Talk: Miriam J. Petty, "Insider/Outsider: Algorithms of Racial Intimacy on YouTube and Beyond"


Location: Zoom

Miriam Petty Headshot

This talk will consider Black YouTube content, viewership, recommendations, and the politics of the algorithm as essential context for understanding the risks and pleasures of more mainstream, commodified and mediated moments of intraracial intimacy. As Black producers, directors, showrunners, and other content producers gain traction and visibility across a variety of media outlets, their content often draws currency and cache from depictions of Black “insider” knowledge and intimacy. Relevant examples include HBO’s Atlanta, and its  “Barbershop” and “Tyler Perry” episodes; ABC’s Blackish, perhaps epitomized in its episode “The Nod;” and much of the content of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, with special emphasis on the sketch “A Courtroom Kiki.”

This talk will place such texts into conversation with mundane and controversial Black YouTube content. Petty is interested in the heightened stakes of commodifying intraracial intimacy for an interracial audience, given enduring, intersecting American hierarchies of power. She also considers the paradox of these more mainstream texts’ critical and mass popularity in a moment when Black critical and historical discourse is explicitly contested and undermined.

Miriam J. Petty is Associate Professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film and Associate Dean for Academic Programs in Northwestern’s Graduate School. She writes and teaches about race, genre, stardom, and performance. Her award-winning book, Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood explores the limits and possibilities of Black stardom during the “golden age” of mainstream US cinema. Petty’s work has appeared in Genders, the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, and the Quarterly Review of Film and Video. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal for Cinema and Media Studies, and as a co-chair of SCMS’ Committee on Antiracism, Equity, and Diversity. Petty is currently at work on Madea’s Baby, Tyler’s Maybe, a monograph charting the industrial and cultural appeals of Tyler Perry’s films and plays, from 1998 to 2019.

This talk is the third in a series on De-Centering Film, Television, and Theatre.

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