Intersectional critique and social media activism in Sleepy Hollow fandom

Jacquelyn Arcy

University of Wisconsin–Parkside, Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States

Zhana Johnson

Saint Xavier University, Chicago, Illinois, United States

[0.1] Abstract—We examine fans' social media engagement with the supernatural detective series Sleepy Hollow (2013–17) and argue that fan discourses about the African American police detective Abbie Mills address the representational and institutional treatment of women of color. Sleepy Hollow fans use social media to counter and reshape industry narratives that often cast Black women as archetypes. We explore how fans recreate meaning by writing fan fiction, how fans collectively critique stereotypes on social media, and how fan boycotts challenge media institutions. By charting the evolution of fan responses to Abbie Mills's narrative arc over three seasons, we explore the potential for fan actions to disrupt the television industry. While fan activism is unlikely to alter the industry objectives of a capitalist media system or reconfigure power dynamics between producers and consumers, organized actions can resist institutional efforts to channel fan activity into show promotion.

[0.2] Keyword—Fandom; Gender; Intersectionality; Race; Social TV

Arcy, Jacquelyn, and Zhana Johnson. 2018. "Intersectional Critique and Social Media Activism in Sleepy Hollow Fandom." In "Social TV Fandom and the Media Industries," edited by Myles McNutt, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 26.

1. Introduction

[1.1] When Sleepy Hollow (2013–17) premiered on Fox in the fall of 2013, it was widely hailed for its diverse casting, with Asian, Latino, and African American actors in key roles, including Abbie Mills, its Black female co-lead. The supernatural detective series centers on Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a former Revolutionary War captain resurrected after being hexed for 250 years, and his reluctant partner, police lieutenant Abigail Mills (Nicole Beharie). Destined to fulfill their role as the two witnesses mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation, the pair are tasked with averting the impending apocalypse and defeating the four horsemen. While its promising first season attracted eight million viewers and an extremely passionate fan base (Adalian 2013), unsatisfactory character arcs, abundant plot holes, and brewing trouble behind the scenes resulted in turnover among the showrunners and a rise in fan criticism. Abbie Mills went from a protagonist in season 1 to a plot device in season 2, and when she was unexpectedly killed off at the end of season 3 fans launched a social media campaign to boycott the series.

[1.2] Here we examine some of the online strategies fans used to recuperate the Abbie Mills character and explore the potential for fan actions to disrupt the television industry. We argue that Sleepy Hollow fan fiction and social media campaigns drew attention to the stereotypical treatment of Black women in television, but did not ultimately affect the trajectory of the show. Even after widespread fan backlash against Abbie's death, Fox renewed the series for a fourth season and replaced Mills with another tough-talking woman of color, played by Janina Gavankar. This decision can be attributed to two industry imperatives: a desire to reduce production costs by favoring action-oriented stories over character (and actors), and an attempt to boost advertising sales by courting a younger, whiter, male audience. The eventual cancellation of the series was a result of myriad factors including a steep decline in viewership and ratings, a scheduling shift to Friday night, and a significant story reboot (Wagmeister 2017).

[1.3] While it is unlikely that fan activism will alter industry objectives in a capitalist media system, we argue that organized actions can disrupt institutional efforts to channel fan activity into show promotion. In the convergent media era, television companies are expanding efforts to monetize fans' social media engagement. In an attempt to "control content and profits," Katherine Morrissey (2013, ¶ 3.3) explains, media industries work to "reposition fan production within controlled production environments that then license and limit creative work." In fan studies work on fans' collective power to affect the television industry, scholars frame fans as activists with influence over production and potentially politics (Jenkins 2006; Lopez 2011), or as exploited laborers whose activities are co-opted by television networks (Andrejevic 2008; Lozano Delmar and Bourdaa 2015). Our analysis of Sleepy Hollow fandom complicates these conflicting assumptions by showing that fans actively resist the ways their engagement is utilized by media companies. As one fan writes, "Sleepy Hollow producers are now learning that when they deputize fans into an unpaid (and therefore uncontrollable) arm of their marketing team, those fans feel invested in the series like never before. They also feel entitled to have their voices heard," and after particularly egregious offenses "some of Sleepy Hollow's most loyal fans decided they'd had enough" (James 2014). We argue that fans' shifting focus from producing fan texts to boycotting a series actively challenges industry efforts to use fan labor as free series promotion and audience research.

[1.4] Further, Sleepy Hollow fans' strategies underscore the ways marginalized groups use social media to challenge institutional hierarchies and circulate transformative works. While much of the scholarship in fan studies has focused solely on the gender identity of white, middle-class, female fans (Jenkins [1992] 2013, 1), this study considers how race and gender co-constitute fan practice. Taking up Rebecca Wanzo's (2015) call to bring African American scholarship to bear on American fan studies, we draw on Kimberle Crenshaw's (1993) theory of intersectionality and bell hooks's (1992) oppositional gaze to analyze how Sleepy Hollow fans developed an intersectional critique of the representational and institutional treatment of women of color.

