Fans of color, fandoms of color

Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial for guest-edited issue, "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29 (March 15, 2019).

[0.2] Keywords—Acafan; Critical race theory; Ethnicity; Race

De Kosnik, Abigail, and andré carrington. 2019. "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color." In "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," edited by Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2019.1783.

1. Introduction

[1.1] This special issue arises from a rising tide of feeling, expressed not only by the two issue editors but also by the editorial board of Transformative Works and Cultures and by numerous established and emerging participants in fan studies, that fan studies as a field must include more scholars of color and more scholarship on race and ethnicity. That fan studies was founded, and has been dominated up to this point, by white scholars is indisputable. The same can be said of nearly all fields of academic study founded in US, UK, and European universities, and efforts have been undertaken from within multiple disciplines to undo the racist logics that undergird them. But when fan studies was founded—and we might choose various dates for its founding, but let us name Joanna Russ's essay on slash fan fiction in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts in 1985, and the quartet of landmark publications by Camille Bacon-Smith (Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, 1991), Henry Jenkins (Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, 1992), Lisa A. Lewis (editor of The Adoring Audience, 1992), and Constance Penley ("Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture," 1989) as the set of works that collectively launched the genealogy of fan studies in which the majority of fan scholars still operate today—the field was founded as explicitly resistive of dominant cultural norms and hierarchies. Unlike other areas of scholarly investigation in the West, the project of fan studies positioned itself from the start as a noncooperator with Western structures of oppression and exclusion. Fan studies was meant to center people and practices that most Western institutions have long treated as marginal, insignificant, and invisible. But while fan studies has practiced inclusivity in various ways, most notably in its foregrounding of how gender and sexuality operate in fan sites and communities, the perspectives of people of color have not been widely represented or analyzed in fan scholarship to date. Fan studies still has much work to do in order to fulfill its promise and self-perception as a scholarly field that does not reproduce but rather challenges and posits alternatives to oppressive social structures and conventions.

[1.2] At the same time, the habits of fan culture can recapitulate many of the same patterns that structure the academic knowledge economy in ways that prove inimical to the participation of people of color. Decades of fan scholarship prove that academic observation and interpretation, peer criticism, and fandom often coexist in a dynamic, variable balance as elements of any individual's or group's attitude toward a cultural work, but racialized and gendered power cause these interests to diverge as well. The same features that welcome some readers and viewers into a text function as barriers to entry for others; these channels of desire and identification are not free-floating, unmoored from the forces of privilege and oppression. The terms of participation in participatory culture are shaped by the same conventions that encode normative messaging into popular narratives and simultaneously limit the recognizable forms that difference can take in our shared lexicon. Dissident interpretations take their point of departure from the axiom that the very signatures of the everyman protagonist or Anytown, USA, setting of a text to the majority of people constitute barriers to access for those of us whose eccentricities place us at the margins of the heroes' journey. By the same token, however, the oblique points of entry that empower some fans to tell new stories and to locate themselves in the subtexts of dominant narratives constitute barriers of access to others. As contributors to this issue note, an intersectional analysis of power compels us to ask why, when we invoke the notion of female fandoms, all the women are presumptively white; why, when a single Black, Indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander, Muslim, or Latinx presence enters a predominantly white audience or cast of characters, are the avatars of diversity so likely to be men? As representations of LGBT/queer and trans* lives emerge in more and more popular texts, we should also question the one-dimensional nature (Ferguson 2018) of these variations from cisgender, heteronormative scripts. The Black feminist (Hull, Bell-Scott, and Smith 1982) and postcolonial historiographies (Barret 2004) that raise these questions demonstrate the necessity for multidimensional thinking about the consumption and reproduction of culture across communities. Without attendance to the complex interaction of forces of oppression, feminist and queer readings treasured by white fans can reinscribe the marginalization of fans of color.

[1.3] Textual events that appear insignificant from the vantage point of white audience members may resonate deeply with fans of color. For example, generations of television casting relegated actors of color to secondary roles in the Star Trek franchise, sustaining fan interest in subplots and novelizations that positioned these erstwhile supporting players in the lead. When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–99) and Star Trek: Discovery (2017–) place the performances of Avery Brooks, Sonequa Martin-Green, and Michelle Yeoh at the center of their narratives, they set the stage for fans to reorient their viewing practices, bringing previously understated concerns to the attention of the audience as a whole. Perspectival shifts of this nature are not the sole responsibility of canonical authors and actors, however. As curators of specialized knowledge, actively engaged fans take pleasure in maintaining esoteric language and cultivating subtly coded protocols of interpretation. These measures make subcultural spaces more welcoming for audience members whose passions run deeper than those of casual consumers of paraliterary texts and popular media. In an important sense, self-defined fandom represents an inward-facing, intentional version of the open-ended and often unrequited collective articulation of desires enacted by audience members of color who seek nurturing, fulfilling, or simply legible possibilities for themselves on a cultural landscape that usually caters to majoritarian interests. The marketing minds behind publishers, television networks, movie studios, and distributors have a material investment in exploiting the inherent appeal of works created by and for people of color. From a commercial perspective, the audience's response is a simple matter of buying what they are selling, or not; however, the attitudes that characterize our responses, ranging from gratitude, admiration, and excitement to confusion, cynicism, and frustration, inform the more complex issue of whether or not we come to see ourselves as fans and what it means when we do. The notion of fandoms of color—indeed, the color of fandom—represents the ongoing negotiation between what it means to be a person of color and what it means to have a stake in cultural production.

[1.4] This issue represents movement in fan studies from within as well as without. Fans and scholars of color have only begun to reconcile the interests of antiracist cultural criticism with the power of fandom to map the desire lines that inform popular culture. Rukmini Pande's "Decolonising Fan Studies: A Bibliography-In-Progress" (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DASV2eulNmTOdtwWMJBpuUW1vkWkxvVOAKP0JxZR9T8/edit) is a crucial resource for fan scholars working on issues of race, ethnicity, nationality and transnationalism, and color. In addition to the works listed in that bibliography, we call for a broader definition of what constitutes fan studies scholarship. As acafans of color, we both have been inspired by texts by scholars of color that bring critical race theory to bear on cultural phenomena—texts that were not perceived or framed by their authors as analyses of fandom and that have not often been included in fan studies syllabi. In her influential 2015 essay "African American Acafandom and Other Strangers," Rebecca Wanzo calls for a new genealogy of fan studies, one that includes Black scholars who "could be categorized as acafans but who do not claim the name" (¶ 1.2). We respond to Wanzo's call by naming publications by writers of color on popular culture that have influenced the two of us in our journeys toward and in fan studies: Stuart Hall's "What Is This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?" (1993); James A. Snead's "On Repetition in Black Culture" (1981); James Baldwin's The Devil Finds Work (1976); Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark (1992); Ella Shohat and Robert Stam's Unthinking Eurocentrism (1994); Tricia Rose's Black Noise (1994) (and many other publications on hip-hop's origins in, and in relationship to, Black communities, such as Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop [2005] and Regina N. Bradley's "Conceptualizing Hip Hop Sonic Cool Pose in Late Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Rap Music" [2012]); Anne Cheng's "The Melancholy of Race" (1997); Gayatri Gopinath's Impossible Desires (2005); Robin D. G. Kelley's Freedom Dreams (2002); José Esteban Muñoz's Disidentifications (1999); Katherine McKittrick and Alexander G. Weheliye's "808s and Heartbreak" (2017); Kimberly Springer's "Divas, Evil Black Bitches, and Bitter Black Women" (2007); Nina Cartier's "Black Women On-Screen as Future Texts" (2014); Herman Gray's Watching Race (2004); Karen Tongson's Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (2011); bell hooks's many essays on film and music; Angharad N. Valdivia's Latina/os in the Media (2010); Ward Churchill's Fantasies of the Master Race (1998); Kent A. Ono and Vincent N. Pham's Asian Americans and the Media (2009); essays by André Brock, Sanjay Sharma, Nick Estes, Jillian Hernandez, and Christine Bacareza Balance on how communities of color perform and organize on and through social media platforms; incisive work on pornography by Jennifer C. Nash (The Black Body in Ecstasy, 2014) and Mireille Miller-Young (A Taste for Brown Sugar, 2014); and the volumes that have been published on Afrofuturist and techno-Orientalist cultural productions (see, for example, the special issue, no. 71, of Social Text on Afrofuturism edited by Alondra Nelson, Kodwo Eshun's More Brilliant Than The Sun [1998], and the essay collection Techno-Orientalism, edited by David S. Roh, Betsy Huang, and Greta A. Niu [2015]). These texts analyze music, films, television series, comic books, fiction, Twitter and Instagram posts, YouTube videos, and other media made by and/or featuring people of color, or that explore fans of color's engagements with media created by and/or about white people. They constitute scholarship on fandom in the sense that they communicate the authors' investments in, affection and need for, criticisms of, and/or disgust with popular culture. These authors offer models for describing and theorizing, in the context of minority histories and worldviews, the fannish or antifannish responses of audiences of color to mass media and so-called low culture. We could make this list far longer if we were to add the publications by scholars of color about their literary fandoms and antifandoms, but one of the primary drives of fan studies has always been to expand the boundaries of research on cultural reception beyond literature (which has been deemed an acceptable and respectable object of study by Western academics, while most objects of media fandom have not enjoyed such legitimation), so we will not dwell here on the myriad approaches to and passionate engagement with novels, short stories, and poetry that scholars of color have taken. Our point is that, reinforcing Wanzo's claim, if the field of fan studies is willing to perceive its genealogy in an expansive and inclusive way, then scholars of color have long been a part of that genealogy.

