Broadcast and Electronic Arts

Winners of Marcus Transformative Research Award announced


Three College of Liberal & Creative Arts faculty members are this year's recipients of the Marcus Transformative Research Award and will support research in subjects that include the potential for aesthetics and art to enhance cultural understanding, ballroom culture as a space for both healing and celebration, and an examination of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia through the lens of Korean pop music.

Hamid Khani

Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Professor Hamid Khani will produce “Cultural Harmony: In Search of a Common Ground,” a documentary film that explores the potential role of aesthetics and art as tools for cultural understanding. The documentary will explore five ancient Judeo-Christian monuments in Iran to promote cultural harmony in an effort to dispel narratives of fear, exclusion and mistrust. The documentary is centered on inclusive, diverse and equitable narrative and constructivist frameworks in search of common cultural heritage and similarities between Judeo-Christian, Iranian and Islamic architecture, art, aesthetics and culture.

“I am excited about this project and thankful to both the college committee and the LCA leadership for giving me the opportunity to highlight our common humanities despite all the noise promoting otherness and us against them mentality through my project,” says Khani. “This project is an attempt to contribute to our diverse, yet similar, stories and experiences in line with the LCA's mission ‘to find collective solutions to pressing global and social issues.’”

Johnny Symons

“Get Your 10s” is a feature-length documentary planned by Associate Professor of Cinema Johnny Symons that follows Rashaad Newsome, a Black queer artist from the American South, as he creates his most ambitious project yet: a multi-platform, experiential performance at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory. Complete with a 30-foot hologram, a gospel choir, the premier vogue dancers from the US, Japan, Brazil, and Ukraine, and a spirited non-binary artificial intelligence named Being, Rashaad transforms a historic military building into a sanctuary for healing and celebration. In the process, he reveals how art and ballroom culture can help us collectively imagine a brighter future.

“In the wake of the pandemic and a difficult economy, it’s an especially challenging time to complete a feature-length documentary and this award provides me with the ability to dig deeply into crafting this important story. At a time when LGBTQ+ lives are being increasingly denigrated and legislated, this film showcases the talents of queer, trans and BIPOC artists and dancers and inspires us to use our imaginations to work towards a more equitable world,” says Symons. “The time and funds afforded by this award will go directly towards editing, finishing and releasing the film in festivals and streaming services, with the collaborative support of SFSU students and recent alums.”

Yutian Wong

“Dancing in the Archives of Sincerity” is a book planned by Theatre & Dance Professor Yutian Wong about the intersection of a global health crisis, the resurgence of anti-Asian racism, and dance studies. Using the Korean pop music act BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondon) as a case study, the book examines how conversations about racism/xenophobia, homophobia, cultural hierarchies, and the roles and responsibilities of the artist in society are taking place from the space of Asian popular culture.

“How dance is produced, performed, and taught changed overnight when theaters, studios, and other public spaces closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to Professor Wong. “Long-held assumptions about dance and how to conduct dance research were completely upended, so my book is a response to teaching about dance and doing dance research in the aftermath of a global health crisis. This Marcus Transformative Research Award affords me the time to reflect on this massive disciplinary shift and complete the book manuscript.”


About the The Marcus Transformative Research Award

The Marcus Transformative Research Award provides one semester leave with pay and a $3,000 research budget. The award is made possible by the George and Judy Marcus Funds for Excellence in the Liberal Arts, which was established in 2018 with a $25-million gift to SF State.


George and Judy Marcus for Excellence in Liberal Arts

SF State alum executive produces documentary on hoops legend Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Sarah Allen (B.A., ’99) focuses her journalism work on social justice in sports

Two decades before Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem to protest police violence, another professional athlete faced severe consequences for refusing to salute the flag. Now, a San Francisco State University alumna has brought former National Basketball Association (NBA) player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s unique story — and the tantalizing style he played the game — to an international audience. 

Longtime journalist Sarah Allen (B.A., ’99) is an executive producer for “STAND,” the biographical documentary about Abdul-Rauf featuring extensive interviews with him and other basketball luminaries. It premiered on Showtime on Feb. 3.  

“I fell into it because I really was intrigued by that whole conversation around athletes and activism,” Allen said. “I’m not as interested in giving somebody’s stats on the field. That’s boring to me. Athletes have stories that go beyond that.” 

Born as Chris Jackson in 1969 in Mississippi, Abdul-Rauf exhibited a dazzling display of skills and athleticism at only 6 feet and 1 inch tall. He used his battle with Tourette syndrome as motivation. “It looked like I was watching God play basketball,” Shaquille O’Neal, a teammate of Abdul-Rauf at Louisiana State University, said in the documentary. Allen said: “Clearly, he was Steph Curry before Steph Curry.” 

Abdul-Rauf’s career was cut short, however, after he decided to sit on the bench during pregame performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” due to the continued oppression of Black people in America. He was suspended and then exiled from the league, and later his home was burned down in an act of white supremacy. Now age 54, he has enjoyed a career resurgence, dominating players much younger than him in the half-court BIG3 basketball league with the same skills he has always had. 

“Mahmoud is just very layered,” Allen said. “When you see his story, he’s had a lot of trauma in his life. When you look at him, he doesn’t seem like he’s been through everything he’s been through. And that is what intrigued me. And again, he’s a conduit for all these messages that are in the film and that I feel we should continue talking about.”  

