Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Tim J. Anderson

Committee Member

Myles McNutt

Committee Member

Allison Page

Committee Member

Arthur Knight


In today’s racially charged climate there is an expectation that black celebrities cry out #BlackLivesMatter, get on the field to #TakeAKnee and be #UnapologeticallyBlack whenever they are in the spotlight. This climate transcends what was once seen as a post-racial America— a time where the media portrayed race as no longer being an issue— and encourages black celebrities to address racism. Prior research on black celebrities by Sarah J. Jackson, Ellis Cashmore, bell hooks, James Baldwin and others acknowledges the historical burden placed on black celebrities to publicly discuss racism and represent blackness in order to challenge dominant narratives. Today, this expectation manifests differently than it has previously due to the affordances of social media and the need for celebrities to brand themselves as “woke” in order to appease their black fans. This thesis analyzes how the system of black celebrity works to bring issues of race into the mainstream public sphere and situates the current climate as post post-racial because of the emergence of discussions around existing systemic racism. Utilizing theoretical celebrity studies research by Richard Dyer and P. David Marshall, I perform a critical discourse analysis of media coverage and online discourses surrounding Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl halftime performance. What I discover is that Beyoncé integrated activism into her brand and public image as a tactic to highlight the tenants of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement —a movement emerged to bring attention to continued systemic racism. This tactic is indicative of a larger cultural shift in the system of American black celebrity in the post Obama era. This research furthers an understanding of how black celebrity and the public sphere converge.


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