How ‘Knives Out’ and a fan page for Ana de Armas harness the power of stan Twitter
The “Knives Out” social media team and the Twitter account @ArmasUpdates have a common goal: to celebrate last year’s hit whodunit and, by extension, the movie’s breakout star, Ana de Armas.
But two of the actress’s biggest Twitter cheerleaders found themselves at odds this month after the 23-year-old cinephile behind @ArmasUpdates publicly exposed the @KnivesOut account for blocking him on the platform. The resulting feud went somewhat viral — albeit among a niche audience — even catching the attention of director Rian Johnson who, like many others, wondered what was afoot.
When examined with a detective’s magnifying glass, the clash is a case study of the intersection of film marketing and stan Twitter — a subset of social media devoted to championing, or “stanning,” a certain celebrity, film, TV series, etc. In their approaches to audience engagement, movie studios and accounts like @ArmasUpdates harness the power of stan Twitter to achieve the widest possible reach.
“Obviously, we wouldn’t be anywhere [without] our followers, inclusive of @ArmasUpdates, and we’re super thankful to have our fans who are willing to be good sports or even interact with us in the first place,” said Liam Santamaria, a social media manager on the “Knives Out” team.
“At the end of the day, I think we’re just hanging out with hundreds of our online friends, and that’s just the way we have to approach it.”
The events leading to the showdown — and eventual collaboration between — @KnivesOut and @ArmasUpdates can be traced to April, when De Armas rocked the stan Twitter-verse by blocking one of her most vocal social media disciples.
“When that happened, I was taken aback,” the admin of @ArmasUpdates, who goes by A.J. to protect his identity, told the Los Angeles Times. “I felt hurt a little bit. I was disappointed, but it’s her feelings. ... I can’t be the person to dictate what she thinks.”
To the outside observer, an actor blocking a lone Twitter account might not seem a big deal. But this is a stan Twitter account — a page dedicated to hyping De Armas and her skyrocketing career by sharing daily photos, videos and news alerts about her life. (The term “stan” derives from rapper Eminem’s 2000 song “Stan,” which is about an obsessive fan; it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary a few years ago.)
A.J., who had “been around stan Twitter a lot,” decided to create the account to support the Cuban Spanish actress after she appeared as an empathetic A.I. in 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049” and later as Marta Cabrera, the sharp-witted moral anchor of “Knives Out.”
“When I saw her in [‘Blade Runner 2049'], I knew that she was going to be a star. She had ... a performance that stayed with you,” he said. “And also, because I’m Latino and she’s Latina, it’s exciting for me to have someone of my ethnicity thriving in Hollywood right now. I mean, it’s been probably since Jennifer Lopez that we had a movie star on that level.”
Since November 2019 — the same month “Knives Out” opened in theaters — A.J. has been using @ArmasUpdates to promote De Armas’ projects past, present and future. (Up next, she stars as Paloma in the James Bond film “No Time to Die” and as screen icon Marilyn Monroe in Netflix’s “Blond.”)
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In the process, A.J. has gained some fans of his own, who appreciate the wry captions he attaches to paparazzi snaps of De Armas and boyfriend Ben Affleck — easily the most photographed couple of the COVID-19 quarantine.
Though A.J. claims he began sharing paparazzi shots only after De Armas seemed “comfortable” being photographed in public, he suspects it was his witty commentary on her personal life that ultimately got him snubbed by his idol.
His last tweet before the fateful blocking, for example, featured photos of De Armas and Affleck — unofficially known as BenAna — out on one of their many strolls, with a snarky caption that read, “Ana de Armas & Ben Affleck walk their dogs outside instead of praying for the pandemic to go away on Easter Sunday.”
“Presumably in solidarity with Ana de Armas, because we’re going to take her side on everything,” the @KnivesOut team admitted to blocking @ArmasUpdates as well, despite being “big fans of the account” and none of them remembering doing so.
Though A.J. said he privately reached out to the “Knives Out” team months ago in an attempt to resolve the situation quietly, it wasn’t until he called them out on Twitter last week that they responded.
None of the four men who run @KnivesOut — Santamaria, Eric Dachman, Sebastian Crank or Michael Castillo — recalled hearing from A.J. before their public Twitter spat, but “just decided to roll with it” once they saw @ArmasUpdates’ online challenge:
“BREAKING,” A.J. posted in his signature dramatic style, along with the obligatory screenshot receipt. “The official Knives Out film twitter account has also blocked us!”
In return, the film’s social squad really did bring its knives out, taunting @ArmasUpdates with cheap shots like, “Thank god @ArmasUpdates can’t read this” and “Imagine not being able to read [Ana de Armas’] tweets.”
