Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Television, or Black to Web Series

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

This is truly a great time for television, especially television which represents more diverse audiences than we have ever seen before. But, even with all of the communities being represented on TV there is always room for improvement, and much of my research argues for greater inclusion of Queer and BIPOC people through ushering in more online content and creatives in the mainstream television sphere. While this was a novel idea when I started researching web series in the early 2000’s, creators of online content have experienced quite a renaissance in the past couple of years.

From Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl to shows like Broad City and Lena Waithe’s Twenties, web series have made their way from the small screen to much larger audiences. As I reflect back on my research, it is apparent that there are a variety of reasons why, and how, these creators were able to leverage their digital platforms in order to break into the mainstream media sphere. Therefore, I have included a brief overview of multiple genres of Black webs series, as an example of how content creators use an identification with a niche audience, and the affordances of the internet, to make television history.

How I Got Started with Black Web Series

In February of 2011, a recent Stanford graduate released a short video titled “The Stop-Sign” on the burgeoning video sharing and social media platform YouTube. This single episode spawned the now well-known series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl which arguably heightened the visibility of Black web series online and the movement towards indie television production for the public and multiple content creators.

While Issa Rae’s series capitalized on the intersection of being an Awkward and Black Girl, more recent series have pushed the envelope of intersectionality to explore the many identity categories that can be found within the Black community. Similar to producers like Rae, Black queer content creators have looked to network and cable television, and found that representation of themselves has been lacking. Therefore, these creators have chosen to carve out a niche in the web series market to tell their own stories.

YouTube’s Black and Queer Content

Drawing on a legacy of Black television and film production, Black queer web series remediate the earlier media form of Black film and television in order to usher in a 21st century revival of indie Black cultural production. Through video sharing and social media platforms such as YouTube, content creators and users are afforded unique opportunities to engage with video content and each other on a variety of levels.

Within the larger realm of the YouTube sphere, various viewing publics are constituted based on the interpellation of specific identity formations by content creators/producers as well as consumers/viewers. Similar to the conception of intended and actual audiences within literary and film criticism, through tagging and content choices, most YouTube content creators explicitly construct an intended audience or viewing public for their videos.

This method is also especially important for constructing the audienced for Black queer web series as these series hail a particular viewing public in their selection of tags. Specifically, tags for Black queer web series reference their content as LGBTQ in order to garner. Black queer web series not only increase the representations of Black identity in the media, but they also do community work through the specificity of their representation as well as the social issues that each series address.

These issues and forms of representation are seen in lesbian series such as Michelle Daniels’ Between Women and Coqui Hughes’ If I Was Your Girl which address concerns around domestic abuse in same-sex relationships and the unique challenges of incarceration for queer people of color, as well as representing women on a continuum of gender performance, sexual identification, and expression.

Series such as No Shade not only portray the experiences of Black gay men from various stages in their life journey, but the series also gives a unique portrayal of the character Danielle a male to female trans woman of color. In this sense, queer of color web series set the stage for the creation of queer community online through identification with both the content creator and the characters and issues addressed within the series.

A More Equitable Future for Television

While mainstream media tends to promote what José Muñoz calls “disidentification” between the queer of color subject and the text, I believe that queer of color web series promote a form of queer recognition, as viewers are able to see themselves reflected through the series representation.

The importance of this representation and recognition not only extends to the Black queer community but also to those outside of it. Within media studies, film and television are able to represent a form of reality which gives it the power to portray what is viewed as normative within society. When individuals do not see themselves represented within the media it is not only easy to believe that their identity is not normal, but it is even easier for other people to believe that their identity is abnormal or deviant.

By producing a variety of content the burden of representing all people within a particular identity category does not fall on one program. The current proliferation of Black content creators writing and producing for Black audiences helps to foster a sense of belonging while expanding the conception of how Black identity can/should be embodied and performed. And, while it is commonly stated that the revolution will not be televised, Black web series have proven that the revolution in television will most certainly be seen online.

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Writer, Creator, and Educator. Millennial and Internet Expert. https://fjday.com

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Faithe J Day

Faithe J Day

Writer, Creator, and Educator. Millennial and Internet Expert. https://fjday.com

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