Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens. The term was conceived a quarter-century ago by white author Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future,” which looks at speculative fiction within the African diaspora. The essay rests on a series of interviews with black content creators.
Dery laid out the questions driving the philosophy of Afrofuturism:
"Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners, and set designers ― white to a man ― who have engineered our collective fantasies?"
What makes Afrofuturism significantly different from standard science fiction is that it’s steeped in ancient African traditions and black identity. A narrative that simply features a black character in a futuristic world is not enough. To be Afrofuturism, it must be rooted in and unapologetically celebrate the uniqueness and innovation of black culture.
The biggest proponent of this cultural movement, even before it had its name, was musician Sun Ra, who infused elements of space and jazz fusion in his work as a musical artist. Prolific science fiction author Octavia E. Butler explored black women protagonists in novels like Fledging, Dawn, Parable of the Sower and Lilith’s Brood, set in the context of futuristic technology and interactions with the supernatural. In the contemporary music world, singers like Erykah Badu, with her eccentric and experimental imagery in videos and album covers, promote the intersection of art and futurism. Artists like Janelle Monae, with her android alter-ego and electronica sounds, and films like “Brown Girl Begins,” a post-apocalyptic tale set in 2049 and directed by Sharon Lewis, pay a huge homage to Afrofuturism.
Then there’s “Black Panther.” The film wears themes of Afrofuturism proudly on its sleeve. Tech genius Princess Shuri is not only the smartest person in the fictional world, but she’s responsible for the creation and maintenance of sophisticated gadgets for her brother T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther. A prosperous alternative afro future can be seen in their fictional East African home of Wakanda, a small country the size of New Jersey that has never been colonized and is steeped in its blackness. It’s a utopian society that also boasts one of the world’s richest resources, vibranium. Because white supremacy never intruded on Wakandan culture and its people, ancient African traditions remain common practice there. But this movie is more than just a glorious film ― it’s the expression of a movement. Continue reading from HuffPost
A Beginner's Guide To Afrofuturism: 7 Titles To Watch And Read (Essence)
What is Afrofuturism, and How Can it Change the World? (ONE)
Afrofuturism: From the Past to the Living Present (UCLA)
How Afrofuturism Gives Black People the Confidence to Survive Doubt and Anti-Blackness (The Conversation)
Afrofuturism Has Always Looked Forward (Architectural Digest)
How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend (Wired)
Afrofuturism: The Genre That Made Black Panther (CNN)
Afrofuturism Takes Flight: From Sun Ra to Janelle Monáe (The Guardian)
How Black Women Are Reshaping Afrofuturism (Yes Magazine)
Afrofuturism: Why Black Science Fiction 'Can't Be Ignored' (BBC)
How the Afrofuturism Behind Black Panther and Get Out Combines Social Justice and Sci-Fi (Vox)