Allen met Abdul-Rauf at the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conference, where he won an award. At the time, he was long out of the national spotlight and his story had been largely forgotten. Allen approached him and convinced him to do an interview, his first one-on-one with anyone in years. Their rapport has since evolved into Allen writing numerous stories on Abdul-Rauf and then negotiating his licensing agreement with Showtime and the contract for his 2022 memoir through Kaepernick Publishing.  

Sarah Allen headshot

Allen’s SF State story 

Allen grew up in the Fillmore District in San Francisco. After high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral, she attended Clark Atlanta University for one year before returning to the Bay Area. 

“San Francisco State has one of the best broadcasting programs in the country, so it was a no-brainer for me,” she said.  

By Allen’s third semester, though, she found herself on academic probation. She credits fellow Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts student Tiffany Griffith (B.A., ’99) with helping turn her academic career around. 

“She and I became fast friends and we started taking classes together. I started getting motivated to go to class, be awake during class, make sure I do my homework,” Allen said. “I think it took me about a year and a half to get off academic probation. And in a year and a half, I ended up back on the Dean’s List.   

“Once I really took it seriously, the mentors that I had there, they really made sure I succeeded,” Allen added. “And I’m just so grateful I had that experience because it really prepared me for real life.” 

Learn more about the SF State Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department. 

Alum directs ‘The Murder Inc. Story’ docuseries on BET, and it’s a hit

SF State helped Michael J. Payton develop his love for hip-hop into a career

When San Francisco State University graduate Michael J. Payton posted a YouTube video about hip-hop record label Murder Inc. four years ago, he didn’t expect it would get him hired as director of the official docuseries for national television. But it did.

“The Murder Inc. Story” premiered on Black Entertainment Television (BET) on Aug. 9 and hit No. 3 trending on Twitter. Payton (B.A., ’15) directed all five of the one-hour episodes and interviewed icons such as Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Nas and Daymond John.

In early 2019, label founder Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo posted an all-points bulletin to his 1 million Instagram followers: “Whoever knows Michael Payton. Let him know to reach out to me. ‘Cause I am gonna let him be [a part] of the Big Official Documentary.”

That same night, they connected over the phone and Gotti tapped Payton to direct the series.

Murder Inc. recording artists like Ja Rule, Ashanti and Lloyd dominated the charts in the early 2000s, shattering Guinness World Records. Federal money laundering charges against Gotti and his brother would contribute to a fast downfall, though they were acquitted. The music retains legacy and influence, as it has for Payton since age 12.

“I remember being enamored with their mystique and the whole brand,” said Payton, who grew up in Oakland. “It’s really a story of hope [and] belief in oneself. That’s one of the things I’m most fascinated by with hip-hop culture. It was all from the minds of very young people who had nothing. If you believe and have a passion and work hard, you can change the world.”

An SF State vibe

After high school, Payton selected SF State for its audio production and music recording program in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department. He discovered a hip-hop community that would not only shape his career, but also provide him with a deep scholarly understanding of the genre that he loves.

He took Africana Studies courses with Dawn-Elissa Fischer, an anthropologist renowned for her research of hip-hop and other aspects of Black popular culture.

“He is a great communicator and peer educator,” Fischer said. “He created pathways and opportunities for many students, and he has continued to do so for those who came to SF State after him.”

In the Africana Studies Department’s Hip-Hop Workshop course, he served as assistant to Fischer and Dave “Davey D” Cook. Davey D and Payton reunited for “The Murder Inc. Story,” where Davey D appears as a historian.

“[Including him in the docuseries] was one of my proudest moments,” Payton said. “He was a big anchor for a lot of the cultural context in this story, and BET just loved him and his contribution.”

Commuting from Antioch, Payton would arrive on campus early in the morning and stay as late as possible. He was active in the Black Student Union and was general manager of student radio station KSFS and booked shows at The Depot. His weekly “Turn Up at The Depot” event allowed student rappers (including himself), DJs and bands to perform alongside notable artists. He was having the time of his life and recorded an EP titled “19th and Holloway.”

“There’s nothing like walking from Parkmerced to Stonestown late on a Friday night with your friends,” he said. “I wanted to capture that vibe in that EP. To this day, I still go back and listen to it and feel the same feels that I felt back then.”

The takeover

A scholarship from Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation helped make it possible for Payton to attend SF State. When they met for an interview for “The Murder Inc. Story,” Jay-Z was so excited that he called his mother when the cameras stopped rolling: “Mom, look at this young man who we put through school! He is now working with BET!’”

Payton is now working on a project for the Shawn Carter Foundation’s 20th anniversary. Payton is also slated to direct a docuseries about women’s contributions to hip-hop and executive produce a documentary about jailed drug lord Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff.

Payton emphasizes that he aims for all of his work to be a catalyst for change and community involvement. “I always want to make sure we’re able to weave in things that are going to start necessary conversations,” said Payton, who earned his master’s degree from New York University and served as an executive fellow for the governor’s California Volunteers initiative. “It’s not just these people [who] made cool music and this cool thing they did. No, let’s also dig deeper into these stories of why and how and give that cultural context.”

Learn more about the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department.