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Racquel Gates
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Panels, Caucuses, and the "Drake After Dark."

Posted By Racquel Gates, Sunday, March 10, 2013

I am not typically a morning person, but there was no way that I was going to miss the "Mediating Black Embodiment" panel, even if it was at 9:00 in the morning. Samantha Sheppard gave a fantastic paper about bodily performances of triumph and defeat in Oliver Stone's film Any Given Sunday. Building on Harvey Young's work on black embodiment, Sheppard used the term "muscle memory" to think about black experience and the social and cultural legacies that are made evident via black bodily performances in sports and on film. Next, Brandeise Monk-Payton explored issues of race, desire, pleasure, and black female embodiment in the television show Scandal. Bravely tackling a show that is still on air, Monk-Payton placed Scandal's (literal and figurative) projection of desire onto Olivia Pope's body within the context of other black female bodies circulating discursively such as Janet Jackson and Michelle Obama. Finally, Miriam Petty discussed the little known maternal melodrama One Mile from Heaven, which stars African American actress Fredi Washington (of Imitation of Life fame) as a black woman who is forced to give up the white child that has been in her care since birth. Reading the film against the more well known Stella Dallas, Petty traced the ways that Washington's race (and fair skin) functioned within the film to construct her as simultaneously more maternal and less mature than her white counterpart.

After lunch and a 2nd coffee, I attended the "Black Cinema Aesthetics Revisited" panel. Giving papers that will ultimately form parts of an anthology, presenters addressed a wide array of topics. In his opening statement, chair Michael Gillespie talked about the timeliness of the collection and its necessity. Allyson Field discussed the filmic language of the film Sankofa. Among other things, Field discussed the ways that the film complicates notions of viewer identification, racial subjectivity, and time. Lokeilani Kaimana discussion of Daughters of the Dust as a queer film was both innovative and instructive. Akil Houston's discussion of Hip-Hop culture's invocation of 1970s Black Cinema themes and icons formed a necessary bridge between older forms of black popular culture and contemporary expressions. Finally, Keith Harris proposed that we shift our framework for defining and analyzing "black film." Invoking Gladstone Yearwood's Black Film as Signifying Practice, Harris advocated a move away from thinking about films solely from the perspective of raced bodies and instead, through the lens of cultural blackness.

I finished the evening with a soul-affirming meeting of the African/African American caucus. If you are not already a member of a caucus or a SIG, I highly suggest joining one and attending their meeting at next year's SCMS in Seattle. In addition to offering functional assistance with things like panel suggestions and publishing opportunities, these groups provide an additional sense of community within the field. After an enthusiastic and productive meeting where we brainstormed ideas for future panels and workshops and handled additional caucus business, we adjourned to the Palm Court for drinks, food, and fellowship. By the way, did you know that the Drake gets kind of crunk after hours? I heard a rumor that a few scholars celebrated the close of a successful SCMS 2013 by doing the Cupid Shuffle and the Wobble out on the dance floor, but I can neither confirm nor deny.

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A Few Workshop Highlights

Posted By Racquel Gates, Sunday, March 10, 2013

While many of us will present our work on panels during SCMS, I find myself most exhilarated by the various workshops in which I participate and attend. On Thursday, I participated in the workshop "Marlon Riggs's Tongues Untied at 25." Chaired by David Gerstner, participants included Vivian Kleiman, E. Patrick Johnson, Cornelius Moore, and Rhea Combs. Although we hadn't shared our talking points beforehand, I was thrilled to see how our various perspectives formed a thoughtful and cohesive reflection on Riggs's noted film. Kleiman discussed the issues in the film's production and distribution; Moore talked about responses to the film's recent screenings at MoMA and the Schomburg Center; Johnson provided strategies for teaching the film in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms; Combs traced the enduring legacy of the film's impact on contemporary artists like musician Frank Ocean; I mused on the idea of what sites of popular culture might take up the issues of race and masculinity that Riggs raised in Tongues Untied. During the Q&A, while some attendees focused on more practical questions of how to teach the film, a larger question arose during our discussion. What is the contemporary equivalent of Tongues Untied? Although the question was left unanswered, it did prompt us to think further about the definition of "activist" media and moreover, to consider sites of media production that are often overlooked in such discussions.

