Mia Khalifa (born Sarah Joe Chamoun; February 10, 1993), also known as Mia Callista, is a Lebanese-American media personality, webcam model, and former pornographic actress. Born in Beirut, she moved to Maryland in 2001. She began acting in pornography in October 2014, becoming the most viewed performer on Pornhub in two months. Her career choice was met with controversy in the Middle East, especially for a video in which she performed sexual acts while wearing a hijab.
Khalifa was born in Beirut on February 10, 1993, and moved with her family to the United States in January 2001, leaving their home in the wake of the South Lebanon conflict. She was raised Catholic in what she describes as a “very conservative” home, although she is no longer a practicing Catholic. She attended a French-language private school in Beirut, where she also learned to speak English. After moving to the United States, she lived in Montgomery County, Maryland, and played lacrosse in high school. She attended Northwest High School in Germantown, Maryland. She has talked about being bullied at school for being “the darkest and weirdest girl there”, which intensified after the September 11 attacks. She attended Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Virginia, and later graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a BA in history. She supported herself while there by working as a bartender, model, and “briefcase girl” on a local Deal or No Deal-esque Spanish game show.
In early 2014, Khalifa and her then-husband posted several pornographic images to a popular NSFW subreddit on Reddit. Khalifa entered the professional pornographic film industry in October 2014. She was walking in Miami when she was asked if she had ever considered appearing in pornographic films. She came to widespread attention after the release of a BangBros scene in which she wears a hijab during a threesome with Sean Lawless and Julianna Vega. The scene brought Khalifa instant popularity, as well as criticism from writers and religious figures, and lead to her parents publicly disowning her. The scene’s producer said “We weren’t trying to exploit [Khalifa’s ethnicity]. We wanted to embrace it. No one could have anticipated the negativity surrounding it.” Alex Hawkins, Vice President of Marketing for xHamster, said “The outrage it caused in the Arab world ended up being a bit of a ‘Streisand effect’. Suddenly, everyone was searching for her. The effort to censor her only made her more ubiquitous.” With more than 1.5 million views, the 22-year-old Khalifa became the most searched-for performer on the adult video sharing website Pornhub. On December 28 that year, Pornhub revealed that she was the No. 1 ranked performer on their website.
She received online death threats after she ranked No. 1 on Pornhub, including a manipulated image of an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant executioner preparing to behead her, and a message warning her that she would go to Hell, to which she replied “I’ve been meaning to get a little tan recently”. Lebanese newspapers wrote articles critical of Khalifa, which she considered trivial due to other events in the region.
Perhaps better known as ‘The hijab porn star’, Khalifa hit the headlines in 2014 when she infamously humped on camera wearing the traditional Muslim garb. The BangBros film initially sparked outrage in her home country of Lebanon with haters claiming she had brought disgrace to the nation and insulted Islam. Khalifa stated in an interview with Loaded that she felt she is being made a scapegoat for internet censorship in her native land, and many others there have since demonstrated against the government, showing support for the American porn star. They claim that although she may have sex, ‘She is still more decent than they are’.
—Loaded magazine, July 2016
In an interview with The Washington Post, Khalifa said the controversial scene was satirical and should be taken as such, claiming that Hollywood films depicted Muslims in a far more negative light than any pornographer could. Among those who publicly spoke out to defend her decision to become an adult performer was British-Lebanese author Nasri Atallah, who stated, “The moral indignation … is wrong for two reasons. First and foremost, as a woman, she is free to do as she pleases with her body. As a sentient human being with agency, who lives halfway across the world, she is in charge of her own life and owes absolutely nothing to the country where she happened to be born.” Khalifa herself said of the controversy: “Women’s rights in Lebanon are a long way from being taken seriously if a Lebanese American porn star that no longer resides there can cause such an uproar. What I once boasted to people as being the most Westernized nation in the Middle East, I now see as devastatingly archaic and oppressed.”
According to data from Pornhub, from January 3 to 6, 2015, searches for Khalifa increased five-fold. Around a quarter of those searches came from Lebanon, with substantial searches also from nearby countries Syria and Jordan. Because of the hijab-related controversy, she was ranked No. 5 in a list of “The world’s 10 most notorious porn stars” by British men’s magazine Loaded in July 2016. Almaza, a Lebanese brewery, ran an advertisement showing a bottle of their beer next to Khalifa’s signature glasses, with the slogan: “We are both rated 18+.” In January 2015, pop band Timeflies released a song titled “Mia Khalifa” in homage to her.
