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Afrofuturism is the new vessel for Black empowerment

Afrofuturism is the new vessel for Black empowerment

Afrofuturism is the new vessel for Black empowerment
August 11
14:00 2022

Africans have been plagued for centuries by inaccurate depictions promoted by Hollywood and Western media outlets. Combine African and Black cultures with technological innovation reminiscent of a science fiction classic and you might just blow the average person’s mind. 

Afrofuturism is the next step in global Black empowerment. Afrofuturism refers to the incorporation of African cultures and histories with technology. American journalist and lecturer Mark Derry first coined the term in 1993, but the art style has existed since the mid-20th century.

Although the 2018 film “Black Panther” is one of the more recognizable examples of Afrofuturism, the term isn’t exclusive to film and literature. Singers Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu and Missy Elliot are known for contributing to the contemporary Afrofuturism scene. The Kongo Astronauts of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, channel Afrofuturism through photography and performances. 

Part of the reason “Black Panther” was so successful compared to other movies associated with Black empowerment is because of its afro-futurist element. The most celebrated part of the movie was its setting: a fictional country called Wakanda – untouched by the cruelties of colonialism and slavery.

For so long, pride in Black heritages has been defined by revolution against white supremacist entities. Black beauty is about being proud of our features despite the eurocentric beauty standards of the societies we live in. What if Black pride wasn’t revolutionary? What if it was just common sense? 

People rarely consider African history outside of European involvement despite Africa being the birthplace of humanity and the home to some of the world’s oldest ethnic groups. For so long, people of African descent have fought to be considered equal and modern. Afrofuturism affirms that African cultures are worthy of respect today and a future without forsaking our identities is possible. The artistic movement portrays African cultures to be just as timeless as other cultures. 

Some critics say Afrofuturism blends African cultures into a monolith, promoting yet another harmful myth. For example, the cultural practices of Wakanda derive from all over the continent — from the Tuareg of the Sahara Desert to the Ndebele people of South Africa, but the movie incorporates them all into one fictional cultural identity. On top of that, because Afrofuturism is a fantasy it can be misused and end up pandering to Western perceptions of what a successful civilization would look like.

Beyoncé’s 2020 musical film “Black is King” received acclaim for praising African identity through the use of Afrofuturism, but also garnered criticism for creating a singular “African identity” that was inauthentic and seemed aimed toward non-Africans. It excluded East African cultures entirely and left out an entire swathe of Black people in a campaign for African pride and solidarity.

Solely exhibiting futuristic Africans as city dwellers and monarchists is contradictory because Africa is home to several societal structures including monarchies, egalitarian and pastoralist societies. Studies show that only 50 percent of Africans today live in urban areas while the African Union reported that over a quarter of Africans are pastoralists.

Not all Black people descend from monarchies. Black pride doesn’t depend on the existence of extravagant wealth and class separation and it would be narrow-minded to think otherwise. Excluding agropastoralist and nomadic cultures just because they differ from modern industrialized countries is counterproductive and shows a lack of creativity.

Perpetuation of myths that paint Africa as a monolith is a valid cause of concern that can easily be solved with attribution. Afrofuturist creatives should be clear on the origins of their inspiration when referring to their works to prevent the misappropriation of cultural practices. Otherwise, blending the cultures of the African diaspora can become synonymous with Afrofuturism.

To successfully pull off an Afrofuturist piece, there has to be at least some awareness and acknowledgment of African diversity. Afrofuturist artists advocate for unity and pride By identifying the specific cultural identities that inspire them. In that sense, Afrofuturism relates to “Pan-Africanism,” an ideology that advocates for the cultural and political unity of people of African descent. 

Afrofuturism gives the African diaspora the green light to celebrate their cultures. It shows us that if there’s a place for Black people in the future, there’s certainly a place for us now. When “Black Panther” first came out in 2018, it wasn’t uncommon to see Black moviegoers wearing clothes inspired by African cultures and sharing how the movie emotionally impacted them.

Though the artistic movement has existed for decades, there was an increase in Afrofuturism musicians, writers and visual artists in the past two decades alone. So long as the cultural and ethnic diversity of the African diaspora is respected, Afrofuturist art is capable of empowering a new generation of Black people. Afrofuturism might be a fantasy but the hope and pride it nurtures is real.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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