Loving on, and investing in, our community is central to our core values at Khafra.
In fact, in October, we launched the second iteration of our Khafra Community Cohort, a three-month communal incubator where we offer strategy and dream development support to local nonprofits, small businesses, and startup entrepreneurs eager to take their work to the next level.
While it’s important that we share with and support our community as they develop their visions and work towards shaping the world for better. It’s equally important that we highlight others doing the same - especially when it begins with love for, and representation of, the people.
Dr. Aymar Jean Christian is an example of someone whose love for community and eye for innovation has resulted in the creation of an online space expanding the narrative of queer and trans Chicagoans.
Open TV (beta) is a Chicago-based platform for queer and intersectional television, currently a research project by Dr. Christian, assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University.
The online platform, which launched in 2015, develops and hosts web series created by women, and queer and trans folks of color - folks desirous of offering a nuanced perspective of life in Chicago. Open TV contributed to the development of the Emmy-nominated web series, Brown Girls, whose Cinderella success story has been a beacon of inspiration for millennial creators of color all across the interwebs.
We spoke to Dr. Christian this past summer about the origins of Open TV. He discussed his beginnings, where he hopes to see Open TV go, as well as its role in the Chicago community.
We’ve shared some of the most important pieces of that conversation below.
On the origins of his interest in web series
“I stumbled upon YouTube in 2007 and I noticed people vlogging (video blogging). I started comparing that to blogging but then I realized they were serializing the expression of their identity. I wanted to track people and see how [they were using the platform]. For a long time I didn’t think [vlogging] would be a thing. Academia pushed me to figure out how this mattered. I thought, most ppl who make web series don’t get them picked up on TV. But I realized it was going to be a big deal. I knew I wasn’t just talking about some people online, I was talking about the transformation of TV.”
On the meaning behind the Open TV’s name
“The name is extended from the book which is also called Open TV. It argues that the web opened television by opening the development process to producers. Circumventing gatekeepers on the web can foment innovation.”
On the evolution of Aymar’s relationship with Chicago
“I came to Chicago as a newbie for the job at Northwestern. And when I got here I didn’t know anybody. It took me a couple years to find people. I didn’t want to be here for the job and not participate in the city. At a certain point I realized I knew enough people to make something happen. With Open TV, I had a couple of artistic collaborators. It was really about working through those networks. I really had been building a base of support in Chicago. The city has grown to support the project as it was its own. I’m happy about that and that it’s a project for Chicago artists. Open TV shows the world there is so much intention and beauty here. That’s especially important when the rest of the world only talks about violence.”
On Open TV's diverse roster
“I asked myself, why isn’t this on my TV screen? Last year there were 455 shows on TV. I wasn’t seeing anything that I was seeing in Chicago. We have new genre hybrids [like Brujos] mixing telenovela with the supernatural thriller. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t see this except for the fact that the people who have the skills don’t have the access.”
On his television inspirations
“Black sketch comedy in the ‘90s was super influential. There are lots of problems with the In Living Color skit with Men on Film. But for me, that was Black, queer people. I didn’t understand that they were making fun of queer people. I thought these were two fabulous people.”
On Open TV’s future
“I think we will expand outside of Chicago once we’ve tapped all of Chicago. But that will take many years. The challenge for me is to match creators with production teams. The thing about Chicago is we have strong communities in theater, performance, music and dance but it’s not as competitive as New York or LA. In Chicago, we have everyone here and lots of talent. We have enough space to collaborate and support each other. That’s what you need when you’re doing independent television.”
Khafra's excited to see how far Open TV soars as it continues to focus on amplifying the voices of Chicago’s queer creative community. Developing the work of creatives eager to enhance the beauty in their community is why we do the work we do. Make sure to visit Open TV and dig into their amazing roster of web content.