On Twitter, A.J. played along, firing back with pointed clips of Mariah Carey singing, “Why you so obsessed with me?” or Emma Roberts remarking on “clowns who are desperate for air time.” People who are plugged in to both stan Twitter and film Twitter — including Johnson — were confused and entertained by the heated exchange.
But behind the scenes, A.J. was feeling “harassed” by @KnivesOut’s “sinister tone,” and he told his mock adversaries as much when Lionsgate finally contacted him to apologize and make amends.
“We definitely felt bad,” social media designer Crank told The Times. “From our perspective, it was all jovial. We were having fun with it. And when we realized ... we had hurt him, we felt bad. So we unblocked him and offered him some photos of Ana that had never been seen before, that were sourced from Rian [Johnson] himself, as a peace offering.”
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A.J. appreciated the gesture: exclusive stills from De Armas’ screen test for “Knives Out,” which he promptly released via @ArmasUpdates — along with a seemingly scripted reminder to watch “Knives Out” on “4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital streaming platforms (free with an Amazon Prime Video subscription) for quality quarantine entertainment.”
That final flourish raised eyebrows and caused some internet sleuths to suspect foul play.
“I knew people were thinking, ‘Oh, they probably paid them,’ and I wanted to be tongue-in-cheek in posting this advertising type of text,” A.J. explained, adding that no one from the @KnivesOut team had asked him to do so. “That was just me being silly, like I’m giving them promo.”
Although A.J. tacked on the overt promotional language as a joke, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume that he was in cahoots with Lionsgate in a cyberspace where the lines between stan Twitter and movie marketing have become increasingly blurred.
After all, part of the reason A.J. felt so betrayed when @KnivesOut blocked him was because he had already “done so much promotion and championing of this movie,” free of charge. And ultimately, @KnivesOut’s decision to engage with their star’s No. 1 stan on Twitter was, of course, a strategic one.
“From a strategy perspective, we always strive to talk with our fans, not at our fans,” said Dachman, manager of global social media strategy. “So we’re always using social in the way that our fans are using social because we’re fans too. We interact a lot with the @ArmasUpdates stan account because our @KnivesOut account is a stan account.”
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Modeling the @KnivesOut brand after stan pages such as @ArmasUpdates means taking a more “conversational” tone and “trying to not be overly promotional” so as not to alienate their audience. It also means occasionally changing the @KnivesOut display name to the “Chris Evans Sweater Stan Account,” routinely checking in on loyal fans, and even cross-stanning other popular titles such as Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.”
“If there’s any other opportunities to see something that I love and ... use it as a potential cross-promotion ... then we do it,” social media manager Castillo said. “Growing up and being very passionate about what you’ve always really loved has definitely helped us in terms of going out to these stan accounts and also sharing the love.”
When it comes to staying relevant in a rapidly evolving social landscape, both @KnivesOut and @ArmasUpdates have mastered the art of adapting the latest viral meme formula — and delivering timely commentary on current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The @ArmasUpdates feed has developed a watchdog reputation for holding BenAna accountable whenever they step out sans face masks. As a healthcare professional who spends his stressful workdays screening people for COVID-19 symptoms, A.J. knows all too well the importance of shielding oneself and others with personal protective equipment.
“It transferred over when the pandemic started,” A.J. said. “I thought it’d be a nice spin to have this-self awareness and to be in on the joke with people. Like, ‘Yeah, we understand that Ana’s not doing this, too, and we’re making her accountable for it.’ We’re not people that are doing blind worship for her.”
Representatives for De Armas didn’t respond to requests for comment.
For the @KnivesOut crew, which has to run content ideas up the Lionsgate ladder first, encouraging safe health practices looks like Photoshopped key art of Jamie Lee Curtis wearing a mask, or a socially distanced riff on a “Knives Out” movie poster featuring De Armas, Evans and costar Daniel Craig standing several feet apart.
“During the pandemic, there’s just a lot more activity on social media,” Crank said. “On Twitter, we’ve seen engagement go up pretty much across the board. We’re still remaining respectful. ... but we also want to make sure that we’re staying relevant.”
Despite the rocky start to their online relationship, both @KnivesOut and @ArmasUpdates are using similar means to the same end. And A.J. has even considered taking his refined stanning skills to a professional level (cc: Lionsgate social), with the undeniable success of @ArmasUpdates and its 23,500 followers on his resume.
For now, though, he’s content to endorse De Armas as a stress-relieving hobby in hopes that they can one day “come to an agreement for an unblocking.”
“Anyways,” he said, “stan Ana de Armas.”
11:58 AM, Jul. 20, 2020: This story has been updated with a clarification of the roots of the word “stan.”
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