My Life in Afrofuturism
I was five years old when Star Wars first came out (before it was labeled "Episode 4: A New Hope"). Like every other little boy in the 1970s, I was BLOW AWAY by that movie. I remember my dad saying "Holy Cow!" when Darth Vader first appeared on the screen. I didn't have the point-of-reference that my dad did, having lived more than two decades before me, he had seen a lot of movies-- Star Wars was like nothing he had ever seen before (with the exception of 2001: A Space Odyssey). For me, and every other kid back then, Star Wars began to inform EVERY bit of science fiction I was to consume for years to come.
Back then I didn't think too much of it, but the sci-fi films, TV shows and comic books I was reading and watching was missing something; people that looked like me. I think I started to pay attention to that fact when I saw Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in "The Empire Strikes Back". Then I noticed Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in the "Star Trek" series. Yaphet Koto in "Alien" and "The Running Man". There was also Michael Roberts as Roscoe in "Ice Pirates." There weren't many Black faces in science fiction. Movies like "Enemy Mine," and "The Last Starfighter" featured Black actors, but they were covered in makeup. "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," "Escape from New York," "The Thing" all featured Black actors in supporting or minor roles. They were Black people in White Space; a presence with no voice. Thankfully, in this regard, movies were not my only outlet.
I was eight years old when Earth, Wind and Fire released their 9th album "I Am". They had a couple of hits from the album, including "Boogie Wonderland" and "In The Stone" (which inspired my own book). Other than the great songs, the thing that enchanted me about this album was the artwork. The vast Nubian army, the Egyptian-themed landscape, the futuristic city on the horizon, and floating above it...four flying saucers. THIS what the kind of stuff that I wanted to see! And it wasn't to be found in movies...it was all happening in music.
Back then, I was not familiar with the term "Afrofuturism," but these images-- and many others like them-- were my introduction to this inspiring and aesthetically breathtaking universe. This imagery has always had a special appeal to me. There's something about seeing Black people with robots and spaceships that makes me SOOOO happy! Probably because I spent my entire childhood watching white folks going to other planets, traveling through time, building androids or visiting aliens.
Flash forward to 2018 and the release of Marvel's "Black Panther". The movie's success was a surprise to everyone-- surprising that a big-budget, predominately Black science fiction film could be a successful smash hit. There's a hope now that Hollywood will throw more money at stories like this. This is starting to happen with the announcements of adaptations from stories by Octavia Butler (Lilith's Brood) and Nnedi Okorafore (Who Fears Death). But those projects are in the making, and we won't see them for a while. It's safe to say that these types of stories won't come flooding out of Hollywood. But now, thanks to digital technology, we don't have to wait!
The independent filmmaking community is thriving, now that filmmakers have access to the same types of tools that studios and FX houses use. There are TONS of new and interesting science fiction stories being told from a Black perspective:
I LOVE science fiction film. I am excited at the prospect- and the reality- of seeing Afrofuturism come to life in many forms. In upcoming posts, I'll discuss some other areas of this genre-- new music, novels, comic books, and other experiences where African Diaspora is on the forefront of the new frontier.
What a great time to be alive! ✊🏾