Georgetown students learned to examine the myriad ways that race, racial identity, and racism infiltrate the entertainment media industry, as well as how to gather facts, conduct interviews, and report on the intersection of race and entertainment, in the fall 2022 Doyle Seminar on Pop Culture, Race, and the Media (JOUR 378). This course was taught by former USA Today entertainment journalist Arienne Thompson, who is also an adjunct lecturer in Georgetown University’s Journalism Program.
Doyle Seminars are small, upper-level classes that foster dialogue on diversity and difference through student research and co-curricular learning. The seminars are sponsored by the Doyle Engaging Difference Program at Georgetown University.
“Fall 2022 actually marked my third semester teaching JOUR 378—and it may have been my favorite, thanks to the Doyle Seminar,” says Thompson, whose course was offered as a Doyle Seminar for the first time.
“I like to joke that after this course, my kids will never (passively) enjoy a movie again because their minds are working overtime thinking about who’s in power (decision-makers), who’s missing (underrepresented/historically excluded), and who benefits (mostly white, mostly male studio heads) when it comes to commercial art.”
Visiting Hamilton and Mount Vernon
To contrast cultural portrayals of the U.S. Founding Fathers, students attended the Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton at the Kennedy Center before creating podcasts on their experiences. Students also visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon, participating in both the general tour and a tour focused on enslaved persons, then producing videos about what they learned about the president’s estate and farm.
Though government major Angelina Torres (C’24) had some previous knowledge about George Washington’s complicated past, what she learned about the enslaved persons at his estate made a deeper impact.
“The guide brought us into this garden, which was tended to by enslaved peoples, and the gravel under us had been handpicked by slaves from a river in the middle of winter. The whole house was built with oppression in mind, and that made it hard to look at Hamilton because it glorifies George Washington and other historical figures.”
Lexi Nelson (C’23), a government major and journalism minor, contrasted the difficult experience at Mount Vernon with both the joy of watching Hamilton and the question of whether it’s right to celebrate the Founding Fathers.
“Mount Vernon showed that the characters from Hamilton were real people who did consequential, often awful things,” Nelson says.
“Immigrants being shown building the country in Hamilton is a big positive, but we are celebrating Founding Fathers who ran slave plantations, so being able to go to both these things in person sparked really fruitful discussions.”
Watching the Jordan Peele Trilogy
During the course, the students also watched Oscar-winning writer-director Jordan Peele’s horror trilogy—Get Out, Us, and Nope—to examine Afrofuturism and Blackness as spectacle in the genre.
Daelyn Waters (C’23), an American music culture major and journalism minor, had her perceptions about Peele’s films changed after re-watching them for JOUR 378.
“I had already seen Get Out and Us prior to the class, but seeing the way Black stories are represented on the screen, and being forced to think about the true artistry and the craft to convey the stories, transforms the way you look at horror in a way other films that represent POC [people of color] in the past don’t.”
Torres, a big science fiction fan, had seen the Peele movies before but enjoyed the experience of re-watching and discussing the films for the Doyle Seminar.
“In Get Out, there is a scene where the main character is trying to get out, and a police car drives up, and it turns out it was his friend. In the original cut, it was a regular cop, and he just ended up being profiled,” she recalled. “We talked about how having the Black main character get away safely was so important for this film, because as people of color, we want to see our protagonists succeed and have this empowerment on film.”
Creating Multimedia Final Reporting Projects
At the start of the semester, students were assigned to watch the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards and report on the event, as well as produce final reporting projects based on different beats. The class was divided into five news beats: Hollywood, music, fashion and beauty, sports, and lifestyle.
Each group crafted a long-form reporting project that covered a range of timely topics, including the release of Wakanda Forever, the relationship between go-go music and gentrification, the Kardashians and cultural appropriation, cancel culture, and the rise of Black quarterbacks in the NFL. Students had free reign to choose their medium, many opting for multi-episode podcasts and digital cover stories.
Psychology major and journalism minor Eli Kales (C’24) enjoyed the Emmys assignment and final project because of the opportunity to speak with experts in the field.
“I sent a ton of emails and ended up talking to someone who worked at Netflix and to an entertainment journalist,” he recalls of his experience reporting on the Emmys broadcast. “Our final project for the sports beat was on Black quarterbacks in the NFL and how academics discussed their media coverage, and I talked to a lot of academics who had worked just on this. I really enjoyed going straight to the source itself.”
Molly Antoon (G’24), a master’s degree student in engaged and public humanities, and her groupmate Lexi Nelson worked on a final project about the history of go-go music in Washington, DC. Together, they built a website with three articles and interviewed people at the forefront of the go-go music scene.
“Chuck Brown, the father of go-go music, is no longer alive, but we interviewed people who heard him play or people in go-go bands and looked at the social and political movements related to go-go now,” Antoon explains.
“Go-go music is integral to Washington, DC, and Black culture specifically, but it never gained the national traction of hip hop or R&B. … We explored the history behind it; we explored the intersections of gentrification and displacement and [how] go-go music has been a face for that clash of Black and low-income communities and gentrification.”
“For a lot of people, the [film] was a way for audience members to cope with their grieving for Chadwick Boseman. The movie also incorporates a lot of Latino actors with a diverse role and impact.”
According to her group’s podcasts, although the Black community is experiencing increased representation and leadership in the film industry, this isn’t the case for all groups. They found that only Black people were overrepresented in film leads in 2021, while all other groups remained underrepresented.
Building Community through Vulnerability
The Doyle Seminar provided students with the opportunity for both academic and personal growth.
“I learned a lot about myself and where I fit into history and my personal background because I identify as Black and African-American, and I was able to become more reflective about where my ancestors would have been in American history,” Waters says. “This class made it feel possible to be separate but still feel a connection to your ancestry. I think being in that course made me a lot more comfortable with people [who are] open to difficult conversations and being vulnerable.”
Antoon agrees: “It was a vulnerable and intimidating experience stopping people and interviewing them. I learned that a lot of people want to share their story, and they just aren’t asked.”
For Arielle Benjamin (MSB’25), the importance of putting representation front and center resonated not not only within the class curriculum, but via Professor Thompson herself.
“This was one of my favorite classes at Georgetown.... Being in the McDonough School of Business, you don’t really have Black female professors. I don’t see myself in a lot of the spaces I occupy here, unfortunately, and Professor Thompson is an amazing person, in general, and she really helped me along the way.”
Pop Culture, Race, and the Media students attend a performance of Hamilton at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.