[1.5] Looking first at season 1, we explore how fan fiction writers create new storylines for Abbie Mills that seek to empower Black women. Using content analysis, we look at fan fics that "ship" Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane on two popular open-source and fan-run fan fiction websites, and the Archive of Our Own, selected for their extensive collections and diverse content. We categorized themes from forty-five stories on and 1,108 stories on the Archive of Our Own and analyzed specific texts that reflect broad themes within the fandom. Next, we explore fan critiques of Mills's stereotypical representation using the Twitter hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter, a trending fan campaign developed during season 2 to address fans' concern about "what appeared to be the gradual transformation of Abbie Mills into a sidekick" (James 2014; see also Cheng 2016). We focus our analysis on Twitter because it is the most popular internet platform for social conversations about television and because it is a forum broadcasters carefully monitor for audience feedback (Goldstein 2013). We code recurring themes in tweets aggregated under the hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter and, following Day and Christian (2017, ¶ 2.4), we use critical discourse analysis to assess how viewers "draw on their own experiences in life, with the show, and with other media texts to formulate responses to the representation of" Black female identity. In the final section, we unpack how social media campaigns disrupt industry imperatives by analyzing fans' social media activism during season 3. We look at the hashtag campaigns #CancelSleepyHollow and #IAmAbbieMills to show how Sleepy Hollow fans halted fannish production and resisted industry efforts to shape fan engagement. Throughout, we draw upon commentary from popular bloggers in feminist, Black nerd, and nerds of color communities to contextualize fans' social media campaigns. Tracing the fandom's shifting focus from media production to media refusal, we analyze the efficacy of each strategy for challenging media representations and industry imperatives.

2. Social TV and intersectional fans

[2.1] In Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins's study of television fans, he describes the relationship between fans and producers as a process of negotiation over a text's meaning. Fans engage with television by "poaching" desirable elements of media narratives, writing new stories (fan fiction), and fostering communities to create and circulate fan content. Often fans seek to influence industry executives to prolong a show's tenure or shape narrative trajectories. For instance, in Jenkins's ([1992] 2013) ethnographic study of Beauty and the Beast (1987–90) fandom, he finds that fans' anger over the death of the beloved female lead resulted in an autonomous fan culture. When a show disappoints viewers, fans create and consume their own stories to fulfill a collective desire, in this case for a romantic coupling between the leads. Jenkins concludes that fan fiction—mostly written by women about romantic relationships—can recuperate media narratives that dismiss women's desires in favor of more action-oriented male stories.

[2.2] But, as Christine Scodari and Jenna Felder (2000) argue, fan fiction does not counteract the marginalization of women's sensibilities in mass media. Their study of "shippers"—mostly female fans who desire a romantic relationship between two characters—reveals that fans' resistance to gender roles and male-driven narratives pales in comparison to the structures of capitalist media institutions. Focusing on the commercial imperatives that impact production, Scodari and Felder (240) point out that advertisers pay more to reach younger male viewers. In turn, producers privilege action narratives to court the coveted male demographic, while female fans' desire for romance is left to languish in conjecture. Although fan fiction provides a way for women to depict romantic relationships outside the original text, Scodari and Felder (254) argue that fans' unpaid labor will not transform the commercial and patriarchal media system that systematically disregards women's stories.

[2.3] While the prevailing industry logic continues to value masculine stories and viewers, much has changed at the level of producer-fan interactions. With the development of the internet, fan communities on websites, blogs, and social media platforms have exponentially increased and enabled casual viewers to become active fans. Social media has opened up the lines of communication between producers and consumers, endowing fans with ostensible influence and executives with new opportunities to monetize engagement. To shed light on the question of whether power resides within active fan communities or industry structures, we examine specific fan uses of social media. The integration of television and social media, called "social TV," involves using sites like Twitter to discuss television in real time as a backchannel to live programming or as an asynchronous platform for fan discussions (Harrington, Highfield, and Bruns 2013). Participants can join a conversation by using dedicated hashtags created by official sources or individual users. Those who celebrate the empowerment of active audiences argue that social media sustains fan discourses and makes them more widely visible. Viewers can tweet at television producers, wage public campaigns, and create and circulate fan-produced content. On the other hand, producers and networks capitalize on social TV in three key ways: by mining social media streams for audience feedback and data, by appropriating fan activities to promote TV shows, and by making television more interactive and engaging (Bourdaa and Lozano Delmar 2016).

[2.4] As fans and producers develop new promotional strategies in the convergent TV era, they face constant negotiation and contestation. Fan efforts to reassign meaning or assert influence often fall under the rubric of promotional activities and valuable audience research. At the same time, content creators face mounting pressure to cultivate relationships with viewers online to extend audience engagement and help promote the show. Television executives have a fraught relationship with fans; while fan feedback can provide invaluable audience research, it may also disrupt showrunners' creative vision (Andrejevic 2008; Jensen 2012). This dynamic is further complicated when a series involves multiple creators and producers. As Myles McNutt (2013) explains, Sleepy Hollow's co-creator Phillip Iscove and Mark Goffman, showrunner during season 2, both "engage and interact with fans from a position of authorship by answering questions or offering teases of future episodes." When Sleepy Hollow producers noticed fan campaigns to further develop Mills's character in season 2, Goffman initially appeared responsive to fans' concerns, stating in an interview, "If people just trust us—if you keep watching, things will change in a way that you won't expect" (Busis 2014). But Goffman left the show before season 3 began and was unable to deliver on his promise.

