When Heather Busby, the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, saw Hulu’s SXSW activation that featured women stalking the streets of Austin dressed as the “handmaids” from the company’s forthcoming adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, she had an idea for them: Could they stop by the Texas Capitol, about ten blocks away from the SXSW hub at the Austin Convention Center? The state legislature, which was in the midst of debating a handful of new abortion restrictions, could use some haunting, Busby figured.
“I posted on Facebook that I wished they would walk through the Capitol, and that started a conversation about, ‘Why don’t we just do it?'” Busby recalls. She tried to reach out to Hulu to see if they would still be in town when the Texas Senate began debating SB 415, which bans so-called “dismemberment abortion” (which has no medical definition) then quickly turned her focus to replicating the costume, recruiting volunteers to wear them, and organizing the demonstration within the four-day window.
Pulling the costumes together was a scramble–dresses ordered online turned out to be “very pink,” rather than the dark red of the book–but robes that a volunteer found at a local costume shop served to do the job in a pinch, resulting in the same creepy, strikingly anachronistic images that the Hulu activation at SXSW helped create.
It’s an extremely 2017 thing when your political protest looks like a SXSW brand activation–but from Busby’s perspective, it’s to her organization’s benefit that Hulu’s SXSW stunt looked like a political protest.
“The two went hand-in-hand,” she says. “I don’t really have a lot of confidence that many members of the Texas legislature actually read that book, so the fact that the Hulu handmaids got a lot of publicity really sent a message. We didn’t have to do a lot of work pushing it the way we would have if we were just doing a protest referencing a book that’s a little more obscure. If you go to the airport now, you see giant posters for The Handmaid’s Tale. The show helped bring out the visibility.”