be on par with me deciding that because I like to play baseball, I’m gonna be a spokesperson for Major League Baseball.” He believes the Pornhub endorsement and Knox’s behavior prove that “she has no grasp on the issues the professional adult industry faces.”

Of course, Knox has never claimed to speak for everyone in porn. In telling her story on xoJane and on other media platforms, she is only speaking for herself. “I’ve never purported to be a spokesperson for the industry,” she says.

If nothing else, the Belle Knox backlash reflects not so much on Knox herself, as the complex and often emotionally fraught relationship between the adult industry and the mainstream media. Although the porn industry has traditionally expressed intense skepticism of the mainstream media, “at the same time [there’s] this desperate desire to ‘cross over’ and become a mainstream celebrity,” Nica Noelle, the adult film director, says. “Porn stars want mainstream recognition, because with it comes the possibility of career longevity, social respectability and, most of all, more fame and money.”

By sticking to her guns and coming out in staunch support of a marginalized industry, Knox has achieved two out of three of those things. Whether her notoriety as the Duke porn star will translate into career longevity remains to be seen. But she probably didn’t expect that by speaking on behalf of an industry that is traditionally vilified, that industry would go on to vilify her.

“I have never seen such vicious, unfounded, sadistic gossip anywhere as I have during my years in the porn community, so I'd be very reluctant to believe anything being said about Belle right now," Noelle says. "In my observation, the problem is very simple: this girl is getting too much mainstream media attention and too many financial opportunities, so it's time to take her down.

"She thinks she’s defending this magical community filled with expansive, empowering experiences, and in a sense she’s right – the world of porn is expansive in many ways,” Noelle says. “But she’s also swimming with sharks.”

By Ej Dickson

MORE FROM Ej Dickson

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