On April 25, aka Denim Day, PWR Lecturers Ashley Newby and Kathleen Tarr joined me in hosting digital activist and strategist April Reign for an afternoon of talks with students and community members. A digital changemaker, April’s hashtags #OscarsSoWhite and #NoConfederate have channeled popular rage toward lack of representation and misrepresentation of people of color in the entertainment industry. After April tweeted “[#]OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair” in 2015, sparking a conversation that went beyond the academy’s all-white roster of nominees that year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made significant changes to their voting rolls, promising to do better. And each Oscars season since, April’s hashtag has resurfaced to hold them to their word. After the success of this organic campaign, in 2017 April launched [#]NoConfederate with Jamie Broadnax, Shanelle Little, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon and Lauren Warren in response to HBO’s plan to produce a show with the premise “What if the Confederacy never lost?” After [#]NoConfederate trended during Game of Thrones, the project, though not officially cancelled, seems gratefully to have lost steam.
April’s visit comprised two events, a lunch at the Hume Center and an afternoon talk at IDA’s Harmony House. Over lunch, April recounted how she became increasingly vocal on Twitter, using her growing platform to advocate for diversity and inclusion on television. Her first success came in using #StopTheFight to pressure a boxing promoter to cancel a proposed match between rapper DMX and the man who killed Trayvon Martin. (April doesn’t use his name, so I’ll omit it here, too.) She told us, too, about how her viral #OscarsSoWhite tweet was sent off while she was getting dressed one morning, and was internationally trending by lunch. Despite not planning this tweet, she has used its virality to continue advocating for better representation of difference in media. After sharing her social media history, April answered great questions from the assembled students about possibilities and limitations on social media, especially on Twitter, which she characterized as the media platform with the best breaking news, far surpassing TV. Her major takeaways were that as social media users, we have choices about who we follow, what we engage with, and how.
In the afternoon, we headed to Harmony House for a conversation on Women of Color in Media, especially in the wake of the hashtagged movements #MeToo and #TimesUp. April talked about the importance of continually centering women of color to diversity & inclusion efforts which can favor white women if not explicitly made intersectional. She also spoke frankly to the assembled students about following their passions intelligently and proactively, advocating that aspiring actors write their own content, for example, and seek out mentors and sponsors who can give advice and help make connections.
For writers and rhetoricians, April Reign’s visit was an opportunity to think more capaciously about the ways we produce and consume rhetoric everyday. April’s activism on Twitter speaks to the vibrancy of social media platforms as spaces for writing and composing public rhetoric, and her focus on mass media like TV and film reminds us of the representational rhetoric that shapes our conceptions of who heroes and neighbors are or can be. I’m so glad our students in PWR and at Stanford had this opportunity to engage with resistive digital rhetorics in the public sphere.