Professor talks diversity in media representation

Aymar Christian discussed his platform, Open Television which currently runs “Brown Girls,” a show with two Black women leads. (Kimia Rahbar | Daily Trojan)

Northwestern University professor Aymar Christian spoke on his research in TV representation and the challenges broadcast media creators face with content independence. The research analyzes the inequity often faced by marginalized creators associated with TV providers. 

More than 25 students attended the event Tuesday, which was held as part of the Annenberg Innovation Lab’s Civic Media Speaker series.

Christian, a communication studies associate professor, decided to create Open Television, a media channel that gives creators the freedom to make content aimed at audiences who want shows with more diverse representation. The platform functions as a hub for intersectional pilots and series that follow the events of queer or underrepresented characters. Christian recognized these shows as examples of the goals that OTV hopes to achieve in enforcing diversity. 

“You’re not only just consuming these images of women of color, but you’re supporting them in their diversity of their artistry,” Christian said. “It’s very, very real material and ‘audience-experienced.’”

Christian said he wants to increase diversity in media and provide a platform for Black and queer people to create more authentic shows audiences can relate to.

Affiliating with TV networks limits showrunners’ freedom to regulate their own projects, Christian said. Because of this, he said he wants OTV to be a form of broadcast media that shifts more creative liberty to TV show creators and appeals to a diverse audience such as through the show “Brown Girls” that features two Black women leads. 

Christian also said content providers such as Netflix and YouTube limit creators by restricting or excluding queer representation. In his research, he found that the lack of diversity on Netflix is due to the lack of diversity in Hollywood leadership. 

Christian said streaming platforms are unable to properly meet audience’s interests in representing minorities. 

“They’re not actually drawing from a labor pool that’s representative of their global distribution capacity and the richness of the consumer choices and experiences,” Christian said. “These inputs are not reflective of this audience.”

With OTV, Christian said he wants to create media centered on intersectionality, equity, justice and participatory action research. OTV benefits creators by encouraging them to reflect stories of minority communities, Christian said. 

Amai Wayans, who identifies as Black, lesbian and nonbinary, said inclusive media has helped shape her identity and that she appreciated that OTV created more inclusive broadcast media.

“Coming to terms with a lot of my marginalized identities has been found through finding these queer and [people of color] creators online, especially on YouTube,” said Wayans, a sophomore majoring in creative writing. “It’s nice to see that there’s more than just that and that we’re hopefully getting somewhere in the entertainment industry in regard  to representation.”

Christian encouraged other media makers to make a difference and change the state of TV production.

“I want [students] to be energized about making media more equitable because it’s hard work,” Christian said. “It’s underappreciated and underfunded, so I hope it was a bit of a pep talk to get them to remind them that they have the power to change media.”