[2.5] To understand the complex relationship between Sleepy Hollow producers and fans, it is important to note that many Abbie Mills supporters are also Black women. This case study centers on the identity and experiences of African American women by bringing Black feminist scholarship to bear on fan studies. Fan studies scholarship in the convergent era has largely ignored social identity in favor of analyses of the experiences of a default fan, presumed to be "white, middle-class, male, heterosexual" (Gatson and Reid 2012, ¶ 4.1). This is particularly surprising as early fan studies research focused on female fans who had historically been left out of male-dominated fan communities. This body of work documents the proliferation of female characters recast as strong, competent women in woman-produced fan fiction (Jenkins [1992] 2013; Penley 1992; Bacon-Smith 1992), advancing our understanding of the gender politics involved in shipping (desire for romantic relationships) and slashing (desire for same-sex attraction). Scholars saw these practices as a way for "marginalized, neglected female sci-fi fans to express their passion for their favorite shows, lay claim to the narrative, and even impishly subvert a geek fan culture that, until recently, has been largely male-targeted and male-driven" (Jensen 2012). In more recent scholarship, however, the question of gender has dropped out of focus (Driscoll and Gregg 2011), and little attention has been paid to race (except see Lopez 2011; Wanzo 2015; Warner 2015a).

[2.6] Wanzo (2015) suggests that one of the reasons fan scholarship overlooks race is that the existence of racism subverts the idealistic view of fan communities as progressive and inclusive. Rukmini Pande and Swati Moitra's (2017) study of queer femslash fandoms brings these competing views to the fore by showing that some fan practices perpetuate racial erasure while others work toward inclusion. In a particularly apt case, Dominique Johnson's (2015) study of The Walking Dead (2010–) fandom reveals how participants' discussion of the African American female character Michonne reinforces dehumanizing racial stereotypes of Black women. Turning their attention to fans of color, Faithe Day and Aymar Jean Christian (2017) find that marginalized audiences use online forums to collectively analyze and react to media texts. Kristen Warner's (2015b) work bears this out as she analyzes Black women's responses to the love affair between a Black woman and a white US president in the network drama Scandal (2012–). Warner posits that Black women take pleasure in the depiction of a desirable Black female protagonist because mainstream media culture excludes Black women—as both actors and consumers—from romance. By underscoring race, this genealogy of fan studies disrupts utopian visions of fannish activities and indexes the ways fans of color are transforming fan communities and the media industry writ large.

[2.7] Our contribution to the scholarship on race and fandom explores how fans' collective online engagement challenges the television industry's sweeping efforts to harness fan labor for network promotion. Following Wanzo's (2015) call to bring Black popular culture research into the fan studies canon, we use Crenshaw's (1993) theory of intersectionality to account for the particular ways race and gender oppression intersect for women of color. We also draw on hooks's (1992) concept of the oppositional gaze—a way of looking that resists dominant media narratives—to theorize how Sleepy Hollow fans reject commercial imperatives to cater to young white male viewers and (perhaps inadvertently) develop tactics that disrupt the role of fans as social media marketers. In what follows, we examine fan-driven social media campaigns on Twitter from the debut of Sleepy Hollow in 2013 through the season 4 premiere in 2017.

3. Ichabbie: Fan shipping and the oppositional gaze

[3.1] Sleepy Hollow's procedural detective format couples melodramatic narratives and supernatural horror in a generic hybrid designed to appeal to both male and female audiences. Whereas detective stories and dramatic action are hallmarks of traditionally male genres, the ardent relationship between Ichabod and Abbie is meant to appeal to women. Gender and genre mixing is not new; the television industry has a long history of creating hybrid formats to broaden its appeal to different types of audiences (Gitlin 1983; Scodari and Felder 2000). Sleepy Hollow's genre structure can be traced back to the long-running science fiction drama The X-Files (1993–2002), which, Scodari and Felder (2000, 245) find, pioneered the amalgam between the feminine elements of melodrama, emotional realism, and character-driven serial narrative and the masculine, plot-driven, episodic format. While the TV industry uses cisgender-based assumptions to script and market its programs, it is important to note that actual audiences regularly defy expectations; many women watch male-targeted series and vice versa. What is significant about Sleepy Hollow's generic hybrid is that detective, action-centered stories dominate the narrative while the budding romance is relegated to the background. Nevertheless, Sleepy Hollow writers teased a potential romantic relationship between Ichabod and Abbie by employing the classic will-they-or-won't-they and opposites-attract tropes. Because genre conventions provide viewers with a set of assumptions and patterns to guide their reactions (Mittell 2010), it is not surprising many female fans shipped the co-leads.

[3.2] Fans' desire to see Ichabod and Abbie fall in love can also be attributed to the narrative expectations in the romantic genre. As Janice Radway (1984) explains in her study of romantic fiction, the "ideal romance" between an initially independent heroine and a distant hero follows a typical formula: first the heroine's social identity is destroyed, then she engages in an antagonistic relationship with the hero, and finally, after a period of separation, she is reunited with the hero, he is kind to her, and she responds warmly. The narrative arc concludes as the hero declares his love for the heroine and her identity is restored (Radway 1984, 134). Throughout season 1, Ichabod and Abbie's relationship closely follows this pattern. Initially, Abbie's plan to join the FBI and begin a new life is thwarted when Ichabod arrives in Sleepy Hollow. Then Ichabod and Abbie struggle to relate to one another and tensions arise from their differences in race, gender, and era. In later episodes, Abbie and Ichabod come to each other's aid and eventually connect by working through past traumas together. At the end of season 1, their devotion to one another is cemented when Abbie sacrifices herself, taking his wife Katrina's (Katia Winter) place in purgatory. This separation fulfills the ideal narrative script and suggests that, when reunited, they will fall in love.

