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ShondaLand Symposium

Martha Jones, Treva Lindsey, Jessica Marie Johnson, Natalie Bullock Brown, Blair LM Kelley, Joan Morgan, Lisa B. Thompson, and Brittney Cooper
January 29th, 2015
7:30 PM


Read the #DukeShondaland Storify!

Read "Dispatches from Shondlandia by a Slavery Historian," a reflection on the Symposium by participant Jessica Marie Johnson, here and here.

Read media coverage in advance of the event at Entertainment Weekly and Bustle.


ShondaLand the Symposium and Watch Party
Thursday January 29 - Friday January 30

ShondaLand is the production company of television screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes, whose current series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder (for which she serves as executive producer) comprise the Thursday Night prime-time block on ABC.  At the core of Rhimes' productions are richly drawn, complex, contradictory Black Women and Women of Color who eschew traditional notions of Black and Female respectability. With the breakout success Scandal which featured Kerry Washington as the first Black Female lead of a Primetime drama since the late Teresa Graves starred in the short-lived Get Christie Love! (1974-1975), Rhimes has helped revolutionize the use of social media in the promotion of television and helped galvanize an unprecedented community of Black Women viewers that recall the groundbreaking work of critic Jacqueline Bobo a generation ago.

ShondaLand the Symposium brought together a group of women scholars working in the fields of History, Women’s Studies, Law, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Black Diaspora Studies, and Media Studies to explore the broad implications of Rhimes’ work.

Co-Sponsored by the Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship, and the Durham County Library.

The event began with a watch party at Durham's Full Frame Theater in the American Tobacco Campus on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 29, with a light reception starting at 7:30 p.m, and viewing party from 8:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m., where viewers gathered to watch and comment on the opening of the spring season of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away with Murder. More information about parking and accessibility at Full Frame Theater.

On Friday, Jan. 30, the event continued with two panel discussions at the Forum for Scholars & Publics, in 011 Old Chemistry Building. Download the poster here.

“I woke up like this”: Desire & Respectability in ShondaLand
Friday, Jan. 30 2015
9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Natalie Bullock Brown, Saint Augustine's University (Film and Interactive Media Studies)
Joan Morgan, New York University (American Studies). Twitter: @milfinainteasy
Treva Lindsey, The Ohio State University (Women and Gender Studies). Twitter:@divafeminist
Lisa B. Thompson, University of Texas at Austin (African & African American Diaspora Studies). Twitter: @playprof

Moderator: Anne-Maria Makhulu, Duke University. Twitter: @AnneKhalumba

This panel addressed issues around the desirability of Black Women, the importance of sexual desire in the lives of Black Women and the ways tropes of respectability might police Black Women’s identity and expressive culture.

“You gotta testify because the booty don’t lie”: The (Il)Legality of Black Womanhood
Friday, Jan. 30 2015
12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Brittney Cooper, Rutgers University (Women's and Gender Studies; Africana Studies). Twitter: @ProfessorCrunk
Jessica Marie Johnson, Michigan State University (History). Twitter: @jmjafrx
Martha Jones, University of Michigan (History). Twitter: @marthajonesUM
Blair LM Kelley, North Carolina State University (History). Twitter: @profblmkelley
Moderator: Karla FC Holloway, Duke University. Twitter: @ProfHolloway

This panel examined the “equal protection clause” in the context of the intersectionality of Black Womanhood. In what ways are Black Women's bodies protected and/or unprotected by the law? How are Black Women emboldened in the context of ShondaLand to protect, embody or undermine legal structures that won’t/don’t protect them?

The two panels were livestreamed and viewers shared thoughts and questions via Twitter using #dukeshondaland or #dukeshonda.



Natalie Bullock Brown

Department of Film and Interactive Media, Saint Augustine's University

Natalie Bullock Brown is an award-winning and Emmy-nominated producer and consultant, and is chair of and an assistant professor in the Department of Film & Interactive Media at Saint Augustine's University in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more than a decade, Natalie served as co-host of Black Issues Forum, a public affairs program on UNC-TV, North Carolina’s statewide public television network. Natalie was an associate producer on Ken Burns’ 10-part PBS series, Jazz, and recently produced multi-part DVD series documenting the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference of Freedom Summer (2014), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC ) 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference (2010). Natalie is in the development phase of a documentary about black women and beauty. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Production from Howard University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northwestern University. She tweets at @nataliebb2.

Brittney Cooper

Departments of Women's and Gender Studies and Africana Studies, Rutgers University

Brittney Cooper received her Ph.D. in American Studies from the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts at Emory University in 2009. Professor Cooper is currently completing her first book Race Women: Gender and the Making of a Black Public Intellectual Tradition, 1892-Present. Her work focuses on Black women's intellectual history, Black feminist thought, and race and gender politics in hip hop and popular culture. She is co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective blog, which was named a top feminist blog by New York Magazine in 2011 and a top race blog by in 2012. She tweets @ProfessorCrunk.