[1.5] We now turn to the current issue, which, we think and hope, significantly furthers and deepens fan studies' engagement with critical race studies, ethnic studies, transnational studies, and scholarship on the Global South and the non-Western world. We designated the theme of this issue to be "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color" because we wished to invite contributions from scholars of color and scholars outside the United States who work on fandom, and also from scholars of all ethnicities and nationalities who engage with fandoms of characters of color and/or fans of color. We and the journal editors sounded the call through our professional and social media networks and posted the call for papers on numerous sites, and we (gratefully) received many more submissions than we anticipated.

2. Theory

[2.1] The essays in this issue describe, interpret, and contextualize transformative works and practices by fans of color, about characters of color, or both. Abigail De Kosnik focuses on three pieces of fan art and fan fiction that render the relationship between the United States and the Philippines as pairings of fictional characters; she argues that by rendering international relations as fan ships, the fan creators are able to delineate the affective dimensions of (post)coloniality better than political or historical analyses. Ellen Kirkpatrick examines the ways in which cosplayers of color use "resistive and transgressive meaning-making strategies" (¶ 0.1) in their performances of Western mainstream superhero characters, simultaneously resisting the often toxic, mostly white fictional universes of superhero media texts, and making them lively, relevant, and meaningful for themselves. Megan Justine Fowler analyzes racebending in two popular young adult literature fandoms that take place at British and Irish boarding schools: J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle. Fowler argues that fan authors who rewrite these series' main characters as characters of color "disrupt the white homoeroticism and imperialism of the school story genre" (¶ 1.2), revising the source texts' presentations of Britishness and Irishness as predominantly white. Sarah Florini delves into how Black fans of Game of Thrones "interpret the show through Black cultural lenses" (¶ 0.1) by commenting in the hashtag #DemThrones, centering Black audiences' experiences of, identifications with, and reactions to a series that offers little Black representation.

3. Praxis

[3.1] The essays in this issue's Praxis section illustrate how different points of departure and prior experience can reconfigure the relationship between politics, affect, and knowledge in scholars' and fans' engagement with (trans)media texts. James Rendell's analysis of fan attention to antiblackness and racialized gender ideology in The Walking Dead (2010–) fandom highlights the influence of prior reading, viewing, or play on audience members' reception of subsequent texts within a transmedia franchise (i.e., the comics, television series, and video games that make up the zombie apocalypse metatext The Walking Dead). The inherently ergodic (Aarseth 1997) development of the version of the story world in Telltale Games's The Walking Dead (2012), which players experience through a Black male avatar, exemplifies how fan perspectives on the sexual-racial politics of the franchise vary in accordance with impressions formed at earlier moments of exposure to the story world. Fans respond differently to a Black male character's death or a Black heroine's narrative arc in ways that express priorities informed by their own identities as well as the prior encounters with the text that form the basis for their sense of its racial dynamics.

[3.2] Whereas Rendell's approach to The Walking Dead lends credence to a concern with "discursive prioritization" (Hills 2015, 153) that helps explain divergent fan responses to texts, Shan Mu Zhao examines a more comprehensive revalorization enacted over time by the television and film viewing public in Hong Kong. Zhao catalogs the transformative work of Bruce Lee fans and fans turned filmmakers who reappropriated the Green Hornet's Asian sidekick, Kato (a breakthrough performance by Bruce Lee in the 1960s), as a prototype for martial arts–based superheroes. Beginning with their shared affinity for Kato over the eponymous white hero, Hong Kong–based fans resignify the role and its accoutrements, including the iconic mask and the ethnicity- and region-coded fighting techniques, to leverage the hybridity that the Green Hornet had suppressed through its partial inclusion of a sidekick marked by racial difference. The transculturation of Kato and concomitant rise of the master of martial arts as a role in which Asian and Asian American actors could play modern superheroes on screen represents an extension of fan practices that selectively play up or downplay the messaging implicit in mass media depictions of interpersonal relationships across racial lines.

