Mikaela Spielberg is choosing her words carefully.
The sex worker and activist, who is the adopted child of legendary Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw, has had her fair share of hardships. Spielberg, 24, has battled anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and was nearly homeless, culminating in a headline-grabbing arrest earlier this year following a domestic dispute with her then-fiancé Chuck Pankow, a professional dart player 27 years her senior.
“I felt like had I not done the work I needed to do on myself, and on my relationships, I would have been dead within the year,” she tells me.
She is thankfully in a much better place now. Spielberg is the newest star performer for ManyVids, an adult content platform run by Bella French, shooting live and taped solo cam shows from her home in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I’m really enjoying work, and it’s giving me a whole new life-affirming way to be,” she says. “It opened up a gateway into being able to dance. The best part of it has been that anytime I want to I can just go into work, and go dance.”
Spielberg, of course, recognizes the privilege her name and background affords her in the adult community, and beyond. (And her parents are supportive of her work, in case you were wondering.)
“I’ve been given so much, and my hope is that I can give some of that back into the community,” she offers. “I’m not the one to decide what place in the community I have. That’s for people who’ve been in it much longer than me to decide.”
Spielberg spoke to The Daily Beast about her journey to sex work and self-acceptance.
How did you end up settling down in Nashville?
I came here on my own when I was 18 years old, and I just actually decided to stay.
So you fell in love with it?
Um…yeah? You could say that! To be honest, I didn’t decide to come here on my own. But I’m hoping that in the next two years or so I’m going to be able to move out of here, if possible.
Did you just need a change of scenery?
Yes. That’s actually a perfect answer to that.
I think most of us do at 18. I went to college up in Maine to get a little distance. It can give you the necessary space to learn more about yourself.
So, how did the ManyVids cam show come together?
I was approached and asked by their team if I wanted to do a live show, because prior to that I had just been doing normal digital sex work, basically—and when I say that I have to clarify just for safety reasons that I am not full-service. I’m online and dance-only. ManyVids is a really incredible and wonderful community. There’s safety, security, clear regulations, and also clear expectations. And the formatting is phenomenal. I don’t feel a hostile energy around it but a loving energy. Its core design screams “sexual health.” It feels safe.
What will the show be like, and how often will you be doing it?
It’s not really a set show on a schedule. My profession is webcamming and solo pay-per-view videos. I’m hoping that webcamming can become a more regular thing for me, and professionally-done pay-per-view videos that are solo can become a regular thing for me. For the most part, I’ll be like every other woman on that platform, producing solo videos for purchase. I started out in the industry making custom videos, and with the other platform where I was working—and I won’t say the name, because it’s not my place to say too much about it—there was too much theft, and not enough care for performers, or regulations, or legal safety. So I decided to join ManyVids because that’s a side they care so much about. And I would pay rent off of custom videos. I was completely independent—I didn’t have any studio or anyone else behind me—and because of that, my level of creativity and quality of content kind of suffered. But now I feel more support, and I’m hoping that changes.
Did you always strive to be independent, and was getting into sex work a way to assert your independence?
In all honesty, it was about independence—but not in regards to placing myself above other women. That’s not what it was. It was about independence in finances, and independence in freedom of speech. You know the acronym NLOG [Not Like Other Girls]? That wasn’t the goal for me of going into sex work. I wanted community, and I wanted to be 100 percent in charge of my own life in a way that was creative and not destructive.
And by making these custom videos it seems you’re in charge of your own body and the end product. It seems quite different from, say, acting in a Hollywood film, where you’re in a way a piece of a puzzle that can be moved around by filmmakers.
It is. I’m not gonna lie though and say there aren’t instances where performers are signing contracts, outside of ManyVids, where there are women who are very young—18, 19, 20—who don’t own their content for the next five years, or have to look a certain way for a period of time. I think ManyVids is so important because they allow us to be in charge of our own body.
I read the interview you did with The Sun, and you said at one point of your parents, “I actually think that once they see how far I’ve come from the bottom I was at a year and a half ago, they’re going to look at this and go, ‘Wow, we actually raised are really self-assured, young lady.’” I’m curious what the point was a year and a half ago that made you want to make some changes in your life?
Um…you know what? I don’t mind if you quote what I’m about to say, because I think a lot of people can relate to this. I was at a point—maybe two years ago from now—where I was heartbroken, vulnerable, and felt like my soul had kind of been split in two. And I was covering that up with drinking. And I am no longer like that.
“Racial self-acceptance has been a huge part of my journey, and that’s all I’m really going to say about it.”
Oh, congratulations. I’m glad you were able to weather that period. How were you able to deal with your drinking?
I’m a harm-reductionist, and I’m in the middle of a healing journey. About two years ago, I was at my worst. I will say this: Harm-reduction is about doing your best and keeping your goals in mind with any substance that you may have ever had a problem with. It’s about making smaller goals that are more attainable.
In The Sun interview you said, “I’ve always been a very sexually-natured person, which has gotten me in trouble before.” Had you always wanted an outlet to express yourself sexually?
