Miriam Weeks, also known by her stage name Belle Knox, also known as "the Duke porn star," hasn't been afraid of publicly taking sides since she was outed as a porn performer during her freshman year of college. In essays deriding outrageous tuition costs and expressing love for the porn industry, Weeks has offered astute arguments -- but they are arguments that never veer too far into the gray areas that exist in the lives of female porn performers, whose bodies and choices are policed to a near-unimaginable extent. Weeks has discussed the bullying. She has discussed the threats. She has not delved deep into how her treatment by the public -- the treatment directed at so many sex workers -- has affected her life.
But in a new documentary series from Condé Nast Entertainment, "Becoming Belle Knox," those missing details of Weeks' story are presented in full force. Many of Weeks' early claims still pop up: She loves what she does, and she makes no apologies for joining the adult industry to pay her Duke tuition. But in the year since she started doing porn, Weeks admits, she has grown a great deal. "I think my experiences have aged me," she says in the documentary. "I don't have the mind of an 18-year-old. I kind of have the mind and the emotional baggage of somebody much, much older than me."
The series follows Weeks in the months after her identity was first revealed by a classmate at Duke, and shows how she, her family and others in the porn industry have responded to her rise to stardom. According to Weeks, she started by Googling “how to be a porn star” when she first considered sex work as a way to pay for school, never anticipating how her involvement with the industry would come to dominate her life. But, as the documentary shows, the amount of “hustle” the job demands, and the public persona it requires performers to develop, can both be hugely taxing — particularly for someone as young as Weeks. One of the series’ most poignant moments is a smiling Weeks expressing buried concern over losing her identity to her porn star alter ego.
Spoiler alert: The five-part series is sad. Not because it presents a portrait of some poor, lost girl who has taken a wrong course trying to find her way, but because it shows in greater detail the burden that sexually empowered women -- especially empowered sex workers -- are forced to bear. At one point, Weeks says flatly, "A lot of shit in my life has been ruined because of sex." It's true, but only partly. A lot of shit in Weeks' life has been ruined because of her enthusiastic participation in sex -- and because of the cultural condemnation that accompanies it.
Weeks is not a perfect poster child for the porn industry. Her lingering inexperience shows, but she has continued to move forward in the adult entertainment world while recognizing its flaws. She is more critical of her work when she's on camera than she has been in her writing. "People are probably going to get mad at me and say that I'm being exploited, but porn is like any other job," Weeks says. "It's labor, and I think that liking it is irrelevant." She's hardened, and it's worth watching to see how she got that way -- or, rather, how the cultural response to her choices has made her into who she is.
Watch a clip from the documentary below: