Last Friday, the #WomenBoycottTwitter hashtag took off. Many women and their allies declared they wouldn't use the social media platform for 24 hours to stand in solidarity with actress and filmmaker, Rose McGowan, whose account had been temporarily suspended for violating Twitter's terms of service. Twitter later clarified she had publicly posted a phone number and reinstated her account after removing it, but the boycott was already in full flight. Although I stand in solidarity with all those who have been sexually violated and raped, I chose not to participate in the 24-hour boycott.
My unwillingness to participate was borne out of my refusal to be silenced. As a writer and community activist, my successes have centred around the power of words combined with effective social organisation; the amplification of many voices. Instead, I tweeted about how I wished women would go a step further and temporarily boycott the box office; in particular, Hollywood's.
On hearing Twitter co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey announce more changes would be made to Twitter's policies to protect victims and the vulnerable on its platform, it seemed a box office boycott might be the right way to go after all; that the time may be ripe to draw inspiration from China's unofficial, annual 'Hollywood blackout' as a way to help shine a light on the limited number of women-driven stories stumbling onto our screens -- stories now further overshadowed by the repugnant abuse of power revealed in the numerous sexual violations and rapes allegedly committed by movie producer, Harvey Weinstein.
Though never formally announced, since 2004, China has prioritised its own creative talent by temporarily banning the release, during certain times of the year, of foreign films in favour of domestically-produced ones. Though some in the US media have accused China of being overtly protectionist, it's believed the move is more a pragmatic one that has helped keep its own film industry afloat.
This left me wondering what impact women and their allies collectively prioritising women-driven movies might have -- in particular, those outside the Hollywood mainstream. For too long, Hollywood has dictated the terms of the stories women tell ourselves about ourselves. We rock up at our local multiplex and choose from the limited menu laid out before us. This menu is skewed heavily in favour of white men, with a side serving of docile, doe-eyed white women. When women do have the odd celluloid bone thrown our way, it's usually wrapped up in the cliche of a 'strong female character', who is almost always white, able-bodied, cisgender, and heterosexual. Oh, and young, nubile, and slim enough to slip into a couture gown at a moment's notice. But we do have a choice. Together, we are far more powerful than Hollywood's misogynistically entrenched studio system would have us believe.
Rather than wait for Hollywood to produce more nuanced, thought-provoking women-led narratives, we must make an active effort to support those movies already being made outside of the mainstream. We demand choice by deciding how and where we part with our cash. Women must believe they can collectively affect widespread social change by saying no, that something is not worthy of their time or money, and that they are worth more and can demand more by refusing to participate. To be in choice is to know we deserve better than to be loomed over in a darkened auditorium in a one-sided encounter of the Hollywood kind, that purportedly seeks to give us what it believes we want, while insidiously undermining our dignity and self-respect.
Watching The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable interviews, the onus is all too often placed on the woeful lack of women directors, producers, financiers, and executives within the industry to affect change from the inside out. But in a landmark week for Hollywood, perhaps we finally have an opportunity to come together to say NO to the limited women's narratives we've been force-fed for so long, and YES to those filmmakers and stories that empower us, nurture our endless possibilities, and expand our vision of who we are and who we might be. But first we must support one another -- and not just those who look and sound like us. We must actively seek to amplify all women's voices, all women's stories.
Make no mistake, it would demand an ongoing public dialogue and a coordinated effort from moviegoers and film-makers alike. It will also take time. But perhaps, during certain times of the year, we could collectively boycott mainstream Hollywood-produced movies and focus our attention on independently produced, women-driven movies instead. Perhaps we could have #HollywoodFlashBOBs (Box Office Blackouts)? Women's History Month or International Women's Day could also serve as focal points. So long as we stand together and demand more nuanced stories that are worthy of our money and attention, we may yet force Hollywood's arm.