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New Lifetime movie depicts Duke porn star scandal

Lifetime movies are known for being too dramatic to be realistic, but one recently released film hits close to Duke.

The movie, titled “From Straight A’s to XXX,” premiered Saturday evening and tells the story of a Duke first-year who made national headlines in 2014 when news broke that she doubled as an adult film actress. The plot follows Miriam Weeks as she makes the decision to join the adult film industry under the pseudonym Belle Knox to help cover her tuition and documents how she handled the subsequent reaction. 

The University was not notified that this film was being made, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

“That sort of flew under the radar,” Schoenfeld said. “We typically become aware when the producers ask permission to use a trademark, like a logo, a t-shirt or a hat. In this case, they did not use any Duke trademarks, so they did not contact us for permission or to check any facts.”

According to an article in The Washington Post, the writers relied on Weeks’ interviews to write the film and had difficulty finding Weeks online to get an update on her life.

One of the articles used as source material was a profile in The Chronicle written by Katie Fernelius, Trinity ’16 and former recess editor for The Chronicle.

Fernelius said that she was contacted by the writer of the film for input about some of the context surrounding the article. Until a trailer was recently released, she said that she had forgotten about the film and was amused to discover that there is a student journalist in the movie based in part on her.

“I’m pretty sure I’m like a slightly evil character in the movie,” Fernelius joked.

Although Fernelius said that she has not watched the movie, Schoenfeld said that he had seen it.

“I thought it was factually challenging,” Schoenfeld said. “It was filled with the kind of stereotypes that typically populate Lifetime movies. It was somewhat laughable and mostly tedious.”

The movie also emphasizes rising cost of college tuition and the financial burden that this can place on students.

Despite these criticisms, Schoenfeld maintains that the University continues to provide financial assistance to students when necessary.

“We are committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all students. It is unfortunate that things were presented otherwise,” Schoenfeld said. “It may have been a commentary on college costs, but there are many different ways to finance and afford an education at Duke.”

The Washington Post article also notes that the movie had the help of women both in front of and behind the camera, with female executive producers, a female screenwriter and director.

Fernelius said that much of the discussion following the publication of her article—which was one of the first to feature an interview with Weeks—centered around how feminism could operate in the pornography industry.

“I certainly don’t want to deprive [Weeks] of the fact that I think she genuinely sees herself as a feminist, but one thing I do feel proud about was that [my] article was fundamentally concerned with feminism,” Fernelius said. “I don’t think this scandal would have been a story about feminism had it not been for this article.”

Still, Fernelius acknowledges that the idea of a “Duke scandal” plays a role in the continued fascination with the subject.

“You could Google search 'Duke and sex' and find a lot of different types of stories,” she said. “It’s a pretty easy narrative to come out of Duke, so people are really interested and compelled by it.”

Weeks declined to comment. 


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