[3.3] One of the most symbolically significant interpersonal relationships for fandom in the contemporary TV thriller How to Get Away with Murder (2014–) is a gay couple differentiated by race (one partner is Asian American, the other white) as well as serostatus (one partner tests positive for HIV, the other tests negative). In this issue, Nicholas-Brie Guarriello reads fan fiction about the pairing with exacting attention to the way fans convey their emotional investment in its performance. This treatment of interracial sexual intimacy holds significant critical interest for fans who enjoy seeing a canonical portrayal of the kind of relationship usually reserved for slash fiction. As a signature of its neoliberal conditions of production, according to Guarriello, the small-screen romance assigns fans the task of reckoning with or retreating from the affective charge and the ethical weight that accompanies inclusive representation in commodity culture. In addition to its executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, and its protagonist, who is a multidimensional, bisexual Black woman portrayed by Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder features out gay Filipino actor Conrad Ricamora as the Asian American, HIV-positive gay character referenced above, and the show has involved numerous women of color as directors, including Debbie Allen, Zetna Fuentes, Nicole Rubio, and Jet Wilkinson. The diversity behind its production and performance underscores the integral value of fans of color and fandoms of color as arbiters of meaning for this era in popular media, when whiteness no longer enjoys a monopoly on the levers of cultural production.

4. Symposium

[4.1] In the Symposium section of this issue, writers rehearse the transformative implications of thinking differently about the relation between fans and the source texts around which our activities take place. The authors refer to disparate art forms and various modes of engagement by and with fans. The expansive treatment of what constitutes fan work in these examples underscores the radical potential of aligning scholars of color with fans/fandoms of color. Yessica Garcia Hernandez and Tracy Deonn Walker forge critical pathways into new terrain in their discussions of antifandom and narrative extraction, respectively. Garcia Hernandez addresses the concrete dilemmas of fat stigma and other racialized body politics that touch on questions of (un)desirability, fetishism, and rejection—concerns that are usually symbolic within studies of fandom and antifans. In her ethnographic research with Latinas who perform in BBW (big beautiful women) pornography and their social media presence, she contends with notions of respectability, the burden of representation, and the biopolitics and ontology of the flesh—problems that are more familiar in scholarship on the lives and narratives of women of color (particularly Black women) than in other inquiries into sexuality (Spillers 1984). As another elaboration of what Wanzo has called "identity hermeneutics" (2015, ¶ 1.6), Walker's essay on Black Panther fandom arrives at a methodological lesson for fan studies by observing how Black fans located themselves at the center of the anticipation of the 2018 superhero film. On social media and elsewhere, the creative and community-building activities unfolding over two years in advance of the film's debut afforded a kind of epistemic authority to Black fans that disrupts the conventional power/knowledge relation between Hollywood, professional critics, and reception post facto by the general public. In similar fashion, by posing the question "What can we learn from black fans?," Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Amy Stornaiuolo turn the canonical model of understanding what texts mean on its head by reconsidering who and what makes them meaningful; this work aligns fan studies with the most substantive interventions of postmodern, feminist, antiracist, and decolonial critical practices.

[4.2] Contributors to this section show the irresistible promise of augmenting the genealogy of fan studies by improving its critical lexicon and its spatial and historical reach. Whereas essays in this issue make gestures toward redressing the overrepresentation of white and contemporary Anglo/US vantage points in fan studies, they employ geographic specificity purposefully. Sarah Christina Villanueva Ganzon's article on the role of Filipino fans in diaspora in the evolution of a groundbreaking "love team" (¶ 1.1), an entertainment industry–promoted romantic couple, displays the power of global networks of viewers/media users to drive pop culture phenomena on a transnational scale. The distinct aptitudes cultivated by fans in Diasporic communities comprise a form of cultural literacy, as Miyoko Conley notes in "Transnational Audiences and Asian American Performance in the Musical KPOP." The broad-based appeal of Korean pop music, generated in part by Asian American fandom, reemerges as a form of feedback in the unique stage musical that presents a parable of the global rise of the genre and its stars.

