Video Essays

The Other Hidden Figures (2018)

I made this remix video as an example of the kind of creative work the students in my Media Theory class could do for their final project. [Full description of the assignment can be found here.]

The historical film drama Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016) depicts how the work at NASA of three black women — Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan — helped launch the first American man into orbit. The Other Hidden Figures is remix short that takes Dorothy’s story arc to ask, What narrative might we tell if we focus our attention on the collective over the individual genius?

The formal constraints on this remix video are meant to signal its ideological project. It consists only of scene excerpts featuring a collective (i.e. two or more) of black women, or of those when Dorothy alone is working towards the benefit of all the computers. Edited between these excerpts are blank screens with a time code signifying the amount of time between scenes within the original film. The duration of the black screens scales down this time, one minute to one second. The 128 minutes of the original feature become merely 18 minutes. Despite the temporal scaling down, allowing viewers to sit through the blank screens nonetheless should invite reflection on the length of the gaps that are left when we focus on collectives working together and remove scenes of extraordinary individual geniuses, heteronormative romance, and white men “solving racism” by hammering down a bathroom sign — a few examples of the tropes of classical narrative style.

The Drag Queen’s Throat (2013)

This video series takes as its subject the cultural figure of the drag queen in order to embark on explorations of space, time, and representation as they relate to sound studies. The intention is twofold: first, to bring together the areas of sound studies and queer studies (both broadly defined) into greater dialogue; and second, to experiment formally with the object of study (sound and performance).

Each video is three to six minutes in length, and attempts to bring diverse theorists into dialogue through a variety of thematic headings. The videos are exploratory in nature, attempting to tease out ideas and draw connections – or disconnections – rather than pursuing only a singular, linear argument. Rhizomatic in nature, they are networked and connected to all others at once, mapping out areas of inquiry and revisiting them for further exploration. There is no order for the different videos in the series, they are circular in structure, and they are meant to be watched multiple times. The ideas contained in these videos, like drag queens themselves, are assemblages, acquiring more complexity through their interconnections and, especially, through their repetition.

The formal decisions driving these podcasts are meant to underscore their thematic concerns. As such, while exploring issues of time, space, or sound-image relations, they will also experiment with the tempo of the piece, the contours of the frame, or the movement of the images. Likewise, the ongoing concerns with issues of materiality, authenticity, and absence(visual or aural) – hence the title of the series – frequently disrupts and informs the construction of the videos. What are the implications of de-centering the linear argument as the focus for academic scholarship? How can the tools of study be mobilized to speak about themselves in ways the written essay cannot do?

Epigraph Exercises

A basic exercise: you choose one quote, one film sequence, and one audio track, and put them all together to draw out their resonances.