Created By: DrSleep on October 18, 2017 Last Edited By: DrSleep on November 2, 2017
Troped

Afrofuturism

Science fiction and fantasy influenced by the Black experience.

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Afrofuturism is an artistic genre that melds Speculative Fiction with the cultures and experiences of Black people around the globe. As The Other Wiki puts it:

A cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that combines elements of Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Afrocentrism, and Magic Realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of black people, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past...Afrofuturism addresses themes and concerns of the African diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences.

While black artists have been writing science fiction since the 1860snote , the concept and term were coined in the early 1990s by Mark Dery's essay/interview series Black to the Future", which contrasted the seeming lack of African-American science fiction writers with the preponderance of sci-fi/fantasy elements found in the work of other African-American musicians and artists at the time.

A key point of Dery's essay (and a driving force behind much Afrofuturistic work) is the amount of overlap between sci-fi tropes and African-American history - as an example, he cites the similarity between African slaves and alien abductees: captured by unknown and incomprehensible beings with advanced technology, shipped to a strange and alien world for sinister purposes, and frequently subjected to horrific medical abuse. Another common aspect of Afrofuturism is deliberate pushback against the lack of black (or at least non-white) characters in science fiction, and stereotypes of Africa as a primitive third-world nation and its people as savages or poverty-stricken waifs who can't grasp superior Western technology.

While most Afrofuturist art tends to be retroactively labelled as such, an increasing number of contemporary creators have consciously adopted the genre, and now incorporate it into their work.

Examples:

Comics
  • Black Panther is probably the first example that comes to mind in discussions of Afrofuturism. Thanks to the amazing capabilities of the metal vibranium, the African nation of Wakanda is the most technologically advanced society on Marvel earth.
  • Dwayne McDuffie's early work with DC imprint Milestone Media was centered around creating minority heroes, many with a sci-fi bent. One of his creations, Static Shock, became popular enough to star in his own award-winning TV show.
  • Elephantmen: The eponymous Elephantmen were created and trained by MAPPO at a huge lab/base somewhere in Northern Africa.
  • The Pan-African Judges comics set in the Judge Dredd universe.

Film - Live Action
  • The move version of Wakanda (as seen in the trailers for Black Panther), like its comic counterpart, hosts technology on par with (if not far in advanced of) any of the technology we've seen so far in the MCU.
  • Space Is the Place: A film starring Sun Ra (see his personal example below), who attempts to relocate African-Americans to a new planet. The film has been said to be a response to the Black Panther Party, represented by the Overseer.
  • Kuso: A horror-comedy anthology film set 20 Minutes into the Future in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, directed by music producer Flying Lotus
  • Blade: A science-fiction-fantasy superhero movie starring an African-American hero, it also references Afro-American syncretic religions such as Santeria.

Literature
  • Samuel R. Delany: One of the "Big Three" in afrofuturism (specifically he was one of the author's name dropped in Dery's 1994 essay), famous for being one of the first major black science fiction writers to break into the mainstreamnote . Works such as "Aye, and Gomorrah..." were groundbreaking in their time for their explorations of race and sexuality.
  • Octavia Butler: Second of the "Big Three" mentioned in Dery's essay. Works like the Xenogenesis trilogy (which often feature black female protagonists) emphasize the importance of diversity and change in protecting and preserving the human race.
  • Steven Barnes: Final member of the "Big Three". A frequent collaborator with Larry Niven, and writer on sci-fi shows such as Outer Limits and Stargate SG-1
  • N. K. Jemisin tends to get labelled as an Afrofuturist writer given that she's who writes science fiction and fantasy. She contests the label, however, finding it reductive and ill-defined.
  • Most of Nnedi Okorafor's books take place in a technologically updated future or alternate universe Africa that is also a Magical Land. Some examples are Zahrah the Windseeker, The Shadow Speaker, and Who Fears Death.
  • The novel Invisible Man uses the power of Invisibility as a metaphor for living as a black person in America.
  • Mumbo Jumbo: Alternate History novel (with elements of Urban Fantasy) set in The Roaring '20s about a millennia-old Ancient Conspiracy devoted to suppressing black history and culture
  • The Ear, the Eye and the Arm takes place in Zimbabwe, in the year 2194.
  • In Otherland the Post-Cyberpunk applies to everywhere in the world, but notable is that Renie and !Xabbu are from Durban, South Africa.
  • Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Ashraf Bey books are set in an alternate universe North Africa.
  • The Watekni subculture in a 20 Minutes into the Future Kenya in Ian McDonald's Chaga.
  • Zoo City is a Cyberpunk novel with fantasy elements set in South Africa. It has an endorsement from William Gibson himself and has the same kind of grey market protagonist that Gibson's novels favor.
  • Alastair Reynolds's novel Blue Remembered Earth. While not everything is perfect in the African countries, they've become new economic and technological powers and the overall tone is quite optimistic. A Post-Cyberpunk sensibility is present, but it's mostly set dressing.
  • Raphael Carter's The Fortunate Fall, a Post-Cyberpunk novel set in a 24th century where everywhere but Africa is a third-world crapsack. Africa, on the other hand, is the hypertechnological promised land where, in an inversion of the "one drop" rule, only those who prove via blood test to have African ancestry are allowed entry. And did we mention the possibly real/possibly cyber versions of the Egyptian gods?
  • In Isaac Asimov's, I, Robot universe, the Tropic Region (a unified Africa, South America, Latin America and Mexico) eventually becomes Earth's primary economic driver, while Europe sinks into a sleepy backwater that's more of a retirement community writ-large than anything else.
  • Alien in a Small Town. Set in the 24th century, only a brief section near the end of the book is set in Zimbabwe, but we learn that Earth's capital city is located there, and it seems to be a generally good place to live. Tendai grew up here, and he shows his wife Indira the country's ancient stone cities, wildlife preserves, etc. Notably, there is a monument to all who died in the AIDS plague of our own time, and to those who died under "the vile 21st century tyrant Mugabe."

