Rebecca Wanzo

Chair and Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
African and African-American Studies, Courtesy Affiliation
American Culture Studies, Courtesy Affiliation
English, Courtesy Affiliation
Film and Media Studies, Courtesy Affiliation
PhD, Duke University
BA, Miami University
research interests:
  • African American literature history and culture
  • Theories of affect
  • Popular culture
  • Critical race theory
  • Feminist theory
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    • Mondays 12-1 pm
    • Tuesdays 2:30-3:30 pm
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    • Washington University
    • MSC 1078-0137-02
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Rebecca Wanzo is a professor and chair of the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

    She is the author of The Suffering Will Not Be Televised: African American Women and Sentimental Political Storytelling (SUNY Press, 2009), which uses African American Women as a case study in exploring the kinds of storytelling conventions of people must adhere to for their suffering to be legible to various institutions in the United States. Her most recent book, The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging (NYU Press, 2020) examines how Black cartoonists have used racialized caricatures to criticize constructions of ideal citizenship, as well as the alienation of African Americans from such imaginaries. It was the recipient of the Katherine Singer Kovacs Book Prize from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the Charles Hatfield Book Prize from the Comics Studies Society, and the Best Scholarly/Academic Work from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.


    Her research interests include African American literature and culture, critical race theory, fan studies, feminist theory, the history of popular fiction in the United States, cultural studies, theories of affect, and graphic storytelling. She has published in venues such as American LiteratureCamera Obscuradifferences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural StudiesSignsWomen and Performance, and numerous edited collections. She has also written essays for media outlets such as CNN, the LA Review of Books, Huffington Post, The Conversation, and the comic book Bitch Planet


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    The Content of Our Caricature

    The Content of Our Caricature

    Winner, 2021 Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award, given by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies

    Winner, 2021 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Academic/Scholarly Work

    Honorable Mention, 2021 Harry Shaw and Katrina Hazzard-Donald Award for Outstanding Work in African-American Popular Culture Studies, given by the Popular Culture Association

    Winner, 2020 Charles Hatfield Book Prize, given by the Comic Studies Society

    Traces the history of racial caricature and the ways that Black cartoonists have turned this visual grammar on its head

    Revealing the long aesthetic tradition of African American cartoonists who have made use of racist caricature as a black diasporic art practice, Rebecca Wanzo demonstrates how these artists have resisted histories of visual imperialism and their legacies. Moving beyond binaries of positive and negative representation, many black cartoonists have used caricatures to criticize constructions of ideal citizenship in the United States, as well as the alienation of African Americans from such imaginaries. The Content of Our Caricature urges readers to recognize how the wide circulation of comic and cartoon art contributes to a common language of both national belonging and exclusion in the United States.

    Historically, white artists have rendered white caricatures as virtuous representations of American identity, while their caricatures of African Americans are excluded from these kinds of idealized discourses. Employing a rich illustration program of color and black-and-white reproductions, Wanzo explores the works of artists such as Sam Milai, Larry Fuller, Richard “Grass” Green, Brumsic Brandon Jr., Jennifer Cruté, Aaron McGruder, Kyle Baker, Ollie Harrington, and George Herriman, all of whom negotiate and navigate this troublesome history of caricature. The Content of Our Caricature arrives at a gateway to understanding how a visual grammar of citizenship, and hence American identity itself, has been constructed.

    The Suffering Will Not Be Televised

    The Suffering Will Not Be Televised

    Why do some stories of lost white girls garner national media headlines, while others missing remain unknown to the general public? What makes a suffering person legible as a legitimate victim in U.S. culture? In The Suffering Will Not Be Televised, Rebecca Wanzo uses African American women as a case study to explore the conventions of sentimental political storytelling—the cultural practices that make the suffering of some legible while obscuring other kinds of suffering. Through an examination of memoirs, news media, film, and television, Wanzo's analysis reveals historical and contemporary tendencies to conflate differences between different kinds of suffering, to construct suffering hierarchies, and to treat wounds inflicted by the state as best healed through therapeutic, interpersonal interaction. Wanzo's focus on situations as varied as disparities in child abduction coverage, pain experienced in medical settings, sexual violence, and treatment of prisoners of war illuminates how widely and deeply these conventions function within U.S. culture.

    "Tracing the invisibility of the suffering of African American women across media, The Suffering Will Not Be Televised offers an important analysis of the many ways in which African American women's experiences have been excluded from narratives about social violence and victimization. Wanzo's book serves as a reminder about the necessity of considering gender and race relationally for women's studies, cultural studies, and studies of crime, media, and culture." — Carol A. Stabile, author of White Victims, Black Villains: Gender, Race, and Crime News in U.S. Culture