• Aymar J Christian American University, United States of America
  • Patricia A Aufderheide American University
  • Antoine Haywood University of Pennsylvania
  • Jessica Clark Independent Scholar



media, documentary, social justice, systemic racism, storytelling


How do we challenge a streaming “golden age” characterized by the ceaseless production of expression that repeats and reinforces injustice and inequality? Our media and tech systems prioritize developing stories and platforms to target distinct audiences for profit, but our communities need to cultivate interdependence and solidarity. Healing these injustices, including racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, classism, ableism, and other forms of hate, requires a specific method of repair: re-distributing power more equitably to the historically disempowered. In the last decade in the U.S., what Aymar Jean Christian terms “reparative media,” responding to the social upheaval that political polarization, misinformation, and climate and racial reckoning has burgeoned. Christian writes, “[R]epairing our culture means healing how we make media, how we connect through technology, and how we generate knowledge.” This panel analyzes the concept of reparative media, examines case studies, and analyzes counterrevolutionary pushback. Grounded in U.S. experience, the panel is designed to open a conversation more widely, and create terms under which these issues can be engaged elsewhere. Unlike previous eras, this era’s reparative media work is grounded in responses to the realities of a digital culture shaped by mega-platforms and instant reaction times. In audio-visual media, streamers (building upon past example in broadcast and cable) have funded or showcased extractive and exploitative programming, such as much of true crime, reality shows, and unapologetically offensive comedy. Scandals about ethics—Yazidi women protesting invasion of privacy in the documentary Sabaya, MENASA filmmakers protesting errors and putting participants at risk in Jihad Rehab, BIPOC filmmakers protesting the all-white, male production crew for a forthcoming film about BIPOC sports star Tiger Woods--have multiplied. The reparative media movement is also informed, in the U.S., by the tide of racial reckoning since 2014. This movement has also been joined by other minoritized voices, including those of people living with disabilities, gender-nonconforming makers, and those experiencing consequences of lacking appropriate immigration status. However, the reparative work also builds upon efforts in previous eras in self-styled movements for alternative media, community media, public-service media, and activist media. These movements were accompanied by extensive communications research—much of it done in a collaborative way with practitioners—that allows us to understand today’s reparative media in context. These movements have shared common expectations that media produced by and for underheard members of society are essential parts of movements for social change. The panel provides both theoretical and practice-oriented roads into the discussion, which we expect to be between a third and a half of the time allotted. Panelists also strive to provide examples and illustrations relevant to the conference venue of Philadelphia. The first speaker will address the concepts of reparative media and reparative research and development. Reparative research is work that is not only about but with reparative media communities, using both quantitative and qualitative research. Reparative story development is about the practice of developing narratives that confront, challenge, and provide alternatives to systemically oppressive storytelling. Reparative platform development is the work of building training, distribution and showcasing alternatives to today’s digital mega-platforms. This presentation will use case studies to illustrate the three categories. The second speaker will use a cultural-production analysis to focus upon reparative story development practices, looking closely at a two-year process to create standards for values-driven documentary production, a process triggered in part by alarm at streamer fecklessness. The process, which itself included reparative research, is analyzed for its challenges as well as its conclusions. Reception within the documentary community of the resulting document, a values-based framework for a six-part production process, is discussed, as is engagement by gatekeepers such as streamers, broadcasters and production companies. The presentation then focuses on attacks, benefiting from a veneer of legitimacy from centrist mainstream media, that leverage a conservative activists’ invocation on of “woke cancel culture,” to demonize the assertion of such values. The third speaker will address reparative platform development. In the U.S., community media centers, based in cable systems and offering educational, governmental, and public access channels, have their origins in 1970s citizen activism. But CMCs have shown an ability not only to survive but to reinvent themselves both technologically and in terms of community reparative work. The paper focuses on one such example, in Philadelphia, where communities of color have been actively working to address systemic harms and bolster community strength with hyperlocal media. In discussing the work of creating content for such systems, the paper also reveals the infrastructural affordances and limitations mediamakers encounter. Such forces reveal the systemic forces that threaten the evolution of such media. The discussant, with deep experience in reparative research in the Philadelphia media community and nationally, will infuse their commentary with location-specific references. Finally, panelists will provide in closing a brief, slideshow mini-tour of Philadelphia sites of reparative media work.




How to Cite

Christian, . A. J. ., Aufderheide, P. A., Haywood, A., & Clark, J. (2023). REPARATIVE MEDIA: REVOLUTIONARY STORYTELLING AND ITS ENEMIES IN A STREAMING ERA. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research.