Imagine Otherwise: Aymar Jean Christian on Queer and Trans of Color Media Production

Imagine Otherwise: Aymar Jean Christian on Queer and Trans of Color Media Production

February 10, 2016

Aymar Jean Christian wearing a black shirt


What are the benefits of indie television production for women, queers, and trans people of color? How is the slow speed of collaborative work actually an advantage?

In episode 3 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews television producer and professor Aymar Jean Christian about his television platform Open TV; independent web series by queers, women, and trans people people of color; how his scholarship has informed his television production; and what it means to imagine otherwise.

Guest: Aymar Jean Christian

Aymar Jean Christian is an assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University and the founder of Open Television, a platform for television by queer, transgender and cisgender women or artists of color.

Since premiering in March 2015, Open Television has released three pilots and two series, and has received critical acclaim by the Tribeca Film Festival and Independent Film Project’s Gotham Awards.

Open Television expands the art of television storytelling, increases television’s responsibility to queer communities outside of Hollywood, and models best practices in creating and distributing artistic stories by communities historically marginalized in the development process.

Aymar is also working on a book called Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television, which explores web series as a space of innovation independent of legacy television development.

We chatted about

  • The birth of Open Television (02:00)
  • Why small-scale video production is best for community accountability (07:00)
  • Diverse representation versus authentic representation, and how to marry the two (12:00)
  • What we can learn from Slow Television (20:00)
  • The pleasures and difficulty of collaboration (34:00)
  • Imagining otherwise (00:00)

Aymar Jean Christian wearing a black shirt. Text reads: Queer performance in itself is a production value.


The goals of Open TV

I want my platform to reflect as many diverse experiences as possible.

Reasons to not scale a production company

The fact that it’s independently produced and independently distributed through digital networks is significant. Open TV is definitely about small-scale video production…I would love to make all my artists rich, but I know that when you reach [a large] scale, it becomes difficult to remain accountable to community and also to function ethically.

Prior attempts at diverse media representation

We’ve seen historically that television’s investments in programming do not produce diversity. Even when people of color or queer people are on the screen, they are made acceptable to the masses in all these ways that really inhibit our vision of what people are like in America.

The metaphor of Slow Television

People have made the analogy between fast food and corporate television, and I’m seeing that analogy play out in my own life. I’m making slow television—it’s small-scale, it’s creating these intimate connections, small crews, and building those connections, building rapport among the teams, and then it’s getting the thing made. It’s all on people’s times, and it’s a lot of people’s passion, even though I’m paying people, so it takes time. And I think that’s great.


The great thing about Open TV is that it’s an artist-driven project, such that we can only go as fast as every artist involved can go.

Imagining otherwise

I want a television system that embraces difference, that embraces multiplicity and indeterminacy and local experiences. I want platforms that make it their mission to be accountable to communities and to grow community, and not just to grow money and create commercial value, but also create cultural value.

More from Aymar

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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