The world has recently been introduced to an African superhero in the form of the Black Panther film, and in turn, have learned the phrase ‘Afrofuturism’. While Afrofuturism is certainly not a new term, it has not had the exposure it needs and deserves which is why films such as Black Panther, Inxeba and Get Out are so important.
Afrofuturism is an art revolution which aims to change African art in the eyes of Western audiences. It places black African people in futuristic and fantastical landscapes and settings, subverting how the world sees African people in the future.
What is Afrofuturism?
Afrofuturism is the re-imagining of the future of arts, culture and science through a black lens, and was coined almost a quarter of a century ago by white author Mark Dery in his essay ‘Black to the Future’.
It is a movement which includes and highlights ancient African traditions and black identity, not by simply placing a black African character in a futuristic world but by unapologetically celebrating the innovation and uniqueness of black culture.
Afrofuturism allows black Africans and African-Americans to claim songs, music, art and films as unequivocally theirs.
Black Panther’s Success
The 2018 release of the comic-based film Black Panther brought Afrofuturism to the mainstream film market. The success of this film is not only attributed to the stunning cinematography and production value, but to the proud and strong African characters in the film.
Black Panther focuses on a fictional East African country known as Wakanda, a country which has not been colonised by white settlers and has become highly technologically advanced.
Their biggest resource is vibranium and this is a highly contested resource among the characters. Because Wakanda was not colonised, ancient African traditions and practises are celebrated and commonplace.
In Black Panther, one can see Afrofuturism in all its glory, from the clothing that the characters wear to the high-tech weapons and spaceships used. Their outfits reflect the traditional clothing of African cultures such as the Maasai, Tuareg and others. The language spoken in the film is Xhosa, which further places African culture at the forefront of the future.
While Black Panther is not the first Afrofuturist film to be made, this honour goes to Space Is The Place by Sun Ra in 1974 and it can be seen as one of the first mainstream Afrofutuistic films.
The audience is much wider and more diverse than some of its predecessors, which has allowed it to reach those who have been searching for representation in science-fiction and superhero genres.
South African film Inxeba has garnered a huge media following, for both good and bad reasons. The film shows the secret process of Ukwaluka, where young Xhosa boys are secluded in camps and ritual circumcision is performed. They are then mentored by young men who have undergone this procedure previously.
This in itself was enough to anger certain groups in South Africa, but the central theme of the plot is a homosexual love interest of one of these initiates. It is this inclusion which has caused alarm and protesting among African communities. Ukwaluka is kept as a secret process and the unveiling of this in the film has caused an uproar from previous initiates, as well as practitioners of this process.
Inxeba is included as part of Afrofuturism because it shows that the genre does not always have to have a happy ending. It is a genre which deals with both the positive and negative aspects of African culture, but the pulling of Inxeba from South African cinemas hinders this movement.
Inxeba aims to do the same as Black Panther, showing a different side of Africanness but still expanding on the continent’s narrative. The negative reactions are showing just how far African storytelling and Afrofuturism still have to go in mainstream film.
Get Out’s Message of Social Justice
Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out has been lauded as an Afrofuturist success. It is the story of Chris and his girlfriend Rose, who are spending the weekend at Rose’s parent’s house. Chris is an African-American man who is nervous about meeting his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time.
His nervousness soon turns to terror when he realises that Rose and her family are using hypnosis to insert the minds of their white friends into young, active black bodies.
Peele’s film is a stark take on black slavery in America, highlighting the colonisation of black bodies by white slavers. The Afrofuturism aspect comes into play in that horror and fantasy are a subset of Afrofuturism, and Peele’s protagonist is a young black man fighting for his future much like the heroes in Black Panther.
Get Out is using the Afrofuturist genre and the horror genre to force white viewers to see the world through a black lens, to see how the past has affected the treatment of black bodies and minds and how in the future this will change dramatically.
This is, at its very core, the message of Afrofuturist art. While not set in space or in a parallel world, Get Out still examines the future with black people as the central figures.
Why is Afrofuturism in Film Important?
Afrofuturism is an important movement in all art forms, including film and music, because it subverts the Western views of Africa and African people as not being a part of the world’s future.
Many African artists depict black African people as the central figures of their works, particularly in futuristic landscapes.
In the film industry, this genre is important to exposing not only Western people to a different future for back African and African-American people but also giving hope to these same people for a more inclusive future.
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