The next day, I attended the "Teaching Women in Film in 2013" workshop. Chaired by Paula J. Massood and Antje Ascheid, participants included Lucy Fischer, Alexandra Keller, Michele Schrieber, and Mia Mask. While each of the women leading the workshop gave productive insights into their own teaching experiences as well as larger issues in the discipline, I want to highlight some of the questions and points that stood out to me the most. One issue that arose was the question of language and politics. Should it be "Women and Film" or "Gender and Film," and what is gained or lost by each of these? When we talk about women and film, are we talking about filmmakers, or should we broaden our scope to consider the impact of women in areas of film production such as financing, acting, costume design? Another question that generated much discussion was one of diversity. What is the responsibility of a "Women in Film" class as far as highlighting global film culture, or racial and ethnic difference? What are the best ways to address this given questions of time, scope, and coherence? Finally, a recurring theme was one of methods. Given the tendency of so much of feminist film studies to focus on textual analysis, where is the more theoretical scholarship? Clearly, the workshop ultimately raised more questions than it could possibly answer, but many people offered incredibly helpful suggestions such as showing short rather than feature length films and creating a listserv to circulate syllabi.

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Ghosts of Conferences Past

Posted By Racquel Gates, Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013

There's nothing quite like your 1st SCMS: the thrill when you receive the acceptance notice, the excitement of being in the presence of academic superstars, the anxiety around your presentation. My first SCMS was in Vancouver in 2006. I remember that outbound flight like it was yesterday. I saw academics on the plane, furiously scribbling on yellow pads, clicking away on laptops – all working on finishing (or starting) their conference papers. I remember feeling perplexed at their lack of preparation. After all, I, a graduate student with no real teaching or service responsibilities, had been done for DAYS. My clips were burned onto a DVD (after a half day tutorial session with tech services), I had read my paper 7 times and knew that it took exactly19:37(with clips), and I had finally settled on a presentation outfit after spending a full day at the mall trying to find the perfect shirt that said "scholarly chic."

Of course, fast-forward 7 years and here I am, writing this blog on my iPhone during my flight to Chicago. What I have realized in the years since that first conference is that everything is a matter of perspective, and perspective is key to getting the most out of the conference intellectually, professionally, and socially. So, to kick off my first blog post, I want to share a few memories and lessons from my own SCMS experiences.

SCMS 2006: Vancouver

I was excited about everything: the conference, Vancouver, the hotel, EVERYTHING. I was so happy to learn that the hotel had a pool that I made the ridiculous decision to bring my swimsuit and utilize the facilities. One morning I didn't time things so well, and finished my swimjust before the first panel of the day. I found myself in full post-swim glory – flip flops, eyes red from the chlorine, hair wet and frizzy and huge - in a packed elevator with Lynn Spigel. Not a good look. What I realized was that in my excitement, I had forgotten that, above all else, SCMS is a professional gathering. Do you remember SCMS 2010 in L.A. and the Westin's weird mezzanine level see-through gym? Do you have any idea how many times I overheard some version of "oh my god, I saw [insert name here] on the treadmill/lifting weights/wearing short shorts"? Above all, SCMS is an opportunity to interact with colleagues. Keep it professional. That goes for gyms, bars, the official reception, and departmental parties.

SCMS 2007: Chicago

I'm from Chicago, so this one had special meaning for me. My parents and my partner came to my panel. I wanted them to see me "in action." Afterwards, I asked my parents what they thought about my presentation. My dad only wanted to talk about Aniko Bodroghkozy's brilliant paper (I mean, I can't say that I blame him, but damn). My mom admitted that she stopped paying attention a few minutes in and focused on people's outfits. Apparently, we need to step it up, people (see note at the end of this blog). Oh well. You can't please everyone, which is a good lesson to keep in mind during the Q&A segment after your presentation. Take the constructive criticism, and don't get too worked up over any less than helpful comments (or the dreaded "no questions" scenario).