Martha Jones

Johns Hopkins University

Martha S. Jones is the The Society of Black Alumni Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. Her scholarly interests include the histories of race, citizenship, and slavery. Professor Jones is the author of the critically acclaimed All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 (UNC Press, 2007). Her current projects include two books: Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America and Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women. In 2013-2014, her work was supported by the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Humanities Center, where she was the William C. and Ida Friday Fellow. Her writings have appeared on, and she tweets @marthasjones_.

Jessica Marie Johnson

Department of History, Michigan State University

Jessica Marie Johnson is an Assistant Professor of History at Michigan State University. Her research interests include histories of slavery and the slave trade; women, gender, and sexuality in the African diaspora; and digital history and new media and has appeared in Slavery & Abolition and Meridians: Feminism, Race and Transnationalism. In 2008, she founded African Diaspora, Ph.D., a blog highlighting scholars and scholarship in the field of Atlantic African diaspora history. Johnson continues to make media as a member of the LatiNegrxs Project and the Queering Slavery Working Group which she co-organizes with Vanessa Holden (Michigan State). Johnson has two works in progress. One is a history of free women of African descent laboring, living, and traveling between eighteenth-century Senegal, Saint-Domingue, and Gulf Coast Louisiana. The second, in collaboration with Mark Anthony Neal, is a compilation of work reading nineteenth-century black codes against present-day race coding and digital vernaculars of people of African descent. She was recently named a 2015-2016 Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar in the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. She tweets as @jmjafrx. Learn more about her research here and here


Blair Kelley

Department of History, North Carolina State University

Blair L.M. Kelley is Associate Professor of History and Assistant Dean for Interdisciplinary Studies and International Programs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University. She is the author of the award-winning book, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson. Right to Ride won the 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Best Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians. Kelley produces and hosts a podcast called Historical Blackness and her written work was featured on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry Show, NPR’s Here and Now, and WUNC’s The State of Things. She has written for,,,, and Jet Magazine. She tweets @profblmkelley.

Treva Lindsey

Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Ohio State University

Dr. Lindsey specializes in black feminist theory, women's history, and popular culture studies. Her first book entitled, Colored No More: New Negro Womanhood in the Nation’s Capital is under contract at the University of Illinois Press. Her next book project will focus on popular culture representations of contemporary African American womanhood from the late twentieth century to the present. She is building a strong online presence through guest contributing to online forums such as HuffPost Live, The Feminist Wire and The Left of Black Web Series. She tweets @divafeminist.

Joan Morgan

Joan Morgan was born in Jamaica and raised in the South Bronx. A graduate of Wesleyan University, she has taught at the New School, Duke University, and Vanderbilt University and is currently pursuing her Ph. D in American Studies at NYU. Morgan began a career in journalism as a freelance writer for The Village Voice, and went on to become an Executive Editor of Essence Magazine, and has written for Spin, Vibe, and GIANT.

Morgan is especially known for her work in the field of “hip-hop feminism,” a term she coined in her 1999 book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. She has appeared on MTV, BET, VH-1, and CNN to speak about the intersection of hip-hop and gender. She tweets @milfinainteasy.



Lisa B. Thompson

African and African Diaspora Studies Department, University of Texas at Austin

Lisa B. Thompson is Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and the Associate Director of the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Beyond The Black Lady: Sexuality And The New African American Middle Class (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Her scholarship has appeared in Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, Finding A Way Home: A Critical Assessment of Walter Mosley’s Fiction (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), and From Bourgeois to Boojie: Black Middle-Class Performances (Wayne State University Press, 2011). She is also the author of several plays including the comedy Single Black Female (Samuel French, Inc., 2012) which has been produced throughout the U.S. and Canada. She tweets @playprof.

Karla FC Holloway

Duke University

Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University. She also holds appointments in the Law School, Women's Studies and African & African American Studies. Her research and teaching interests focus on African American cultural studies, biocultural studies, gender, ethics and law. Professor Holloway serves on the boards of the Greenwall Foundation's Advisory Board in Bioethics, the Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, and the Princeton University Council on the Study of Women and Gender. She is an affiliated faculty with the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life and the Trent Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities. She has served as Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Chair (and member) of Duke's Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Committee, and as an elected member of the Academic Council and its Executive Council. She is founding co-director of the John Hope Franklin Center and the Franklin Humanities Institute. Professor Holloway is the author of eight books, including Legal Fictions: Constituting Race, Composing Literature (2014). She tweets at @ProfHolloway.

Anne-Maria Makhulu

Duke University

Anne-Maria Makhulu is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2003. Her research interests cover: Africa and more specifically South Africa, cities, space, globalization, political economy, occult economies, neoliberalism, Marxism, anthropology of finance, as well as questions of aesthetics, including the literature and cinema of South Africa. Makhulu is a contributor to Producing African Futures: Ritual and Reproduction in a Neoliberal Age (2004), and New Ethnographies of Neoliberalism (2010). She is a co-editor of Hard Work, Hard Times: Global Volatility and African Subjectivities (2010).