Black Feminist Media Studies: A Brief Introduction

As I take the time to convert my dissertation chapters into journal article drafts, I am returning to the literature to reevaluate where my work enters the scholarly conversation. Using this approach to reading and writing together, I have encountered Black feminist media studies (BFMS), which I think speaks to my work on Black feminist digital sociology. Scholars incorporating Black feminist thought into their media studies research include: Kara Keeling, Robin M. Coleman, Manoucheka Celeste, Aisha Durham, and Tanja Bosch, to name a few. Their insights reveal the ways controlling images permeate media representations of Black women and how Black women create media representations that reflect their lived experiences.

Media Representations and Controlling Images

BFMS scholars look at media representations for, about, and made by women of African descent to examine how race and gender work together in the media to inform messages and ideas about Black women. According to Kara Keeling, the central set of issues of import to BFMS include: 

  • The quality and implications of historical and contemporary representations of Black womanhood 
  • The assessment, analysis, and interrogation of media produce by women of African Descent 
  • The effect of technological and methodological innovations and the expansion of media on media representations of Black women 
  • The racialized sexualization of Black women’s bodies in various forms of media as well as representation or erasure of lesbian, bisexual, and trans women
  • Transnational and women of color feminist perspectives on media studies.

This approach draws on a set of interdisciplinary and multiple methods helps us understand how these representations affect social structures to inform social projects aimed at challenging racialized sexual ideologies.[1] BFMS also aims to address the presence of Black women in feminist media studies as well as the silence from feminist media critics around the relationship Black women and media. To address this silence, BFMS scholars center Black women in their research to both critique their marginalization in media and deepen understanding of Black womanhood. Such research includes studies on tokenism, beauty and body image, and the presence in media of controlling images such as the welfare mother or Sapphire.[2]

Black Women as Media Creators

Black feminist media studies (BFMS) contains a commitment to redressing the erasure and invisibility of Black people in media. This dedication to correcting the erasure of Black women and oversimplified narratives about Black people and gender in media builds on scholars like Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks. This intervention examines the portrayal of Blackness in relation to gender, sexuality, class, and country using intersectionality and multiple jeopardy as fundamental analytics.[3]. For example, feminist media studies of the global south, particularly Africa advocate for the use of methods that go beyond typical quantitative or qualitative approaches to media studies. To do so, African feminist media studies collaborates along BFMS to foreground race and ethnicity, while bringing to the conversation a critical African feminist perspective that upends constructs of a universal global feminism.[4]

One area I think my research overlaps well with involves hip hop feminism. Hip hop feminist media studies, coined by Aisha Durham, examines both the invisibility or underrepresentation of Black women and girls at the margins of hip hop culture. This approach also addresses the overrepresentation of Black femininity as hypersexual sex objects. This specific model of Black feminist media studies uses a media literacy framework to examine “the lived and imagined reality of women of color from the hip hop generation”[5] to better understand how the contradictory and complex positionality of women in hip hop informs their oppositional consciousness. 

While I don’t draw on a media literacy model, I am interested in how the overrepresentation/underrepresentation dichotomy plays out among digital media content creators. A hip hop feminist digital media studies approach yields intriguing insights, for example, unveiling how Megan thee Stallion’s ‘#HotGirlSummer’ functioned on social media as a tool for Black women digital content creators to self-define their own sense of femininity.[6] I’m looking forward to seeing how Black feminist media studies continues to grow as a field and which topics in media studies scholars working on its various iterations take up. 

  1. Keeling, Kara. 2008. “Black Feminist Media Studies.” In The International Encyclopedia of Communication , 1-3. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. ↩︎
  2. Coleman, Robin Means. 2011. ““Roll up your sleeves!””: Black women, black feminism in Feminist Media Studies.” Feminist Media Studies 11 (1): 35-41. . ↩︎
  3. Celeste, Manoucheka. 2018. “Black Media Studies. Feminist Media Histories 4: 38-43. doi: 10.1525/fmh.2018.4.2.38 ↩︎
  4. Bosch, Tanja. 2011. “African Feminist Media Studies.” Feminist Media Studies 11: 27-33. doi: 10.1080/14680777.2011.537021. ↩︎
  5. Durham, Aisha. 2010. “Hip Hop Feminist Media Studies.” International Journal of Africana Studies16:121) ↩︎
  6. Jennings, Kyesha. 2020. “City Girls, Hot Girls and the Re-Imagining of Black Women in Hip Hop and Digital Spaces.” Global Hip Hop Studies 1(1):47-70. doi: 10.1386/ghhs_00004_1. ↩︎