Alison Trope

Alison Trope Ph.D. is Director of Critical Media Project and Clinical Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School for Communication at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. She is the author of Stardust Monuments: The Saving and Selling of Hollywood (Dartmouth, 2012), which explores the enduring efforts to memorialize and canonize the history and meaning Hollywood takes on in our everyday lives. She teaches a range of courses in the Annenberg School on media and news literacy, gender and media, popular culture, media exhibition, media and social change, fashion, and visual culture.

Critical Media Project

Critical Media Project is a media literacy initiative and web resource for educators and students (ages 8-22) designed to help youth see, understand, and engage across difference—fundamental skills for fostering empathy and civic engagement in a diverse multicultural environment. By exploring questions of identity —race and ethnicity, class, gender, LGBT Q, religion, disability, and age—through the lens of media, CMP helps students challenge stereotypes, bias, and discrimination and offers tools for youth to reimagine their futures, amplify their voices, and seed their individual and communal power. With its combination of educational materials and creative hands-on projects, CMP enhances young people’s critical thinking and empathy, and builds on their capacities as local and global citizens to advocate for change and social justice.

The mission

  • EXPLORE: To observe and become cognizant of messages about identity that surface in everyday media and culture
  • EXPAND: To understand and gain perspective on the historical, social, and political contexts of media representations of different identities
  • EXCAVATE & EXPLICATE: To critically decode and develop skills to analyze the meanings, assumptions, and ideologies behind various representations of identity across media genres and platforms
  • EXPRESS & ENGAGE: To develop and deploy strategies and skills to create one’s own representations, tell one’s own stories, and create empowered counter-narratives

The site

  • Over 600 embedded pieces of media to date including short descriptions and discussion questions, searchable and tagged by genre and identity categories.
  • Curriculum with topic overviews (including downloadable lesson plans and worksheets) on each identity. Sample here.
  • Glossary of terms and links to resources from popular press, academic sources, and related organizations.

Sample media

The playlists

CMP offers a range of curated playlists that can be used for individual lessons or extended over an entire unit. Each playlist suggests media that can be shown in the classroom or viewed at home in a sequence recommended by CMP. Playlists cover each of the main identity categories (e.g. gender, race & ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion, age, disability) on the site as well as other focused topics that may be germane to school curriculum (e.g. immigration, protest and social movements, feminism). Each playlist ends with an invitation to produce media that addresses issues or themes that come up in the playlist.  We have many playlists in development including ones on gentrification, surveillance, environmental justice, cancel culture, and gendered violence.

Playlist sample: “black protest and social movements”

Critical creation (diy)

These activities can be used in conjunction with specific media examples on CMP or more generally used to elicit class discussion and critical thinking. It may be useful to review the section that overviews key concepts tied to each identity and consider how we understand our identities and the ways our identities are shaped by media. Many of these exercises can be adapted for one-time use or extended for use over the course of a unit or series of units. Feel free to transform and manipulate them to fit your lesson plans.

The ‘i too am’ programs

I TOO AM Critical Makers Lab

The I TOO AM Critical Makers Lab offers an extended learning and enrichment opportunity for 8-11th grade students from South LA schools. The lab is organized around questions related to identity and representation, asking students to reflect on who they are and how they can represent themselves, their community, their story through several media making projects (video on YouTube).

The I Too Am Media Festival showcases media created by Los Angeles high school youth, and provides a platform for community reflection and discussion. With a focus on identities, these projects collectively consider visibility and invisibility in popular media, and the power of self- representation as a marker of belonging and reclaiming space. We sought to empower youth in the practice of storytelling as civic engagement. Most importantly, we want young people to harness the power of media in order to affirm who they are, who they hope to be, and envision the world they wish to inhabit. The festival included guest visits from activist Edna Chavez and actor-musician Brett Gray, as well as workshops focused on zine-making, music production, and storyboarding.

‘I Too Am’: Teens, Media Arts, & Belonging brought together faculty and students from Annenberg and Cinema’s Media Arts + Practice Division with teachers and students from three Los Angeles high schools, providing youth with critical and creative tools to share stories about identity and belonging in the face of transitions and displacement. Youth address the question: ‘what is my story?’ as it relates to place, race, and class, considering what it means to be an American, a Californian, an Angeleno, and part of a local community. Field trips transport youth to varied geographic environs, asking them to reflect on the way place speaks to us based on our backgrounds, shaping who we are, and how we see our own communities through a new lens. High-school students document their experiences, presenting them in a culminating event that collectively reflects on the impact of demographic and social change on community and place.

The impact

Curriculum in schools has served

  • 10 public and charter schools in Los Angeles
  • 1400+ middle and high school students since Fall 2015
  • 40 classes including: English, Social Studies, Ethnic Studies, Journalism, Art, Film Production, Animation
  • 100+ teachers via professional development training with templates for individual lesson plans as well as longer curricular units to incorporate into classroom instruction

“In light of the current socio-political climate in recent months, I feel the CMP and its subject matter are now more important than ever, if we are ever to bridge an understanding among all peoples, and the voices of the youth and their experiences need to be heard on all platforms of media.” Tammy Amrhein, English Teacher, Bravo Medical Magnet High School

Critical Media Project: The Power of Educational Interventions

Journal of Multimedia Literacy (Media, Making & Movement: Bridging Media Literacy and Racial Justice Through Critical Media Project)