Music
  • Sun Ra combined alien and space motifs with African and Egyptian imagery.
  • Parliament Funkadelic uses crazy sci-fi costuming and imagery in their music and live shows.
    George Clinton, describing the inspiration for Mothership Connection: We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn't think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang.
  • Janelle Mone uses futuristic and android imagery to discuss contemporary issues faced by the African-American community.
    You can take my wings but I'm still gonna fly
    And even when you edit me the booty don't lie
    Yeah keep singing, I'mma keep writing songs
    I'm tired of Marvin asking me, "What's Going On?"
    March to the streets 'cause I'm willing and I'm able
    And while you're selling dope, we're gonna keep selling hope
    We risin' up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
    Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep?

Live-Action TV
  • Also from the MCU, Luke Cage takes a comic book setup (superpowered hero defends his hometown from evildoers) and uses it as a springboard for exploring police brutality, racial identity, and fighting white supremacy.
  • The South African/Canadian sci-fi series Charlie Jade involves three different universes in its storyline. One of them, the "Alphaverse", is dystopian and completely cyberpunk, including lots of rain. Its counterpoint is the ecotopian "Gammaverse" (unpolluted, but rife with political corruption and social engineering). The neutral one is the "Betaverse", which is our own early 21st century world. The whole series takes place in the Cape Town region and very little info about the rest of the world is ever given. According to the series's script, both the Alphaverse and Gammaverse are supposedly alternate histories of the Betaverse, with a divergence occuring shortly after WWII or during the early Cold War period.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • "Far Beyond The Stars": Sisko experiences a series of visions of himself as Benny Russell, a black sci-fi writer in The '50s. Russell ends up inspired by Sisko's memories to write a short story called "Deep Space Nine" only to have it rejected by his publisher for featuring a black captain of a space ship. The editor finally agrees to print the story, only for the publisher to pulp that entire magazine issue because of Russell's story, and Russell is ultimately fired. As he experiences an epic breakdown Russell delivers the following speech:
      I am a human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want, but you can't deny Ben Sisko - he exists! That future, that space station, all those people, they exist in here [pointing to his head], in my mind...You can pulp a story, but you cannot destroy an idea. Don't you understand? That's ancient knowledge. You cannot destroy an idea! That future, I created it and it's real! Don't you understand? It is REAL! It's REAL!

Tabletop Gaming
  • The Trinity roleplaying game subverts this; Africa is a leading force in 22nd century Earth, though not without its problems. It helps that Africa managed to avoid the worst damage of the Aberrant War, and the more modern Europe and North America got hit hard.
  • Transhuman Space has a lot of preppy Post-Cyberpunk, but one of the biggest themes is that the degree of penetration is horribly uneven and the full benefits of the Fifth Wave of technological advancement are only available to the richest parts of the world. Africa is not one of the richest parts of the world, and it's straight cyberpunk if you're lucky.
  • While Shadowrun is primarily focused on North America (especially Seattle), Africa receives no small amount of attention, with both the setting's worst Wretched Hive and its most advanced space port (and Space Elevator) being situated on the continent, along with several other places of note.

