Aymar Jèan “AJ” Christian is an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University. He published his first book, Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television (NYU Press) in 2018, and is currently writing his second, Open Systems, which explores how to repair systemic harm and discrimination in media, technology and research. His scholarship has been published in International Journal of Communication, Television & New Media, Social Media & Society, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, among other journals and edited collections. Hereceived his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Story Behind Hair Story: Reparative Practice in Media Production
Using the case study of original works featuring Black queer and women-identified artists I directed and produced, I ask: how can we repair the legacies of harm and bureaucracies of displacement in media production? This series explores how an indie intersectional platform developed a restorative justice process.
How can we repair the legacies of harm and bureaucracies of displacement in media production, without replicating those harms on a smaller-scale?
Film & television is in a reckoning on the politics of production. Writers and directors in Hollywood organizing for the industry to #EndLatinXclusion or follow-through with #Hollywood4BlackLives. Their crews, represented largely by the IATSE union, threatened to go on strike and shut down the industry in 2021 after an Instagram page (@ia_stories) published hundreds of stories of harm on set: from 18-hour days with no breaks to race/gender discrimination, and more. Post-pandemic, media workers are asking why telling stories has to harm the people who work to tell them.
For five years I ran a community-based experimental platform, OTV | Open Television working to challenge the hegemonic ways media is produced, distributed and exhibition, guided by intersectionality and local production (Chicago). The experiment continues to provide growing support for artists and media workers, but the team and I are now investigating the harm in our own community and developing strategies to mitigate it.
I want to explore this question of reparative production through the projects I directed for OTV. I directed three projects – one docu-series and two experimental pilots – each of which attempted to do production differently from Hollywood. I learned a lot from both my successes, which was mostly just finishing them, and my many mistakes, that shows how complex and intersectional harm and repair are.