[3.3] However, writers did not develop a romantic plot for Abbie and Ichabod in season 2. In response, devoted Sleepy Hollow viewers used new media to produce fan art, short stories, and videos that give Ichabod and Abbie full lives and new adventures in alternate time lines and universes parallel to the narratives of the show. Jenkins's study of pre-internet fan fiction in Textual Poachers ([1992] 2013) examines how fans produce new meaning through the act of "poaching" canonical elements and repurposing them to suit fan interests. According to Jenkins, active audiences may not like or agree with canonical narratives and can quickly shift from eagerly accepting a text to actively resisting its transformations. Fans' "reading practices can be mobilized into active opposition to producer efforts…Fans' own rewriting of textual materials makes them active critics of future narrative developments and protectors of what they see as central to the program" (124). Within a fannish universe, Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (2006, 7) explain, the multiplicity of fan works creates a "communal (albeit contentious and contradictory) interpretation" of meanings within a source text. Fans' collective assumptions, what Sheenagh Pugh (2005) calls "fanon," come to supplement the original canon. A significant element of the Sleepy Hollow fandom is the overwhelming consensus that Ichabod and Abbie are in love. By taking a look the Sleepy Hollow fanon, we will see how shipping narratives reveal broader concerns about representations of Black women in popular culture.

[3.4] Sleepy Hollow fan texts vary in form and content; some are short one-off narratives, while others are as lengthy as a novel. Some stories remain within the Sleepy Hollow realm, while alternate universe (AU) stories reimagine the characters in different contexts. The latter give writers more creative liberty with the characters, enabling them to move away from fixed patterns and narratives established by the creators of the property. In Sleepy Hollow fandom, most fan fics explore the "Ichabbie" romance—a portmanteau of "Ichabod" and "Abbie." Media fandoms are largely made up of women and thus reflect women's concerns (Jenkins [1992] 2013, 48, 83). As Jenkins suggests, "fans are drawn to particular programs because they provide the materials most appropriate for talking about topics of more direct concern," such as "conceptions of masculinity and femininity" and "interracial relations" (83). Ichabbie fan fiction, we argue, seeks to recuperate romantic roles for Black women by removing Abbie from the realm of sexless sidekick and giving her a loving relationship.

[3.5] Ichabbie fan texts collectively retell Abbie's story in a way that empowers Black women. Jacqueline Bobo explains that marginalized viewers employ subversive reading tactics, what bell hooks deems an "oppositional gaze," to find pleasure in problematic media representations (Bobo 2002; hooks 1992). Communities of Black women viewers, Bobo suggests, create a "heightened consciousness" around intersectional oppressions and work to "create new self-images" and become a "force for change" (224). Even though the TV show presents only white love interests for Ichabod, fans employ an oppositional gaze to reimagine the canon and create a multidimensional Black woman who resists stereotypical images.

[3.6] One strand of Ichabbie fan fiction seeks to amend Abbie's demeanor as an aggressive and sometimes crude detective by developing her feminine side. To complicate her tough exterior on the show, the author of "Crying Lightning" (opalheart12 2016) depicts Abbie as multifaceted and open to sharing her feelings, without sacrificing her strength. As the story develops their love affair, Ichabod and Abbie are portrayed as much more emotionally available than they are on the show. Take these lines of introspection: "There was something between he and Abbie that felt organic, real…He knew that he didn't need to run away from whatever was between them." The author foregrounds Abbie's femininity by using descriptive words like "soft" and "sensual" while still maintaining her characteristic assertiveness. This balance is evident in the following account of an embrace: "She leaned forward and kissed him, soft and savoring, pulling him as close to her as she could get." By repositioning Abbie as a more feminine and emotionally vulnerable woman, fan fics subvert Abbie's canonical portrayal and undermine the stereotype that Black women are emotionally unavailable.

[3.7] The exploration of Abbie's femininity also manifests in pregnancy fan fics. In these stories, fans probe the potential for Ichabod and Abbie to be married and expecting a child—the ultimate domesticity. Whether set during or after the apocalyptic timeline or posited as an AU story, Ichabod and Abbie are imagined as happy together. The story "Improbable Home" by fan writer gnimaerd (2015) revolves around the pair being engaged in something as mundane as figuring out what to name their child as Ichabod dotes over Abbie. In a comment, user notlefthanded responded, "I reject canon and substitute yours." In "An Epilogue," written by MissMaudlin (2013) during season 1, an overly hormonal and emotional Abbie struggles to tell Ichabod she is pregnant with their second child. The author merges Abbie's canonical characterization (writing, for instance, "Abbie didn't cry: she was resilient, his wife. Absurdly brave, absurdly strong, absurdly smart, absurdly funny") with the author's own vision of Abbie's softer, "feminine" side, depicting her as emotional, passionate, and hormonal. The fantasy of the nuclear family allows fans to maintain Abbie's strength without sacrificing her personal life. Placing Abbie in the realm of domesticity and motherhood, fan writers subvert stereotypes of Black women as unfeminine and assertive single mothers who are too strong to keep a man (Hill Collins 2000, 76–77). These stories can be considered in relation to Scodari's (2012) observation that disruptions to canonical narratives are almost exclusively framed in relation to gender and sexuality. As these stories show, the content of Sleepy Hollow fan fiction reflects writers' own investments in transforming images of Black women as controlling.

