Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

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An overeager black scientist nearly triggered the end of the world in Terminator 2. On occasion, the black character in such films popped up as the silent, mystical type or maybe a scary witch doctor, but it was fairly clear that in the artistic renderings of the future by pop culture standards, people of color weren't factors at all. But then came the smash box-office success of The Matrix and Avatar.

Afrofuturism: Imagining the Future of Black Identity

Both movies spoke to a reenvisioning of the future that weaved mysticism, explored the limits of technology, and advocated for self-expression and peace. The Matrix included a cast of multiethnic characters, the polar opposite of the legacy of homogeneous sci-fi depictions so great that even film critic Roger Ebert questioned whether The Matrix creators envisioned a future world dominated by black people.

Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

Wesley Snipes's heroic Blade trilogy inspired a new tier of black vampire heroes, not to mention a cosplay craze in which countless men donned the Blade costume. Will Smith, summer blockbuster king and the consummate smart-talking good guy, was the sci-fi hero ushering in the new millennium. As an actor, he has saved Earth and greater humanity three times and counting, not including the time he outsmarted surveillance technology in Enemy of the State.

Smith put a cosmic dent in the monolithic depiction of the sci-fi hero. He played a devoted scientist and last man on Earth working on a cure to save humanity from the zombie apocalypse in I Am Legend; he was the kick-butt war pilot who landed a mean hook on an alien and could fly galactic spacecraft, thus disabling the impending alien invasion in Independence Day; and he played a sunglasses-clad government agent devoted to keeping humans ignorant of the massive alien populations both friendly and hostile who frequent Earth in the Men in Black trilogy.

In After Earth, Smith plays the father of a character played by his real-life son, Jaden Smith, on a distant planet some thousand years after Earth has been evacuated. Both men on a ride through space find themselves stranded on a very different Earth and the save-the-earth lineage continues. These cultural hallmarks aside, a larger culture of black sci-fi heads have now taken it upon themselves to create their own takes on futuristic life through the arts and critical theory. And the creations are groundbreaking. Afrofuturism is an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.

Whether through literature, visual arts, music, or grassroots organizing, Afrofuturists redefine culture and notions of blackness for today and the future.

Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

Both an artistic aesthetic and a framework for critical theory, Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western beliefs. In some cases, it's a total reenvisioning of the past and speculation about the future rife with cultural critiques.

The story follows the discovery of rumored black American separatists whose disgust with racial disparity led them to create a society on the moon long before Neil Armstrong's arrival. The story is a commentary on separatist theory, race, and politics that inverts the nationalistic themes of the early space race. The show is a "What if Jack Kirby were black?

The show displays parallels between black culture and Kirby's Jewish heritage, explores otherness and alienation, and adds new dimensions to the pop culture hero. Afrofuturism can weave mysticism with its social commentary too. Award-winning fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death captures the struggles of Onyesonwu, a woman in post-nuclear, apocalyptic Africa who is under the tutelage of a shaman.

She hopes to use her newfound gifts to save her people from genocide. Whether it's the African futuristic fashion of former Diddy-Dirty Money songstress Dawn Richard — which she unveiled in her music videos for the digital album Goldenheart — or the indie film and video game Project Fly, which was created by DJ James Quake and follows a group of black ninjas on Chicago's South Side, the creativity born from rooting black culture in sci-fi and fantasy is an exciting evolution.

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This blossoming culture is unique. Unlike previous eras, today's artists can wield the power of digital media, social platforms, digital video, graphic arts, gaming technology, and more to tell their stories, share their stories, and connect with audiences inexpensively — a gift from the sci-fi gods, so to speak, that was unthinkable at the turn of the century.


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The storytelling gatekeepers vanished with the high-speed modem, and for the first time in history, people of color have a greater ability to project their own stories. While technology empowers creators, this intrigue with sci-fi and fantasy itself inverts conventional thinking about black identity and holds the imagination supreme. Black identity does not have to be a negotiation with awful stereotypes, a dystopian view of the race remember those black-man-as-endangered-species stories or the constant "Why are black women single?

He wrote a big piece in The Wire , a really early piece on Black Science Fiction in which he posed this question, asks "What does it mean to be human? Namespaces Page Discussion. Views Read Edit History. Also, I wonder if people know how to deal with Janelle being a woman. She pulls from a lot of funk and electronica elements. Most of the celebrated innovators in those genres are usually male.

You do an excellent job of explaining how pop artists like Aaliyah or Nicki Minaj have played with futurist themes. Not at all.

You can go as deep or keep it as light as you want. If nothing else, Afrofuturism is a fun way to stretch the imagination. What new Afrofuturist artists are you especially excited about right now? I had an opportunity to participate in the Bring the Noise: Afrofuturism x Russolo event at fidget space in Philadelphia. I like Flying Lotus, too. You also create a science fiction multimedia series about the heroine Rayla The images are wonderful.

Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

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