[4.3] Without the expanded genealogy for fandom scholarship this issue draws on, the powerful interrogation of concepts that support white supremacy in fan cultures could go overlooked. JSA Lowe's self-reflexive essay on slash fiction involving the Marvel Cinematic Character Sam Wilson (the Falcon) explores an empathetic discourse on disability as a crucial incentive to focus on the Black superhero, who is a supporting character in Captain America and Avengers films. By valuing the character's complex embodiment, including his racial background as well as the habituation to bodily risk and injury that constitute his fictionalized military training, Lowe highlights the pernicious variety of color-blind racial ideology that jettisons the character's racial distinctiveness in order to incorporate him into homoromantic fan fic. Poe Johnson and Sascha Buchanan further articulate important theoretical traditions with undertheorized fannish phenomena. In "Transformative Racism: The Black Body in Fan Works," Johnson complements the celebratory treatment of a ludic, carnivalesque kind of fan work—viral parody video—by situating it in dialogue with blackface minstrelsy. It contextualizes the techniques of a present entertainment phenomenon within the deeper historical pattern it reiterates to account for disparate receptions. Buchanan outlines a sort of mirror image of the phenomenon observed by Ganzon: the industry-driven rivalry between Beyoncé and Rihanna fans. In mobilizing the Black feminist discourse of controlling images alongside a Foucauldian critique of discipline, Buchanan contributes to an emergent response to neoliberal racial capitalism critical fan scholarship has to offer. Rather than taking the tendency of media institutions to co-opt fandom for granted, Buchanan commends the activity of audience formations who define fandom on their own terms. Refusing the frame of competition enables members of the BeyHive and Rihanna Navy (as well as those fans who take exception to labels) to elude the reductive demands of the market and put their interest to better use, such as the celebration of solidarity between Black women across the diaspora. These overtures to shared interests and intellectual affinities among fans of color and fandoms of color continue in the interviews and reviews of scholarship included in this issue.

5. Interview and reviews

[5.1] In the interview section, Mel Stanfill offers an edited transcription of a roundtable in which fans of color discussed their participation in femslash fandom. Stanfill and the discussants speak about the multiple ways in which fans of color encounter racism in fan communities, including dismissal of their concerns, receipt of personal attacks when they challenge other fans' biases, and dismay at how fans embrace slash pairings between white male characters but fail to note how little representation of queer or trans people of color there is in fandom. The discussants highlight the ways in which fandom has offered spaces and occasions for understanding their own identifications in new ways, finding others who share their positionalities, and witnessing and joining in conflicts over representation of minoritarian people. They also call on (especially white) fans to educate themselves about race and to take ownership and responsibility for addressing racism in their communities.

[5.2] The issue's five book reviews draw attention to the strengths and contributions of important recent publications in fan studies that foreground race and ethnicity: Rukmini Pande's highly anticipated Squee from the Margins (reviewed by Regina Yung Lee); Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women's Speculative Fiction, by Sami Schalk (reviewed by Alexis Lothian); Boys' Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols, edited by Maud Lavin, Ling Yang, and Jing Jamie Zhao (reviewed by Erika Junhui Yi); Seeing Fans: Representations of Fandom in Media and Popular Culture, edited by Lucy Bennett and Paul Booth (reviewed by Jungmin Kwon); and andré m. carrington's Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (reviewed by Susana Morris).

[5.3] Fans, fan communities and fan studies are all subject to transformative work, just as much as the mass media and social media that attract fandom. One well-known technique of fannish transformation is racebending, in which fans address and critique a source text's centering of white perspectives and experiences by creating a revision that centers the perspectives and experiences of people of color. We offer this issue as one of multiple contemporary transformative works that aim to racebend our field as a whole.

6. Acknowledgments

[6.1] The editors would like to thank Alexander Weheliye for introducing us to each other and suggesting that we collaborate on this project. We also express our gratitude to our contributors for sharing their thoughts, energy, labor, and inspiration.

[6.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 29 in an editorial capacity: Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Cameron Salisbury, Francesca Coppa, and Lori Morimoto (Symposium); and Louisa Ellen Stein and Katie Morrissey (Review).

[6.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 29 in a production capacity: Christine Mains and Rrain Prior (production editors); Jennifer Duggan, Beth Friedman, and Christine Mains (copyeditors); Claire P. Baker, Christine Mains, Sarah New, Rebecca Sentance, and Gabriel Simm (layout); and Claire P. Baker, Rachel P. Kreiter, Amanda Retartha, and Latina Vidolova (proofreaders).

[6.4] TWC thanks the board of the Organization for Transformative Works. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[6.5] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 29: Brienne Adams, Christine Bacareza Balance, Sarah Boyd, James Coleman, Miyoko Conley, Elizabeth Gilliland, Grace Gipson, Mark Jerng, Linda Levitt, and Allison McCracken.

7. References

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