[3.8] Despite this counter-hegemonic stance, fan fiction is valuable for Sleepy Hollow producers because it keeps fans engaged with the series. When fans produce extratextual content for free, they extend the world of the fictional universe and make the show more interactive and exciting for themselves and other viewers (Andrejevic 2008). Fan activities work to construct a social community around the series that deepens the emotional bonds viewers have with on-screen characters (Bourdaa and Lozano Delmar 2016). Further, fans provide free promotion for television programs as they share and circulate content on social media. Whereas fan fiction tends to work alongside industry efforts, the following sections explore the potential for fan activities to subvert industry objectives.

4. #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter: Fan critique of black female archetypes

[4.1] In season 2, Ichabod and Abbie's platonic relationship persists as a slew of new disruptions avert a potential romance. Initially, Ichabod's wife Katrina serves as an obstacle, and later, after Ichabod kills his wife to save Abbie, two more white love interests appear in season 3. All three of his temporary love interests are variations of the fair, damsel-in-distress character type: Caroline the Revolutionary War reenactor, Zoe the historian, and a retconned "Rambo" Betsy Ross. What's more, the narrative shifts focus from Abbie and Ichabod as co-leads in season 1 to Ichabod as protagonist in season 2. As fan writer Jennifer Munoz (2016b) states, "During the course of season two, Abbie's narrative and involvement within the story slowly began to dwindle down to single episodes. Almost to the point that Abbie's character was only there to provide aid to Ichabod wherever he was in danger then fade off into the background once again." If season 1 portrays Abbie as a strong, emotional, and driven co-lead, season 2 relegates her to the background to serve as Ichabod's devoted sidekick. In the spring of 2015, in response to Abbie's diminished romantic potential and stunted character development, fans created the hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter. This social media campaign illustrates the ways fans understand Abbie's characterization in relation to the historical stereotypes of Black women as caring Mammies and desexualized Strong Black Women.

[4.2] Fans point out that Abbie's character development fits the Mammy stereotype as her character is consigned to serving and enabling Ichabod and Katrina. In season 2, when Katrina is brought to the present day and reunited with her son, Abbie's character suffers at the expense of their family drama. She provides the couple with a cabin in the woods, houses them, and pays for utilities as they get reacquainted. In the episode entitled "Deliverance," Abbie even helps deliver a demon spawning inside Katrina. Fan Nichole Perkins observes that "Abbie has devolved into the dehumanizing stereotype of Black womanhood: the Mammy. Her character is now more of a desexed caretaker, constantly making sacrifices so others can have a better life" (2016). The Mammy, an archetype for a Black woman who works as an "obedient domestic servant" for a white family, emerged during US slavery to ensure Black women's subordinate relationship to elite white male power (Hill Collins 2000, 72). Since then, the stereotype has persisted to justify the ongoing employment of Black women in domestic service. The Mammy image lives on in pop culture imaginings of professional Black women who care for white people, and who are punished if they do not appear warm and submissive (73). To render Black women harmless in their places of employment, the Mammy is stripped of sexual impulses as she invests her physical and emotional labor in her job. While the Mammy has historically been depicted as an unattractive, overweight caregiver to white families, her outward appearance has been updated of late, allowing even a slim, conventionally attractive woman like Abbie to fall into that categorization.

[4.3] A modern incarnation of the Mammy stereotype is the Strong Black Woman, imagined as self-sacrificing and asexual. While the myth of the Strong Black Woman may appear to celebrate Black women's strength, it trades on the assumption that Black women can withstand the worst conditions without assistance. The Strong Black Woman is superhuman; she can do whatever it takes to survive while putting the needs of others above her own. As Abbie is set up to make sacrifice after sacrifice—sacrificing her love life, her time, and her well-being for those around her with no equal return—the myth of the Strong Black Woman endures. For most of the show's run, Abbie is trapped in a cycle of lovelessness and ghosts of boyfriends past. Many men come and go in her life, and the feelings of her past boyfriends were mostly unrequited. Potential beaus do appear in season 2, like artifacts dealer Nick Hawley (Matt Barr); however, they quickly disappear, never to be seen again. In season 3, FBI director Daniel Reynolds (Lance Gross) appears as an old flame looking to reconcile with Abbie. Since her supernatural mission has mentally exhausted her, the narrative arc surrounding Abbie's ability to return those feelings is reduced to a slow crawl. Overall, Sleepy Hollow writers imply that Abbie is the problem in her failed relationships and suggest she is not a viable romantic partner for someone like Ichabod. Despite Abbie's repeated sacrifices for Ichabod, she remains unworthy of him. She gives her whole self to the people she loves, but the audience is made to believe that, for some reason, she is not capable of receiving.

[4.4] For many Black female fans, the sidelining of Abbie represents long-held stereotypes about Black women in popular culture. As Tumblr user Annierra (2016) posits, "The center of the series was Abbie Mills/Nicole Beharie. She was the audience. She was us…As a Black woman, I don't see myself anymore in it. Abbie is not the help for Crane, for her white male partner. I am not the help. Abbie has her own identity outside of Crane…The show is not all about Ichabod Crane/Tom Mison. It was never just about him." Fans also used the aforementioned hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter to critique Abbie's role as a caretaker. Sleepy Hollow fan Justine Carter (2016a) explains that "#AbbieMillsDeservesBetter because she fought alongside Ichabod for 3 years yet was told she was just his help in the end @sleepywriters." ‏Similarly Twitter user CB (2016) critiques the devaluation of women of color (WOC), writing, "#AbbieMillsDeservesBetter than to be denied in her own partnership what WOC so often are: equality. Unique, #SleepyHollow? Nope. Familiar."

