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Researcher takes on legacy television in new book on web TV

Aymar Jean Christian
Photo courtesy of Aymar Jean Christian

EVANSTON - Northwestern University researcher Aymar Jean “A.J.” Christian will read from his new book, “Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television,” in a discussion about the place queer and intersectional people have in the future of television at the Museum of Contemporary Art from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Christian, founder of Open TV (beta) -- a platform for the development and distribution of television by and for queer, trans and cis-women, and artists of color -- will talk about the promise of the web in making television more representative, the repeal of net neutrality and the changing landscape in Hollywood.

“This is all playing out under the rule of our first television-producing president, and the Trump Administration has been openly hateful toward minorities and queer people,” Christian said. “With the repeal of net neutrality, lawmakers have given corporate interests more power to silence the people who are the targets of that hate.” 

The book is a full study of web TV based on Christian’s experience working in and documenting this emerging art form and market. In the book, Christian says he designed Open TV to acquire data on the value of small-scale distribution to intersectional communities historically excluded from legacy television development.

He argues that creators like Issa Rae and Katja Blichfeld, whose web projects have made the jump to primetime television, used the Internet to reach audiences that legacy television has historically discounted.

Open TV was a springboard for the wildly popular, Emmy-nominated web series “Brown Girls,” a dramatic comedy about a queer South Asian writer in her 20s in Chicago that was recently acquired for possible development by HBO. 

The book and Christian’s platformshow how we have left “the network era” far behind and entered the networked era, with the web opening up new possibilities for independent producers, entrepreneurs and media audiences.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is part of “In Progress,” a new series at the MCA that gives visitors a glimpse into the working practices of artists, curators and creative thinkers.

Christian is assistant professor of media, technology and society in Northwestern’s School of Communication. As a scholar, Christian can speak to the changing dynamics of the television industry, trends in web TV development, independent production, diversity and intersectionality in creative industries and the politics of social media platforms.

He will be joined by film historian Jacqueline Stewart, a professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. Stewart’s research and teaching explore African American film cultures from their origins to the present. She directs the Southside Home Movie Project and is the author of “Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity.”

“Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television” was published by NYU Press 2018.

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