How do representations of women of color serve to “brand” TV networks and film studios? In May, 2018 Professors Aymar Jean Christian and Miriam Petty screened clips of recent critically acclaimed shows like Insecure and Queen Sugar and discussed how they fit into strategies of major media brands. The conversation was presented by the Block Museum of Art in partnership with the 2018 Evanston Literary Festival and in conjunction with the exhibition Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded which takes a critical eye to the ways in which advertising and media can instrumentalize identity.
“For me branding is a practice really dominated by corporations. We are all supposed to ‘brand’ right now,” said Christian within his introduction. “In television brands are networks. NBC, HBO, Netflix Hulu, those are all brands and they think about what they release as part of their brands. Mostly they don’t think about folks who are intersectionally identified at all…. unless there is something they can throw on their schedules to make them ‘hot.’
Aymar Jean Christian is an assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and a Fellow at the Peabody Media Center. His first book is Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television. His work has been published in numerous academic journals, including The International Journal of Communication, Cinema Journal, Continuum, and Transformative Works and Cultures. He leads OTV | Open Television, a research project and platform for intersectional television.
Miriam J. Petty is an associate professor of Screen Cultures in Northwestern’s Department of Radio, Television, and Film. Petty writes and teaches about race, stardom, performance, reception, adaptation, and genre and is especially interested in the history of African American representation in Hollywood film. Her first book, Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood (University of California Press) explores the complex relationships between black audiences and black performers in the classical Hollywood era.