Authors to Discuss ‘Complexity of Blackness in Media’ as Part of Speaker Series

Vivian Fan, Cornell Daily Sun, September 18th 2018

Two prominent members of the black community within the field of media studies, both of whose work is currently featured in the PMA 3463: Contemporary Television course curriculum, will share their experience in media in the annual “Voices & Visions in Black Media” lecture series this week.

These lectures aim to “engage and critically explore the world of blackness on screen and behind the camera,” according to Cornell’s Performing and Media Arts Department website.

Both speakers, Prof. Racquel Gates, media culture at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, and Prof. Bambi Haggins, film and media studies at the University of California, Irvine, are respected scholars in their fields, according to Prof. Samantha Sheppard, performing and media arts, the main organizer of the events.

Sheppard told The Sun that she hopes that “people will walk away thinking about the contemporary media landscape in a new and much more complex way.”

This annual speaker series began in 2015 under a slightly different name — “Voices & Visions in Black Cinema” — when Sheppard invited four speakers to campus with PMA department and the Minority, Indigenous and Third World Studies Research Group. The event also included accompanying screenings of four significant films in black cinema history.

“I wanted people to have the opportunity to listen to a lot of the great new scholarships coming out on black media,” Sheppard said. “I wanted to make PMA at Cornell a central place for these kind of lectures and discussions.”

With a small change in name, this lecture series continued the next year and turned into an annual event.

“Replacing ‘cinema’ with ‘media’ allows us to speak to the diversity in the engagement to blackness,” Sheppard said.

This year’s event does not include screenings, favoring “dynamic and well-regarded speakers who want to speak to the changing industrial representational landscape of black media practices today” instead, according to Sheppard.

Gates’s new book, Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture, interrogates the “complexity of blackness and negative representation in media,” according to Sheppard.

“This is a game changing book and I really want to make sure Cornell has a chance to engage with this new, fresh scholarship,” Sheppard added.

Haggins’ book, Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America, engages with well-known contemporary black comedians.

Sheppard hoped that students will appreciate the opportunity to interact with authors whose works they read in class.

“My students in ‘Contemporary Television’ read a section from Haggins’ book and will read Gates’s book later in the semester,” she said. “It’s a fantastic chance to see and interact with scholarship live.”

Each lecture will last an hour and will include an interactive portion in which the attendees can ask questions, argue counterpoints or provide additional insights.

Other than learning about the “driving critical questions and curiosities that are coming out of black media scholarship,” Sheppard hoped that the attendees will receive new lenses to “see the world around them in a different light.”

“Both of these speakers are going to take familiar things and de-familiarize them in ways that will be productive,” Sheppard added.

Gates’ “Double Negative” lecture will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Film Forum in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts in Collegetown. Haggins’ “Laughing Mad” lecture will take place Thursday, September 27, 2018, at 4:30 p.m., also at the Schwartz Center.