[4.5] The care work of the mythic Mammy figure also involves sacrificing her own needs for the demands of the white family. For instance, when Abbie goes back in time to Sleepy Hollow, New York, in 1781 to save Ichabod from his evil witch wife, she is jailed as a fugitive slave ("The Awakening"). Throughout the second and third seasons fans noticed that Abbie was sidelined as Ichabod's characterization progressed. Fans used the hashtag #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter to call out writers' overuse of the sacrificial narrative and to identify Abbie's Blackness as key to her suffering. Fans explain, "Like so many Black women we're used for our sacrifice but no one will sacrifice for us @sleepywriters @FOXTV" (Carter 2016b) and "#AbbieMillsDeservesBetter than to be the sacrificial pawn in Ichabod's 'destiny'" (Munoz 2016a). These fans and many others used the Twitter hashtag to identify the sacrificial Mammy stereotype and to urge writers to develop more nuanced storylines for Abbie.

[4.6] A related strain of fan criticism revolves around the narrative placement of Abbie as a Magical Negro—a Black character with special insight who serves to aid the journey of a white main character. The Magical Negro trope has a long history in US popular culture as a stock role for a selfless mystical figure whose sole purpose is to help the white male protagonist. Twitter fan Jeneé Osterheldt (2016) expresses her frustration at the writers' use of the trope, proclaiming, "#AbbieMillsDeservesBetter than to go from blackgirlmagic to magical negro. Put Sleepy Hollow to bed #notrope." The concept of Black girl magic was developed to "celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of Black women" (Wilson 2016), the qualities fans saw in Abbie in season 1. On Twitter, another fan (Georgi 2016) asserts, "Women do not exist just to further the plot of males! SHAME ON YOU @SleepyHollowFOX." Fan critiques address frustration with producers for reframing Abbie as a guide for Crane's journey, to the detriment of her character development.

[4.7] Fans also expressed disappointment in Abbie's failed love life, especially in light of Crane's surfeit of romantic interests. Tina Franklin's (2016) tweet explains that fans felt slighted by the arrival of new love interests for Ichabod, stating, "@SleepyHollowFOX @FOXNOW So now it can just be about Ichabod and all these other women? Snooore. No, thank you. #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter." Similarly, Miss Curly Fro (2016) expressed her dissatisfaction by using the side-eye emoji: "Like we've been through Crane's failed marriage and two or three girlfriends [two side-eye emojis] #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter." For these fans, Ichabod's love interests are not simply a distraction from the potential romantic pairing of Abbie and Ichabod. Instead, fans see this disparity through the intersectional lenses of racism and sexism. For instance, fans suggest that Abbie is ruled out as a romantic partner by virtue of not being Ichabod's "type." In other words, they noticed that all Ichabod's love interests were white women. Sharon (2016) of Black Girl Nerds observes, "It reminded me that you can throw a blonde girl on screen with any white guy and the general audience will not question the eventuality of a romantic relationship, but when the woman the (white) male lead is sharing intimate moments with is Black, then suddenly it's up for debate."

[4.8] This trend is not new or unique to Sleepy Hollow; there are contemporary analogs on other genre shows across networks, including Iris West on the CW's The Flash (2014–) and Michonne on AMC's The Walking Dead, who have all faced similar obstacles to romantic love and comprehensive characterization. Like Abbie, these African American women are often pushed aside by non-Black female love interests who are more readily legitimized by showrunners and fans. Even when Black women are cast as the primary romantic interests for white men, like Iris West in The Flash, there can be significant pushback from fans. White consumers and creators, Johnson (2015, 261) avers, uncritically reproduce the cultural myth of white cisgender heterosexual male superiority while perpetuating images of controlling Black women. Sleepy Hollow fans recognized that Abbie's lack of love interests reinforced the toxic Strong Black Woman stereotype that normalizes the desexualization of dark-skinned women in media. Women of color recognized themselves in Abbie, and never got to see her in a fully developed intimate relationship. Instead, fans saw a character who was too closed off and emotionally stunted to let herself be vulnerable.

[4.9] In fans' social media posts, they strategically use the hashtag #SleepyHollow to ensure their views appear in searches for the TV series, and use #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter to aggregate opposition to Abbie's stereotypical representation. In this way, the targeted campaign reaches a broad audience while also driving attention to their critique through Twitter algorithms that recognize trending hashtags on the site homepage. Many fans use the @ symbol to link their critiques to the official Sleepy Hollow Twitter account (@SleepyHollowFOX), the writers' room (@sleepywriters), and the Fox TV network (@FOXTV). This practice serves to amplify their critique of stereotypical representations and ensures industry executives receive their demands for better roles.

