Professor Brandy Monk-Payton, PhD. was watching news coverage of the 2014 Ferguson protests when she came to an interesting realization. She was in the midst of viewing the third season of the popular FX series American Horror Story. On the surface, Season Three’s events—which revolve around a group of Salem witch descendants—seemed to have little in common with the actions following Michael Brown’s fatal shooting. However, as she watched, Monk-Payton was startled to find parallels between the horror she witnessed in the show and the violence she saw broadcasted from Ferguson.
The moment was the impetus for months of research and hours of hard work, culminating in Monk-Payton’s upcoming research project: “Blackness and Televisual Reparations.” The piece is part of what will likely be a larger project, and it investigates how television today challenges violence—specifically violence mediated through race.
In the paper, Monk-Payton delves into what it means to be a witness, comparing depictions of racial representation and violence in popular television, news media, and real life. Through her studies, she was surprised to discover how explicit discussions about race have become in many shows. Popular programs like ABC’s Blackish and Scandal have tackled issues of race and violence head-on, in ways that would have been impossible decades ago. In her work, Monk-Payton hopes to address how different genres approach topics of race and violence, and how television simultaneously reflects and owes motifs to blackness, as well as to the larger history of civil rights in America.
Professor Monk-Payton specializes in the history and theory of African American media representation and cultural production. She currently teaches in the communications and media department at Fordham, and expects her piece “Blackness and Televisual Reparations” to be published this winter.