In January 2015, Khalifa signed a long-term contract with Bang Bros’ parent company, WGCZ Holding, who also own the largest free porn site XVideos. The contract required her to perform in multiple films each month. However, two weeks later, Khalifa had a change of heart and resigned. The negative attention she received from her global attention prompted her to leave the industry: “It was an eye-opener for me. I don’t want any of this, whether it’s positive or negative—but all of it was negative. I didn’t think too much into it about how my friends and family and relationships were suffering.” WGCZ Holding own a web page with a domain name using her stage name. Khalifa said it does not pay her for rights, even though it is written in her first-person voice.
In a July 2016 interview with The Washington Post, Khalifa stated that she had only performed in pornography for three months and had left the industry over a year before, changing to a “more normal job”. She said, “I guess it was my rebellious phase. It wasn’t really for me. I kind of smartened up and tried to distance myself from that.” She said she continued to perform as webcam model for Bangbros for eleven months after she stopped shooting scenes before Complex offered her to host a sports show. Carter Cruise, a former performer who became a disc jockey, criticized Khalifa for reinforcing the social stigma against sex work in distancing herself from her previous career.
In January 2017, xHamster reported that Khalifa was the most searched-for adult actress of 2016. In 2018, three years after leaving the industry, she was still the second-highest ranked person on Pornhub. In August 2019, she revealed that she only made $12,000 working in porn by making an estimated $1,000 per scene. She never received residuals from Bangbros who own and sell her content or from Pornhub and other free sites where Bangbros uploaded the videos. Had she been a Pornhub partner, it is estimated that she would have made over $500,000. In July 2020, more than 1.5 million people signed a Change.org petition campaigning for her videos to be removed from sites like Pornhub and BangBros and her Internet domains returned to her. Bangbros sent her a cease and desist letter and set up a website to dispute statements she made about the company over the years as being defamatory. According to Bangbros, she earned over $178,000 from them and their affiliates and was in the adult industry for more than two years.
After three months working as an adult-film actor, Khalifa worked in Miami as a paralegal and bookkeeper. She transitioned into a career as a social media personality, webcam model and sports commentator. She runs a YouTube channel; live streams on Twitch; and performed as a webcam model; sells photoshoots, merchandise and access to exclusive content on membership website Patreon; and sold explicit photoshoots and videos on the social media website Findrow. She and Gilbert Arenas hosted Out of Bounds, a daily sports show on Complex News’s YouTube channel, from October 2017 to February 2018.
Khalifa was announced to co-host SportsBall alongside Tyler Coe, with its second season premiering July 16, 2018, exclusively on RoosterTeeth. Its final episode was released on October 30, 2018.
In May 2020, she had a guest appearance as herself in the Hulu show Ramy.
In popular culture
In November 2016, an online petition called for Khalifa to be appointed by President-elect Donald Trump as the next United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
In 2018, the musical duo iLoveFriday released a diss track called “Mia Khalifa”, in response to a fake tweet posted by a user impersonating Khalifa. The song became an internet meme after the “hit or miss” snippet gained popularity on the TikTok app. It is the most well-known viral TikTok meme in the Western world, and has been used in over four million TikTok videos.
During her pornographic career, Khalifa lived in Miami before relocating back to Texas. She married her high school boyfriend, whose identity is not public, in February 2011 but one source identified him as Wyatt O’Brien. They separated in 2014 and divorced in 2016. In March 2019, she became engaged to Swedish chef Robert Sandberg. They were married at their home in June 2020 after their original ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Khalifa has a tattoo of the opening line of the Lebanese National Anthem and another of the Lebanese Forces Cross. She got the latter in 2012 after a bombing in Lebanon, stating it was to “show solidarity with [her] father’s political views”. Both tattoos have come under scrutiny by her detractors. She has revealed that her parents stopped speaking to her because of her career choice. Her parents released a statement disassociating themselves from her actions and blaming her decision to enter the porn industry on her residence in a foreign country which had a different culture than theirs, and that her actions did not reflect her upbringing. They also said that they hoped that she would leave pornography, believing that her image did not honor her family or home country. Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post observed that, despite Khalifa’s change of career, her social media feed was “still a bit more risqué than that of, say, Ben Bernanke”.
Khalifa is a fan of Florida State Seminoles football and attempted to recruit Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to transfer to Florida State through her social media. After ending her pornographic career, she has used her social media presence (over 2.3 million Twitter and over 11 million Instagram followers) to support professional sports teams from the Washington, D.C. area, including the Washington Redskins, Washington Wizards, and Washington Capitals, with her favorite Capitals player being André Burakovsky. She is also a supporter of English football club West Ham United FC. While attending a Premier League game between West Ham and Arsenal FC at London Stadium in January 2019, her verbal abuse of Arsenal player Matteo Guendouzi on social media for diving gained much publicity.