[4.10] While these strategies do more to resist race and gender hierarchies in representation and target audiences, this feedback remains valuable to producers. As Mark Andrejevic (2008, 25) explains, sites of fan discourse "can serve as an impromptu focus group, providing instant feedback to plot twists and the introduction of new characters even as they help to imbue the show with the kind of 'stickiness' coveted in the online world by creating a virtual community as an added component of the show." Even when fan feedback is not positive, it gives writers a chance to right wrongs, as showrunner Mark Goffman claimed he would do with Abbie's character before leaving the series (Busis 2014). At the very least, active fan resistance builds communities around a show that serve to extend viewer engagement.

5. #CancelSleepyHollow: Fan resistance and social media activism

[5.1] After season 2, showrunner Mark Goffman spoke with Entertainment Weekly about producers' relationship with fans, saying that he welcomed passionate viewer feedback and "actually engage[d] in [fan-producer] dialogue" (quoted in Busis 2014). When asked about the #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter hashtag, Goffman assured fans that writers were "very engaged in the social media atmosphere" and were devising an exciting narrative arc for Abbie in season 3. "Just trust us," he insisted (quoted in Busis 2014). Even though Goffman left the series after season 2 ended, it is not surprising that Abbie's unexpected death at the end of season 3 left fans reeling. On social media, fans explained they felt manipulated by producers who had teased a relationship between Ichabod and Abbie and used it to keep fans devoted to the series. By failing to respond to fan demands, producers undermined fans' faith in the series and effectively prompted a backlash. After Abbie's death, two fan campaigns emerged: one under the hashtag #CancelSleepyHollow, to reduce viewership and ratings, and another using #IAmAbbieMills, to support Black women in the television industry. In these campaigns, fans used social media as a public sphere to promote intersectional analysis and direct action to change representations and industrial working conditions for Black women.

[5.2] In the television industry, executives increasingly engage with fans on social media to encourage brand loyalty and mine conversations for consumer feedback. As Mark Andrejevic (2008, 24) explains, "Online viewer activity doubles as a form of value-enhancing labor for television producers in two ways: by allowing fans to take on part of the work of making a show interesting for themselves and by providing instant…feedback to producers." While Sleepy Hollow fans provided this labor—developing compelling stories in Ichabbie fan fic and providing concrete feedback through #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter posts—their work was not rewarded. Or, as fan ‏robsberry (2016) states, "No one listened." In response, fans turned their collective energy to getting the series canceled.

[5.3] After Abbie's shocking death, fans used social media to air their grievances with the show under the #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter and #CancelSleepyHollow hashtags. They even got the tags trending on Twitter, an impressive feat for a show with a relatively small following (Cheng 2016). Early reactions employed gifs and emojis to express widespread confusion and grief. However, as weeks stretched on, leading up to the potential renewal of the show for a fourth season, fans became increasingly critical, calling for its cancellation. In the following months, fans used social media to hound producers, executives, actors, and writers on the show for updates on the series' renewal status. Ultimately, fans decided to boycott the show by refusing to watch upcoming seasons. Twitter user ‏Qrtr4Thoughts (2016) posted, "I am still livid #sleepyhollow killed #abbiemills #abbiemillsdeservesbetter not watching S4," and Justina M. Ashley (2016) posted, "#SleepyHollow getting renewed is some straight up bullshit. I will not watch & will tell others not to watch. #abbiemillsdeservesbetter." As fans' frustration mounted, their social media strategies evolved from engaging with the show and trying to influence the narrative to boycotting the series.

[5.4] Suzanne Scott (2013, 320) describes active fans as "rebels waging a tactical resistance," and Melissa Brough and Sangita Shresthova (2012, ¶ 2.3) define fan activism as "fan-driven efforts to address civic or political issues through engagement with and strategic deployment of popular culture content." There is a long history of fan activism around television programming, with efforts focusing on keeping a show on the air, lobbying for a romantic pairing, and changing representations of race, gender, or sexuality. Famous instances include letter-writing campaigns to keep Star Trek and popular soap operas on the air in the 1960s (Earl and Kimport 2009) and more recent protests about "racebending," casting white actors to play characters who were originally understood as people of color (Lopez 2011). But not all fans seek nonwhite media representations, as evidenced by the social media backlash to the casting of African American actors like John Boyega in The Force Awakens and Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters. While many scholars have theorized the ways fannish engagement may translate into political action (Jenkins [1992] 2013; Lopez 2011; van Zoonen 2004), we are interested in the ways fan activism can disrupt the media industry. By not watching, Sleepy Hollow fans affected a media company's ability to profit from viewer ratings, social media feedback, and creative productions.

[5.5] Sleepy Hollow fans framed their refusal to watch as an intersectional critique of the treatment of Black women on TV. A writer on the fan website Fan Girl Uprising avers,

[5.6] Black women, who were the biggest supporters of this show, are so tired of this shit. Tired of terrific Black women characters dying to service the white guys story line. Tired of Black women getting tossed aside like a used drink cup by insensitive white show runners, even when they're integral to the show. Tired of being erased. It's more than just this one death, it's a whole freaking lifetime of being told by society that Black women Don't Matter. It's all the deaths, all the times the Black woman died to service someone else's story line piling up until fans suffocate under it. (swwoman 2016)

[5.7] These sentiments were echoed on Twitter by fans like Kim Richardson (2016), who posted, "I will never go back. The disrespect shown to Abbie and Nicole is unforgivable. #CancelSleepyHollow." Many tweets assessed the state of fan-producer relations and speculated that the creative team was out of touch with the actively engaged portion of their fan base. For a majority of female fans and fans of color, their attraction to the show was their connection to Abbie and the pleasure of seeing her in a leading role. So when co-creator Phillip Iscove (2016) tweeted, "I know you guys are upset but please try and remember I'm still a human being. Words have power," Sanna Olson (2016) suggested, "Maybe you should try to understand WHY people are so upset." On Twitter, user The Notorious R.O.B. (2016a, 2016b) responded, "Put yourself in the WOC's shoes, and watch through the lens of [the] person who constantly gets erased"; "You will see just how damaging it is to see yet another stellar WOC get erased AGAIN."

