Black Future Month is here.
Black Future Month is the name film curator Floyd Webb and I selected as the title for our February Afrofuturism film series each Thursday at the SMG Chatham Theater in Chicago. Situated in the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, Floyd and I, as creators of Afrofuturism849, aimed to introduce curious audiences to the range of sci fi works and documentaries highlighting ideas, stories and people within the sci fi, speculative fiction, and science worlds. We showcased the Cameroonian film Les Saignantes about women in a corrupt mystical and futuristic Cameroon. We showed “White Scripts, Black Supermen” on the early black comic heroes and brought out Turtel Onli, father of the Black Age in Comics, comic creator Jiba Molei Anderson and Institute of Comic Studies cofounder Stanford Carpenter to discuss the project. Amir George, co-curator of the Black Radical Imagination, a series of experimental shorts introduced his works and several physicists and astronomers were on hand to discuss our science documentaries. While displaying my book Rayla 2212, a story that follows a war strategist on a former earth colony 200 years into the future who time/astral travels, one attendee remarked that she had no idea that black sci-fi and comics existed.
Audiences were amused, informed and enthusiastic. Yes, black people make sci-fi. Yes, black people make comic books. Yes, black people are scientists. Yes, black people have imaginations. Yes, black people are thinking about the future. Yes, as artist Alisha Wormsley so eloquently etched in her glorious glass installations, black people are in the future.
But Afrofuturism849 weren’t the only ones adopting the Black Future Month moniker. Huffington Post hosted a month-long series on issues shaping Black American culture and the future. The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art in Brooklyn tagged their daily Instagram feeds with Afrofuturist art hashtagged #BlackFutureMonth. Black Future Month 3014, curated by Danilo M. McCallum is Toronto’s first Afrofuturist Group Art Exhibition. Even songstress and Beyonce’s little sis Solange, who debuted her own Afrofuturist themed wedding gown, tweeted #blackfuturemonth. It was a zeitgeist moment.
However, this flurry of activity is just a drop in the flood of Afrofuturist events that have been rushing the art scene in the past year or so. From the upcoming AstroBlackness Conference in L.A in March to the MoonDance music and art explosion curated by producer King Britt at the MoMA PS1 last April to the Studio Museum of Harlem’s epic show “The Shadows Took Shape,” Afrofuturism continues to capture the imaginations of people looking to recontextualize the past and pen the narrative for the future.
My book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture debuted October 2013 (Lawrence Hill Books). I hoped that the book would introduce to some and verify for others this intersection between black culture, the imagination, liberation, technology and mysticism that threads through a host of works and ideologies that pop up throughout the diaspora. Whether it’s an exploration of music of Sun Ra and Flying Lotus or the novels of Tananarive Due and Octavia Butler; the art of a Cyrus Kabiri or Wangechi Mutul the contributions of black inventors or the futuristic prophesies of Martin Luther King, people of African Descent and on the continent have always had a relationship with these broader issues of space, time and the future. While conventional pop culture was slow to show the diversity of the future (or the past for the matter) in sci-fi film and literature, Afrofuturism asserts that this science-philosophy-arts-history lineage amongst people of color is timeless.
Afrofuturism looks at the future and alternate realities through a global black cultural lens. This lens is highly intersectional and is often cross-referenced with Indigenous culture.
Afrofuturism differs from traditional science fiction in a host of ways. For one, it values mysticism and nonlinear thought. The aesthetic embraces a fluid relationship between the past, present, and future, with artistic representations and poetics speaking of all three as one. Take a look at John Jenning’s cover for Afrofuturism and it’s hard to decipher whether the image depicts a woman from ancient times or a cyborg from the future. The AACM, the famous jazz collective in Chicago plays with the motto Ancient to the Future, their longstanding commitment to music that evokes all times in one. (The DuSable Museum is currently running an exhibit on the collective entitled Free at First: The Audacious Journey of the AACM)
There are other differences. While the futurist of the early 20th century hailed all technology as progressive, Afrofuturists do not. In fact, race is referred to as a technology. The creation of race -- an effort to justify the transatlantic Slave Trade and create a caste system defined by color and enacted through law and violence -- is explored as a technology in Afrofuturism.
This aesthetic, which also doubles as race theory, looks at how the idea of being alien or otherness in general is used as a tool of dehumanization. Technologies are assessed through an Afrofuturist lens by their ability to end or further divides and “isms.”
A host of people are attracted to Afrofuturism as a result. Many feminists are attracted to how Afrofuturism values women and the feminine. Feminine aspects of humanity, from the power of emotions to intuition along with variances in how women express are greatly embraced and celebrated.
However, it’s Afrofuturism’s ability to unlock the imagination that is most inspired.
Afrofuturism captures the imagination because it empowers people to rethink their lives, their world, and the future from a safe space of creativity and resilience. For many people who look to disturbing images in media and their troubled neighborhoods as definitions of who they are, Afrofuturism is a reminder that they can imagine something new, something fresh, something that reflects the world they’d like to live in.
News flash: You can shape the world you live in.
In light of the #BlackLivesMatter efforts and the nationwide stances against police brutality and the murdering of unarmed black men, the future is on everyone’s mind. We’re in the early years of the 21st century, and while we can be excited about the election of the first Black American president, NASA’s efforts on Mars, and the ubiquity of the smart phone, we are uncomfortable that this progress parallels pockets in our nation where human life is not valued. Humanity must be valued today and humanity must be valued in the future.
Afrofuturism is a reminder of this collective humanity, its beauties, and the divisiveness of otherness. As an art form, practice, and theory, Afrofuturism is used to heal the wounds that have separated humanity from itself.