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#SciFiSunday: Afrofuturist Films, Part 1

Ever since Wanuri Kahiu blessed the public with her sci-fi short Pumzi, I've been interested in the ways in which Afrofuturist themes are used and defined in film. The term, a cultural catchall for diasporic Black artistic expression in music, art, writing, etc. that positions Black bodies in the imagined future with their own set of aesthetic and philosophical concepts, has a growing base in today's active arts and online social communities. Many in admiration of past practitioners who've laid the foundation such as Octavia Butler.

Since film is my wheelhouse, I wanted to highlight some of the more centrally focused Black character narratives that tap into Afrofuturism's core to offer up an example of how it flows in a cinematic force field. Below are four films to begin our journey. Part 2 will examine present works.

Space Is The Place (1974)
Written by Sun Ra & Joshua Smith
Directed by John Coney

Description: Sun Ra, space-age prophet lands his spaceship in Oakland, having been presumed lost in space for a few years. With Black Power on the rise, Ra disembarks and proclaims himself "the alter-destiny." He holds a myth-vs reality rap session with Black inner-city youth at a rec center, threatening them if they resist his plea to go to outer space. He duels with The Overseer, a satanic overlord with the fate of the black race at stake. Agents sent by the Overseer attempt to assassinate Ra, but he vanishes, rescues his people, and departs in his spaceship from the planet Earth.

Born In Flames (1983)
Written & Directed by Lizzie Borden

Description: Set ten years after the most peaceful revolution in United States history, a movement in which a socialist government gains power, presents a dystopia where the issues of many progressive groups - minorities, liberals, gay rights organizations, feminists - shine a spotlight on the on-going issues that persist. In New York City, a group of women mobilize and take the revolution farther than any man - and many women - ever imagined in their lifetimes.

The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
Written & Directed by John Sayles

Description: A mute alien with the appearance of a black male human is chased by outer-space bounty hunters through the streets of Harlem.

Sankofa (1993)
Written & Directed by Haile Germina

Description: A model (Oyafunmike Ogunlano) on a photo shoot in Ghana encounters an old mystic (Kofi Ghanaba) who transports her into the past, where she becomes a slave.

*Film info and descriptions from and special reference thanks to Ashley Clark, curator of the Inside Afrofuturism film screening in 2014 from "Inside Afrofuturism: This movement is not for co-opting" on Media Diversified

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