Afrofuturism is an evolving term that conceptualizes the past and present to reimagine the Future through an African American lens. Afrofuturism is a form of expression in many forms of art, activism, and expression.
It is not breaking news that there is a severe underrepresentation of Black stories and Black talent in movies. In science fiction, cinematographers, directors, and writers often hire actors of color to check the diversity box, but they disregard them as potential narrators of important stories to tell.
Being Black in America is a science fiction experience -Greg Tate
Afrofuturism and sci-fi
Many mainstream sci-fi movies are often led by white actors because cast directors believe the factor of race is “too distracting” from the narrative itself.
There is little to no African American narrative when we think of futuristic movies like Back to the Future or Blade Runner. It is not about hiring Black talent to follow a Hollywood script based on the lens, experience, and background of a white person. It is about telling the stories, dreams, fears, and ambitions of the Future based on the experience and background of a Black person.
Futurism, in general, allows us to imagine what the Future will look like without explaining how we will get there. For instance, a futuristic novel can feature teletransportation machines that can take us from one part of the planet to another in a matter of minutes. But the novel doesn’t have to go into details on how the machine works or the logistics of Customs, passports, money to declare, or ID validation. Futurism gives us the opportunity to dream big.
Following this example, the wish to have a teletransportation machine may come from the wish to travel easier and quicker without long lines to pass through security, long lines to get on the plane, and long waiting times to get an Uber to your destination place. We know where we are, and we know where we want to be. We just don’t know how to get from point A to point B.
This is what happens with Afrofuturism.
How would the future look like without segregation, white privilege, and racially motivated hate crimes?
How would the future look like in a place where Black voices are heard and seen?
How would the Future look if Black people had opportunities to lead scientific and technological advancements impacting how an entire city operates?
Afrofuturism and technologies
After World War II, the technologies began to develop. During the Atomic Age, the rise of investments in infrastructure was prevalent as there was a need to build and rebuild cities.
This was an essential moment for Afrofuturism because, in the middle of these developments that were happening in real life, Black authors imagined what these changes would look like if they included a Black perspective.
Afrofuturism and Aliens
The extraterrestrial “aliens” are a prevalent character in Afrofuturistic literature.
In these stories, the characters often perceive a sense of loneliness, isolation, and despair as a form of expression to open up about the most difficult aspects of Black history in the past.
The abduction of Africans, the isolation, the “otherness,” and the racial segregation are addressed in Afrofuturistic literature using aliens and extraterrestrial subjects as another form to illustrate and express despair.
If we want to understand anything about science and technology, we need to begin with the people who have been damaged, the most subjugated by it. -Alondra Nelson
Afrofuturism and Superheroes
In the 1940s, African American characters like Ace Harlem and Logo emerged but struggled to succeed and gain mainstream attention in a medium dominated by white characters.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced Black Panther to engage with Black readers.
Black Panther is the first Black superhero to enter the mainstream world. The fictional country of Wakanda is based on an Afrofuturistic premise to its finest. Wakanda has some of the best technology in the world, and it’s been protected from colonialism, which allowed them to preserve their culture and live without oppressors and oppression, at least in Wakanda.
Wakanda’s visuals, clothing, and music are inspired and produced by African talent. The history and tradition of African tribes interwoven with futuristic utopian worlds create the world of Wakanda.
The politics of Afrofuturism
Afrofuturism allows us to dream of technologies that don’t exist yet. Time travel, flying cars, and colorful and avant-garde architecture are the average residences.
However, besides sci-fi and futuristic technology, the prevalent message in Afrofuturism is reimagining a world without racism, a world where Black people can be superheroes, soldiers, astronauts, kings, queens, and everything we can imagine.
Afrofuturism proposes a world where Black voices are heard. It’s not about saying that “we don’t see color” because this statement only spirals to create more problems and disregard the issues of inequality.
We see color. We see Black voices. We see their stories.
In many ways, Afrofuturism is trying to address the issues of racial inequality through different genres such as sci-fi and action.
I had to find another place where they hadn’t perceived Black people to be, and that was a spaceship -George Clinton
Afrofuturism and fashion
Fashion is a form of expression that carries meaning in social, historical, and political contexts.
In Afrofuturism, fashion can be as avant-garde and out-of-the-box as the author desires to do so.
Afrofuturism lets us reimagine the world we live in and the clothes we wear.
As discussed, Afrofuturism reimagines the Future through an African American perspective.
3D printed clothing, space-related motifs, extraordinary tridimensional headpieces. The options are endless.
Afrofuturistic fashion gives us the opportunity to bring together unheard Black stories with a futuristic aesthetic that can be reinterpreted at the discretion and dimension of the creator.
Afrofuturistic fashion evolves as the perception of Afrofuturism evolves. New technologies emerge, and new ways to protest and advocate for racial justice are coming up.
The Wiz, is an interpretation of the 1900’s classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum with a Black cast.
The Wiz had a strong reception on Broadway with seven Tony Awards, including best musical. At the time, this seemed like a strong path towards producing plays, an art in general, mainly by Black talent.
In 1978, The Wiz film premiered with a cast starring Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor. By then, this was the most expensive musical film ever made, and it ended up being a commercial failure, producing a net loss of $10.4 million.
The contrast between a strong reception on Broadway and a commercial failure in Hollywood made producers and film directors skeptical about films with Black casts.
We can consider The Wiz as Afrofuturistic. We see a classic story told by Black actors through a Black perspective. The story is not about wage gaps, racial inequity, or a lack of diversity in the workplace. But it is about four characters who have an authentic personality and a story to tell. This is a very out-of-the-box concept for film directors who are skeptical about hiring Black talent because race is “too distracting” for them.
Four decades have passed since The Wiz made it to Broadway and Hollywood, and in 2024 a revival of this musical premiered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre, and it’s making its way to Los Angeles and New York City.
Afrofuturism started several decades ago, but it will continue to develop further with new technologies and interpretations to be made. Image Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.