[5.8] Another campaign launched by Sleepy Hollow fans addressed the treatment of actress Nicole Beharie and, by extension, Black women in the entertainment industry. Using the hashtag #IAmAbbieMills, fans came to Beharie's defense through an outpouring of love and support. Fans praised her acting and the nuance she brought to Abbie's character as well as the importance of seeing Black women on television. Twitter user AicylA (@MissIVY_League) explains that she launched the hashtag to show that: "Nicole brings that strength to life in every character she plays. I've seen so much from Abbie that's a reflection of me" (2016). The hashtag is meant to serve as a tool "for Black women and others that connected with Beharie's character to share how being represented on screen is about more than fandom, or vanity, but about worth" (Hobbs 2016). Fans felt that when creators neglected Abbie's character, they degraded her value on the show and alienated that population of fans for whom Abbie served as an analog.

[5.9] Fans also used the #IAmAbbieMills hashtag to show solidarity with Beharie by sharing their own experiences with racism and sexism. On Twitter, Leslie Mac (2016) posted, "I am a Black Woman who has been hired to lead & then relegated to the background. #IAmAbbieMills," and Indigo Sky Tomato (2016) said, "#IAmAbbieMills because I'm brainy, unconventional, and outspoken, but front to guard my [heart emoji] because the world isn't kind to women like me." For many Black women, Abbie Mills proved not just a source of identification, but also a representation of the intersection of systemic racism and sexism they had also experienced. This discourse led fans to a broader critique of racism and sexism in the television industry. Fans further protested by leveraging their consumer power, as evidenced by ReBecca Theodore-Vachon, who tweeted, "my viewership and my coins are here for @NikkiBeharie and whatever projects she has coming up. #SleepyHollow is dead to me" (2016). Fans also created and sold #IAmAbbieMills t-shirts through, with proceeds contributed to Black Girls Rock, an organization that empowers and provides resources to Black women.

[5.10] Fan resistance emerged, in part, because Sleepy Hollow fans felt overlooked in favor of a whiter and more male audience. Fox has an institutional history of courting and dismissing Black viewers. Kristal Zook (1999) explains that Fox grew to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s by targeting Black viewers with Black-produced programming and then, after acquiring Sunday Night Football in 1994, swiftly jettisoned Black series to focus on the more desirable white male audience. Fox's current priorities are revealed by CEO Dana Walden's celebration of Mison, Sleepy Hollow's white male lead, and easy dismissal of Abbie's role in the series. In an interview with TV Line, Walden maintains, "What we know is that Tom Mison is a big star. And the Ichabod Crane character has been so central to the series and the storytelling and he feels like an original, big Fox character." She goes on to say that Beharie's departure does not have to be "the end of the life of the show" (quoted in Ausiello 2016). Network executives' appraisal of Mison as the linchpin of the narrative reaffirms white male centrality and suggests the network's prioritization of white viewers. Conversely, the network's decision to replace Beharie with a new character played by another actress of color (Janina Gavankar) demonstrates the devaluation of women of color. This inference is reiterated by former Sleepy Hollow star Orlando Jones (2016), an African American actor who was also booted from the show, in a tweet that affirms, "'The white male lead should totally sacrifice his life to protect the *dark skinned* black girl' said no development executive EVER." Fans like Monique11 (2016) draw a similar conclusion; she tweeted, "They bully a talented Black actress off the show to cater to a white er audience and are rewarded with a 4th season? Not surprised."

6. Conclusion

[6.1] Over the course of three seasons, Sleepy Hollow's dedicated fan base used social media to launch an intersectional critique and urge change in the industry. Their efforts involved writing fan fiction, calling out stereotypical representations, and boycotting the show. While these initial tactics inadvertently benefited media industries by helping promote the show and providing free market research, the fandom collectively changed its approach after season 3 and set its sights on boycotting the series. In protest, fans no longer produced a stream of content that could be mined and appropriated by the network. In its fourth season, Sleepy Hollow saw a steady decline in ratings, from upward of 8 million viewers in season 1 to an average of 1.91 million viewers in February 2017 (Deadline Team 2014; Mitovich 2017). While this shift can be attributed in part to the fact that the show had been moved to a quieter Friday night timeslot, fans felt that they played a role in the show's demise. In May 2017 Fox announced that the show had been canceled, and fans took to social media to celebrate by throwing a virtual party using the hashtag #SleepyHollowIsOverParty. Amid the digital festivities, fans continued to demand industry recognition: Twitter user Curious Maverick (2017) wrote, "I hope current and future showrunners are seeing the reaction to #SleepyHollowIsOverParty and taking notes on what NOT to do to their shows." While the potential for social TV to alter institutional power dynamics remains to be seen, Sleepy Hollow fans' evolving strategies show how organized actions can subvert institutional efforts to monetize fan engagement.

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