“This new discourse calls for the need to imagine a better future for Black people”: Sandrine Uwase Ndahiro examines the transformative power of Afrofuturism
Afrofuturism presents Black individuals with the notion of re-imagining their Black bodies in a position of power and greatness. This was evident when I watched the film Black Panther (2018). It was the first time that I can remember ever going to the cinema and watching a film that had a predominantly Black cast who were portrayed as royals, warriors, and superheroes. I remember bringing my little brothers along as I wanted to reiterate how Black people can be superheroes and change-makers. Previously any films that I had watched that had Black characters were always in the role of a freed slave, civil rights activist, or an incarcerated African American. Black characters’ representation in the film was always one of trauma, pain, and injustice, something that always makes me uneasy to watch as I know that we, Black people, deserve to be portrayed in a different light. Black Panther had the most positive impact for me as it highlighted how Black characters were able to be portrayed in the role of power, in a role where they had solutions to help the human race. Something that is just unheard of.[restrict]
The term Afrofuturism is a philosophy that looks at the urgency of the future being in the here and now. Afrofuturism study first emerged in the 1990s and was seen as a new political, social, and artistic movement. There are multiple definitions of the term Afrofuturism. For this discussion, Taylor Crumpton’s definition is adopted. She defines Afrofuturism as “a fluid ideology shaped by generations of artists, musicians, scholars, and activists whose aim is to reconstruct Blackness in culture”. Afrofuturism acts as a new guide to understanding what a new form of re-imagining a Black future looks like.
I was drawn to the term Afrofuturism for a variety of reasons but mainly its strong ideology of the importance of Black empowerment as history has assigned the Black body the role of inferiority and helplessness, always waiting around to be saved by our Western counterparts. My PhD research looks at the concept of African futurity. Earlier Western thinkers and writers such as George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Joseph Conrad stipulated that the African continent is a place that has no future. With this revelation I have always been interested in what an African future would entail and how different that may be from a Western one. I decided to look at this concept of the future through the mediums of fiction, autobiography, film, and art. I have always known the impact of reading cultural texts by third-generation African writers (Afrofuturists), which place the African character at the centre of their narratives. These narratives explore African inventions and creativity and highlight how Africans are actively engaged in finding solutions for challenges facing future generations.
Afrofuturism is visible through different mediums such as film, literature, art, and music which all adapt the sense of techno-culture to change the face of Black culture and art. Using technology, a new kind of Black future is imagined through the careful evaluation of different concepts such as race, gender, and class as a pathway for the realisation of a bright future with better conditions not only for the Black population but for humankind.
Essentially Afrofuturism is an exploratory tool used by Black people to find new ways to construct their future. It calls for the imagination of who gets to access the future and what a Black future would entail. Black future is something that has been always questioned and Afrofuturism tackles this issue head-on.
As already mentioned above, Afrofuturism is visible through the medium of literature. The speculative fiction centralises African- American concerns of 20th-century issues such as class, race, and gender and puts it in conversation with a techno culture enhanced future. Science fiction is used as a new tool that re-creates Black futures and helps us understand the lived experiences of the African diaspora who are alienated and are creating new ways of understanding transformation and resistance. A prominent example of this is African- American writer Octavia Butler whose work explores the meaning of an alternate future with her critically acclaimed novel Kindred (1979).
Aside from literature, Afrofuturism is also a strong feature in the music scene. This can be traced back to the 1960s’ jazz musicians such as Sun Ra. In most recent times, artists such as Janelle Monaé’s masterpiece “Django Jane” (2018) adapts the name from Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained (2012). The song is described as a protest song with Black women’s future being a central theme. When I watched the music video, I felt a new sense of liberation and hopefulness for how the future was not only female, but Black women were going to be more empowered and destined for greatness. As a Black woman that is something that I welcome with open arms especially in the era of Black Girl Magic.
Afrofuturism also paves the way for readers/viewers to have a deeper understanding of action and transformation through creativity. This is seen through the lens of self-expression that centres on the perspective of people of colour. Ytasha Womack in her book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture points out how “Afrofuturism encourages the beauties of African diasporic cultures and gives people of colour a face in the future” (191).
It is important to point out how the Black future is looked at through a post-apocalyptic lens. A distinctive feature of Afrofuturism, when put in conversation with the apocalypse lens, is the sense of resistance that Africans have shown throughout history. A prominent example of this is the transatlantic slavery era. American Professor Reynaldo Anderson points out how resistance and survival amongst Africans “took place in postapocalyptic times, with the transatlantic slave trade being the apocalypse” (38). Through the mode of survival and resistance, the formally enslaved moved past this apocalyptic future and paved the way to access a new Black reality; a reality where Africans would regain their autonomy and equality.
For years, the Black body was and is continuously seen as something that needs to be objectified, probed, and researched. Africans are considered to have no historical value nor any capability of producing a creative culture that contributes to the wider society as they supposedly lack intellect. With this sentiment, I am immediately reminded of the rich cultural heritage that is present within the 54 countries on the African continent. There is an ignorance of how through all this cultural richness Black people are projecting themselves into the role of accessing a future. This rich culture is viewed as unimportant since it does not fit into the Western discourse of thinking.
This new discourse of Afrofuturism calls for the need to imagine a better future for Black people; a new place of belonging and re-imagining what it means to be Black in a predominantly white society. A future where Black people are in charge of their destiny and are continuously producing counter-narratives of the Euro-American narratives that project the African person as a helpless victim in dire need of Western intervention. Instead, through the lens of Afrofuturism, we gain a new and refreshing lens on what it is like to see Black people thriving through the production of cultural creative projects.
Viewing society, culture, and creativity in a homogenous lens of Western discourse only acts as a missed opportunity to embrace and reap the rewards that come with diversity. We need to start viewing Black people as people with great potential and as people whose culture, identity, and customs are invaluable to our society.
- Ytasha Womack Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013.
- Lisa Yaszek “Afrofuturism, science fiction, and the history of the future”, Socialism and Democracy, vol 20,no.3, pp41-60, 2010.
- Taylor Crumpton “Afrofuturism Has Always Looked Forward”
- Declan Bruce “Afrofuturism: From the Past to the Living Present”
- Janelle Monae . “Django Jane”