SCMS 2008: Philadelphia

I've heard that the conference was great, but I wouldn't know, BECAUSE I DIDN'T GET IN (not that I'm still bitter or anything). Ok, truth be told, I submitted a crappy proposal. I was in the middle of moving, didn't allot enough time to work on my abstract, and honestly, I had gotten a little complacent and assumed that I would get in just because I had been accepted the previous 2 years. Big mistake. The great thing about SCMS is that it really does demand excellence. From the proposal process to the Q&A section, you have to bring your A game. As a result, SCMS provides participants with the occasion to present new ideas and work through existing projects with a wide array of both emerging and senior scholars. Take advantage of this unique opportunity.

SCMS 2009: Tokyo

Also known as "the conference that dare not speak its name." What a mess: last minute cancellation, airlines didn't want to refund plane tickets, ugh. In New York, Elena Gorfinkel coordinated a New York dinner as a kind of SCMS memorial. I went and had the most fantastic time hanging out with people like Elena and Paula Massood. I met Michael Gillespie at that dinner, who later put in a good word for me with the Media Studies department at the New School, resulting in an adjunct position right when I needed it the most. Sometimes the whole "lemonade out of lemons" thing is actually true, but you've got to be able to roll with the unexpected. The SCMS 2009 debacle was unprecedented, but SCMS often throws wrenches into even the best-laid plans. Wi-Fi goes out, the clip won't play, and blizzards shut down airports.

SCMS 2010: Los Angeles

I was on the market, so this was a particularly difficult conference for me. Let me tell you something: there is nothing worse than being at SCMS when you're trying to get a job. It's awful. If you're fortunate enough to have a conference interview with a department, you're going to spend half of the conference agonizing over it and the other half trying to figure out who else is competing for the position. You will drive yourself crazy worrying about running into someone from the department in the lobby or in the elevator. You will feel like you have to be "on" every single minute of the day. I worked myself into a frenzied paranoia and became fixated on the possibility of a search committee member attending my presentation. I had visions of a shadowy figure dressed in black who would quietly enter the room just as I started my talk and stand in the back with arms folded, silently judging me unsuitable for the job. This didn't happen, of course, probably because the search committee members were human beings rather than characters out of a James Bond Movie. If you're on the market this year, I sympathize with you. Best of luck, and make sure that you've got at least one song on your iPod that gets you pumped up before your interview. Mine was "Go Getta" by Young Jeezy. Feel free to use it if you want.

SCMS 2011: New Orleans

I'm not going to lie - I ditched most of this one. I spent a good portion of the conference eating beignets and strolling down Bourbon Street. The conference is great, but the cities that we get to visit on our departments' dimes are fantastic. In spite of the less than hospitable weather this weekend, I do hope that you find some time to get out and explore the great things that Chicago has to offer. For instance, on Saturday evening, scholar Michael Gillespie will be giving a talk on Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s 1989 film Chameleon Street at the Black Cinema House.

There is a great Kara Walker exhibit at the Art Institute that is definitely worth taking the time to see. Brave the cold and take a walk along the Chicago lakefront. Or, take a break and treat your palette to a few Chicago classics like Harold's Fried Chicken (get the mild sauce) and Garrett's popcorn (the half caramel/half cheese mix). Others have already said it, but let me reiterate: get out of the hotel.

SCMS 2012: Boston

THE BEST SCMS EVER. Admittedly, I'm a bit biased because this was my first conference after landing a tenure-track job. Did you see Beyoncé's Superbowl performance? That pretty much captures how I felt during last year's conference. For me, 2012 was the polar opposite of 2010's SCMS. I realized that confidence and esteem have a lot to do with what kind of conference experience you have. In a lot of ways, what you bring into it is exactly what you'll get in return.

SCMS 2013: Chicago

The blizzard certainly got things off to a rocky start, but I'm excited about the next few days. I'm participating in a workshop on Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied with some scholars that I truly admire, including my current colleague David Gerstner and my former committee member E. Patrick Johnson. I'm looking forward to connecting with friends and hearing all of the fabulous new scholarship that everyone is producing. I'll be documenting everything on this blog, and I look forward to sharing our experiences online (@racquelgates) and in person.

*By the way, my mom suggested that media scholars form a partnership with the contestants on Project Runway. I actually think that this idea is far more interesting than anything that I said in my presentation that year.

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