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself from doing this kind of work: I’ve learned that I’m not hypersexual at all, actually, which in the long run has cost me money. I’ve learned that I do not enjoy hardcore content personally. Whatever you decide to make is your decision, but I enjoy soft content and passion content. My long-term goal with self-expression is to work with a company that does passion-oriented content.
It does seem like there’s a shortage of “passion-oriented content” in the adult world, and way more content that’s more full-throttle, 100-miles-an-hour-type content, versus slowing things down a little bit.
I love that. Yeah. It can be so hard to self-actualize when you’ve been told your entire adult life that you’re not pretty enough for anyone to want to make love with you, and you find out that’s not true. That can be a healing experience in itself, you know?
I’m curious who drilled that ugly idea in your head—that you weren’t pretty enough?
It wasn’t any one person, it’s an ongoing discussion online, and even in my own social life: By which metric do we measure a woman’s worth? And I had to learn to measure worth for myself. I get this every day—as do all other women in my position, and of my race. It’s a little bit harsher though, I’m going to be honest, when you are a non-straight-sized Black woman. If you could see the messages I get from people. It’s a little bit harder at that point.
It reminds me of the famous Malcolm X quote, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
I do believe that. One of the things I love about ManyVids is their willingness to not shy away from the topic of creating inclusive spaces. It feels like everyone is on there, pretty much—every body, gender, adult age range. It’s a really beautiful painting of what I feel, or I wish, all my spaces were like all the time.
To answer your other question, by the way: Racial self-acceptance has been a huge part of my journey, and that’s all I’m really going to say about it.
I’m biracial myself and grew up in a mostly white community. You can internalize a degree of self-hatred due to your surroundings—how intolerant they are, and how homogenized things are, and how different you are.
Same. That’s a big piece of it. You know, it’s interesting. Even in L.A. growing up, it was fairly diverse, but the way the language around beauty was coded was not OK.
This is somewhat of a personal question, so if you don’t feel comfortable answering it we can move on, but what was it like to grow up in a white family?
I’ll put it this way: You could have all the love in the world and still be incredibly lonely. And that’s all I’m going to say about it out of respect for everyone I know.
Tomorrow is quite a big day in America and I read that you’re an activist. What causes are near and dear to you, and ones that you hope the new president tackles?
I feel like the housing crisis needs to be tackled, and am speaking from personal experience because I almost lost housing this summer—not due to anything I did but the financial position I was in. I feel like gentrification needs to be fixed. Something else that I’m really passionate about is how there should be mutual-aid funds for people in marginalized professions. Growing up with the privilege that I grew up in, seeing people say, “I don’t want to aid people in the same field that I’m in because their content is not good enough,” I was done for the day. Like, this is not what we should be about.
“I feel I was made into this spooky media caricature of what we don’t want in society. I felt almost like a racialist caricature of a Jew or a Black woman in those moments, because I maintained my innocence that entire time.”
I feel as a society, we also need to be careful with capitalism and stop creating financial incentives for violence and conflict. There has to be a system in place where we’re not causing such horrible scarcity. Sex workers put themselves in harm’s way. Don’t criminalize sex work—criminalize the fact that scarcity is a thing. Criminalize price gouging in housing. Now that is really dangerous. Although I feel like I’m the wrong person to ask about this, because I’ve only ever experienced some level of scarcity as an adult. I’ve only been close to homelessness—and not all the way there. But I go to bed panicked every night because I think about the people that are homeless and struggling. And being someone who lives with chronic pain, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be disabled in some way and experiencing a lack of housing. I don’t know how I would cope with that.
When I did some research for this interview I couldn’t help but see the incredible amount of tabloid attention that was paid to your arrest. The charges were dropped and yet those headlines remain, which I think is very unfair to you. How do you feel about how that situation was handled? Because it seems like it was rather sensationalized.
I almost feel I can’t speak on the actual events because that would put my safety in jeopardy, but I can say that I feel I was made into this spooky media caricature of what we don’t want in society. I felt almost like a racialist caricature of a Jew or a Black woman in those moments, because I maintained my innocence that entire time. And that’s all I can say about it.
I can also say, I don’t know how to feel about how it was handled by the media. While I can’t play the victim, I can also say that I can maintain my position that I had done the right thing by placing the call. I did what was expected of me on a safety level, and was arrested because of that. And I feel fairly uncomfortable talking about the arrest—not because I’m uncomfortable with correcting who I was as a person then, or even half a year ago, but I feel like that was not who I was as a person. You’re absolutely right: that was not the whole picture. People really don’t value Black women and their bodies, so our cries for help are viewed as less valid than the burden of responsibility for things that we haven’t done that gets placed on us at all times.
It did seem terrible and I’m sorry you had to go through that. You are directing your own content right now, so would you ever want to direct a feature?
I would want to do the art direction and not the actual direction. My end goal for my life is to start painting again, and sex work is a way to get to a spot where I’m secure in my finances to paint. I really do enjoy performing though, so I’m probably going to be a performer for the rest of my life. I love it that much.
Did the creativity rub off from your family? You do have one of the more creative families out there.
I would actually say that my creativity comes from a multitude of places—one of them especially being music, and yes, my family. But if I’m going to say anything positive about family in general, I’m going to say the creativity is genetic that is within me.