There are times in your life when you foresee the ugliness that’s headed your way, so you muster your courage, batten down the hatches and prepare for the storm. Then there are other times when you should have known, when you should have seen the monsters on the horizon, but instead you skipped happily into quicksand, without the slightest inkling that something could go horribly wrong.
Let me backtrack. A year ago, I was at a crossroads in my life. I could either continue to pursue the academic teaching life, where the jobs are limited and the pay is abysmal, or I could think of a new strategy, a new way to spread the message that changing the way we think about fatness is absolutely tantamount to achieving a culture where all people are capable of loving their bodies.
I decided to think big.
One of my closet friends in the world, Viridiana Lieberman, was a filmmaker, so why not make a documentary?
This documentary could feature the voices of amazing fat activists, fat actors, feminists, scientists, doctors and all kinds of people who recognize the brutality of fat stigma, fat prejudice and fat hate. It could raise the profile of the voices that counter the mainstream arguments about fatness and point out how brutal the media is when it comes to demeaning fat bodies. This documentary could help so many people. It could be amazing, I thought, imaginary flowers, peace signs and little hearts floating in a cloud above my head.
I called Viri, we discussed the idea and "Fattitude" was born. In terms of production, our plan was pretty shoestring, but it could work. We would conduct some strong interviews, cut a trailer and hope to raise the rest of the funds we needed to make the film on Kickstarter.
Flash forward to April 10, 2014. With a killer trailer in hand, we launched our Kickstarter. The response was excellent. In our first day we made close to $2,000 dollars. Sure, there was a negative comment here and there, but we expected that and it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle.
Our early trolls said things like, “You fat bitches are so selfish. You’re keeping all the food for yourselves, while children starve!” or, “Why don't you stop eating cake, get off the couch and exercise.” We let these comments roll off our backs or deleted them from our page. “This is why we are making this movie,” we said, “because people are cruel and they honestly believe that the stereotypes of fat people are true.”
Five days later Viri received a concerned email from a fan. The letter noted that our trailer had been reposted on a YouTube channel that was created by a troll with the screen name “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER.” Viri forwarded the letter to me and I investigated.
What I discovered was that “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” had close to 5,000 followers and he had posted two YouTube videos that were related to us. The first was literally our trailer, stolen and uploaded under the title “Cakes: The New Comedy Hit.” I immediately reported this to YouTube as copyright infringement. The second video was entitled “Fattitude, the Full Feature” and it began with 20 seconds of our trailer and then intercut images of us with racist, anti-Semitic and violent images like the attack on the twin towers and a slide that read “Black People are Dangerous.”
I filed a hate/abuse report on this film and then after some consideration, I decided that this was not an example of fair use and filed a second copyright infringement notification with YouTube. Within 24 hours both videos had been removed, and “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” was mad.
He sent a message to my Twitter account @feministcupcake: Retract the “illegal” copyright infringement notification -- or else. Honestly, I was initially naive and flippant about the whole thing.
“Or else, what?” I blocked him and moved on.
Then came a video –- directed at me and titled with my name. The video was offensive. He compared our film and our fair use of media with his and then in a computerized British accent announced, “You can’t stop me. I’m a f---ing God and you fat f---s are mortals, ” cut to a screen shot of the words “Suck My C--k.” This upset me. I wasn’t freaked out, but I hated seeing my name attached to this jerk.
Three hours later my home phone rang and it was him. He didn’t say much. It was like a prank call, but I was shaken. Suddenly, he wasn’t an irritant out in the ether of the World Wide WebHe was a real live psycho, who had the audacity to feel thankful for Hitler, and he was calling my house.
The phone rang a second time and we ignored it. The third time my husband picked up and tried to talk to him. (That didn’t go anywhere.) I think he called eight times that night.
Besides calling, he ordered pizzas and had them delivered to my house. What he was really doing was telling me that he knew where we lived. We turned on our alarm and changed our phone number.
The following day he posted my address and the addresses and phone numbers of my husband’s business, my family members and all the interviewees in our film on a site called pastebin. He also warned that next day he would post the private information of my project’s backers (who now donate without revealing their private info).
Almost immediately, the phone in my husband’s office started ringing. The calls were recordings of death threats from mobster films. Also, his followers started to hound us on Twitter, Facebook and Kickstarter, and the things they said were terrifying like, “When this is over you’ll be on your knees giving oral and begging for forgiveness!” or, “Shut the fuck up you fat k--e.”
Just a few days after this all began, a follower of “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” posted this: "Holy f---ing shit I live in Boca Raton and go to FAU :D Hitler, can I find this fat bitch's dorm room for you and kill her before she uploads her cancerous documentary?"
I’m not gonna lie to you. I was pretty freaked. We would go out to dinner, and I’d be looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was following us. I’m carrying pepper spray at all times, and I filed a report with the police, who were kind, but honest about the fact that harassment of this nature, i.e. cyber stalking, isn’t an easy crime to pin down because the perpetrators are anonymous and they cover their tracks well.
It’s only been a couple of days since all of this began, and it continues. They signed us up for a visit from Mormon missionaries and a mission to Israel; they sent us cardboard boxes from the Post Office and signed me up for all kinds diet newsletters. Basically, any of things that you can mail for free from the Internet, which is a lot.
Their latest strategy is sabotaging our fundraising on Kickstarter. This attack is twofold. First, they are posting that I conspired to create this troll storm so I could get more exposure. While, it’s true that they have increased our visibility, I would gladly return to a life without fear. Second, they are actually backing my project using fake credit cards or empty gift cards -– which will mean that if/when we raise our money, we won’t actually receive all the money pledged.
In the midst of all this, I am glad to say I have received amazing support from our backers and from the anti fat hatred group “rolls not trolls.” I have also received letters about how our trailer is life-changing and exactly the kind of project the world needs.
All I’m trying to do is make a movie that exposes the reality of the fourth most prevalent form of discrimination in the United States. How did it come to this?