Hyperrhiz 21

Octavia Botler

Olivia Banner
University of Texas at Dallas

Citation: Banner, Olivia. “Octavia Botler.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.bt03

Abstract: Octavia Botler (@OBotler) is a bot imagining a Hollywood that values female-authored scifi as much as male-authored scifi.

Keywords: Twitter, whiteness, patriarchy, race, gender, media industries, bots, Octavia Butler, feminist science fiction.


Octavia Botler (@OBotler) is, according to its profile description, “a bot imagining a Hollywood that valued female-authored scifi as much as male-authored scifi.” It does this through a code that constructs tweets to report the (imagined) successful production, distribution, and reception of feminist science fiction novels as movies that are surprise runaway box office smashes. Although other novelists are represented (Margaret Atwood and Ursula le Guin), the bulk of the tweets mention Black feminist lesbian Octavia Butler’s work, since they most challenge culture industries whose apparati of development and production hew to white masculinist heteronormative science fiction imaginaries. The tweets name as these films’ directors those particularly popular with young male movie fans — “edgy” and “cool” directors like Christopher Nolan — in order to highlight the disjuncture between the movies those directors typically direct and the (feminist) novels the bot imagines into movie fame. While I don’t think Wes Anderson would actually do justice to Earthseed (fig. 1), his name serves to metonymize the film system’s economic logic of (white male) auterism—that is, a system that funds films based on the prestige accorded a director’s presumed-coherent style. This auterism, even more prevalent in the independent film sector than in Hollywood studio filmmaking, hampers funding for visions of the future that don’t accord with big-budget filmmaking’s financing (e.g., films have to pull in the 18-24-year-old male audience). Steven Spielberg is not the right director for Kindred, but placing his name in relation to that novel gestures to the fact that Kindred’s plot mechanics of time travel and the horror of its protagonist’s situation would fit within any sci-fi director’s general purview (and performs an implicit critique of Spielberg’s racialized visions, including in his films about slavery).

Sample @OBotler tweet. Twitter.com.

Those juxtapositions – where there is something slightly off in imagining male white auterist directors taking on feminist science fiction projects – underline the ironies contained in the bot: the contradiction between its mode of articulation and the aims of the novels it uses, or, to put it in new media industries’ terms, between its form and the “creative content” its tweets deliver. If most of the novels imagine post-racial-capitalist worlds, certainly Twitter, a corporation that has been critiqued as exploitatively profiting from the free labor supplied by Black Twitter, is not itself contributing to such worlds by any means. Similarly, in imagining Black women’s science fiction producing profit for the film industry, the bot raises questions about whether capitalist, white- and male-dominated industries are capable of rendering Black and feminist visions in a fashion that doesn’t ultimately benefit the racial capitalist Hollywood mode of production and profit.

In an ironic twist, since I created the bot, Hulu released the enormously successful streaming television version of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and Ava du Vernay has obtained the rights to the Xenogenesis trilogy. So perhaps the bot is the realization that many of us have always been dreaming that these narratives might be realized; perhaps its automated and potentially expansive (via retweeting) function speaks to the fact that novels are read by mass audiences, whose members are simultaneously working to realize those novels’ best (and worst) visions of the future. If that is the case, maybe I should remove the satirical gesture to a future in which Kanye is running for president.

Additionally, since @OBotler was born, the 2016 US presidential election happened, and Twitter, concerned about bots and propaganda, changed its terms for bot developers, requiring verification and an explanation of a bot’s uses, goals, and monetization. @OBotler is an imaginative work meant to provoke questions about how whiteness and patriarchy structure film production—but perhaps also how they structure, at the broader scale, media and technology industries more generally, at which point, one might as well note that it was the platform of Twitter that gave the 45th President his initial platform for stoking white supremacy and misogyny, the monetization of which forms Twitter’s value. And so, if ever challenged on its veracity, @OBotler, I think, will migrate to another platform.


I created @OBotler using Cheap Bots Done Quick, run by George Buckenham. Cheap Bots helps users create Twitter bots using Kate Compton’s Tracery. You can view the generative grammar for @OBotler here:

{ "origin": ["Critics predict Butler's #alternatives# biggest opening weekend ever", "#maledirector# talks #alternatives# 3D", "#studio# greenlights #feministnovel#", "#alternatives# confounds Hwood as teenagers flock to theaters", "#feministnovel# even better on screen than in print, critics say", "#maledirector# options rights to life of James Tiptree", "#feministnovel# surprise hit of the season", "Will Hwood move forward on #alternatives# after success of #feministnovel#", "#feministnovel# sequel in production, predicted to blow box office records", "Pres. candidate Kanye admits #alternatives# 3D in Imax favorite film, loses Star Wars voting bloc"], "alternatives" : ["Fledgling", "Parable of the Sower", "Xenogenesis Trilogy", "Kindred", "Earthseed", "Patternmaster", "Bloodchild", "The Evening and the Morning and the Night"], "maledirector": ["Spielberg", "J.J. Abrams", "Ridley Scott", "Clint Eastwood", "James Franco", "Wes Anderson", "Martin Scorsese", "Robert Rodriguez", "Christopher Nolan"], "studio": ["FoxSearchlight", "20thCenturyFox", "Viacom", "Samuel Goldwyn", "Pixar", "Disney", "Metro-Goldwyn Myer"], "feministnovel" : ["A Wizard of Earthsea", "The Left Hand of Darkness", "The Dispossessed", "Woman on the Edge of Time", "Oryx and Crake", "The Female Man", "Dragonflight", "The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You", "Daughter of Elysium", "Daughters of the North", "Dreamsnake", "Shards of Honor", "Life", "Herland"] }

View @OBotler on Twitter