How a Chicago Nonprofit is Working to Promote Diversity Within TV

A Chicago nonprofit geared toward promoting more diversity in television is getting ready for its annual artist showcase in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art. The group, Open TV or OTV, works to not only create more inclusive spaces, but hold existing institutions like the the Museum of Contemporary Art accountable.

“When we think about how intersectional identities have been cast out of TV and film and see we’re able to amplify artists and celebrate unique gifts; what’s beautiful is now we have the foundation to continue the work we’ve been doing,” said co-founder of OTV, Elijah McKinnon.

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It’s a foundation about five years in the making. Their annual showcase, “OTV Tonight,” explores how their artists are rooted at the intersection of art and TV.

“All of our artists come to us with so many different backgrounds,” McKinnon continues. “They’re not just directors, filmmakers and writers. They’re also photographers, painters, movers choreographers and we’re celebrating that and providing a platform for them to tell those stories uninhibitedly.”

Open Television is a platform for intersectional pilots and series, supporting Chicago artists in producing and exhibiting indie series. (courtesy Open TV)Open Television is a platform for intersectional pilots and series, supporting Chicago artists in producing and exhibiting indie series. (courtesy Open TV)

“It’s very transactional in Hollywood,” OTV artist Jenna Anast said. “You pitch an idea, we love your idea and even if it’s the most fragile piece of art, those things aren’t considered. What’s considered is, is it going to sell or profit. So OTV’s mission is making sure the artist and their vision is first and foremost and working with them through the entire creation to its completion. I don’t know any other organization that’s doing that.”

OTV artists Shervin Bain and Victoria Lee agree. The upcoming showcase will give a sneak peak of the second season of their OTV series “Low Strung,” which explores the antics of two Black, queer Chicagoans.

“You see that in white TV all the time, the whole spectrum,” Lee said. “The more content that comes out from Black creators, the more we’ll be able to see that entire spectrum and that’s a really powerful thing.”

“Showcasing the diversity as Black queer people, we are diversity,” Bain agrees. “But there are subsets of people who do what we don’t do, and people who want to do what we’re doing. So we want to showcase the diversity within the diversity.”

For Chicago’s first youth poet laureate and OTV artist E’mon Lauren, it’s vital their work be inclusive of everyone. Not just for Black and brown ears.

“I love TV, acting, singing, I live for theater. But there’s tropes that white Hollywood likes,” Lauren said. “We don’t care because we know our Black is bountiful and our bounty is beautiful to the point where our autonomy is ours. Everyone’s voice is for themselves and not to represent all Black people. It’s about language. That’s what it’s about for me. I like to make language accessible for all, my language accessible for all.”

The accessibility OTV works to provide through critical development resources is not just for its artists, but for existing institutions like the MCA as well. That’s where its annual showcase will be live streamed from next weekend.

“Instead of removing ourselves or immediately jumping to a reaction, we want to take the long road ahead which is rooted in liberation and equity. We want to create a blueprint for what it looks like to hold a seat in community, but also hold a seat within these historically problematic institutions and bridge a gap for deeper understanding.”

You can stream “OTV Tonight” showcases here, including their most recent one.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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