Video Games
  • Halo: New Mombasa, Kenya is a high-tech city and spaceport. At least when Halo 2 begins, before there's lots of Stuff Blowing Up. The horrible nature of the place is brought up in Halo 3: ODST, when we learn that The Leader of the police is a Dirty Cop and molester.
  • One of the campaigns of Empire Earth 2: The Art of Supremacy takes place during the "Synthetic Age" (202X-204X) (featuring things like nanotech enhanced soldiers and giant mecha) in Africa, and deals with the poor native taking up arms against the exploitative megacorps. It ends with Africa becoming a technologically advanced world superpower.
  • Played with in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall Chapters, which takes place in a Cyberpunk future where most of Africa has risen as one of the world's leading economic superpowers following several economic collapses and crises in Europe and America. As a result, most African countries is consistently portrayed and described as peaceful, idyllic, and prosperous; a stark contrast to the run-down and polluted, borderline dystropic Europe.
  • The People's African Union is one of the factions colonizing space in Civilization: Beyond Earth. In-universe, it's said to have come about as part of a sub-Saharan renaissance, and has an AI focusing on the Harmony affinity and eschewing the Supremacy affinity. However, while they're likely to make and keep alliances and their faction bonus is a boost to food production, their leader is a stern Reasonable Authority Figure who, behind his jovial front, harbours a measure of resentment over how the the African people were exploited and humiliated by foreign powers in the past few centuries, and is determined to make sure that never happens again. A faction of Beware the Nice Ones, basically.
  • Overwatch has the city of Numbani in the West-African savanna. It is a gorgeous, technologically advanced metropolis built after the Omnic Crisis and is one of the few places where humans and omnics live side by side in peace, working together to create a Utopian Africa. As a result, it is unofficially known as "The City of Harmony". Certain characters have special dialog on the location, ranging from admiring its peace to rage and disgust at the idea of tolerating omnics.
Community Feedback Replies: 12
  • October 18, 2017
    GirlofMassDeconstruction
    • Sun Ra combined alien and space motifs with African and Egyptian imagery.
    • Janelle Monae uses the future and android issues (such as Do Androids Dream, Fantastic Racism) to discuss issues African Americans have.
      Imma keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman/ You can take my wings but Im still goin fly/ And even when you edit me the booty dont lie/ Yeah keep singing, Imma keep writing songs/ Im tired of Marvin asking me, Whats Going On?/ March to the streets cause Im willing and Im able/ Categorize me, I defy every label/ And while youre selling dope, were gonna keep selling hope/ We risin up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope/ Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep?/ Or will you preach?

    Other Afrofuturists (haven't read/listened to them so I can't give a good example:)

    Good luck!

  • October 18, 2017
    DrSleep
    Thanks, I'll definitely add them to the list! And if you're looking for a quick way into those authors, try their short stories - I'm a big fan of Delaney's "Aye, and Gomorrah" and "Corona", along with Butler's "The Evening and the Morning and the Night"
  • October 18, 2017
    Malady
    Fix these:

    I’mma

    "What's Going On?"

    Or will you preach?
  • October 19, 2017
    Snicka
    The examples are largely Zero-Content now. You should explain for each individual example how they fit the trope.
  • October 19, 2017
    Arivne
    • Corrected punctuation (added periods at the ends of sentences).
    • Examples section
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
      • Namespaced work names.
      • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.
      • Deleted garbage text characters (caused by a non-standard text character).
      • Blue Linked a TV Tropes page name.

    Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.
  • October 24, 2017
    DrSleep
    Updated with some of the zero context examples fleshed out. I'm not familiar with the work of MF Doom, so if anyone wants to flesh out his section feel free.
  • October 25, 2017
    Larkmarn
    Honestly, I think that you should just replace the description of Neo Africa with this one since almost none of Neo Africa's examples fit its description. Might want to bring it up in the TRS discussion.
  • October 26, 2017
    GirlofMassDeconstruction
    ^ I agree with the above.

    Also, how do we prevent his from becoming 'scifi/fantasy has black people in it?' (Not saying it is now, just for the future.)
  • October 26, 2017
    DrSleep
    IDK if there's any real way to prevent that, since a lot of critics sometimes do use the term to describe "sci-fi/fantasy with black people in it". Plus, some sci-fi/fantasy series ended up influencing Afrofuturism just because they had black people in them. For instance Star Trek OST inspired a lot of Afrofuturists just because it had Uhura on it - this was literally the first time they'd seen any black person in a science fiction setting and it opened their mind to the possibility that there was space for black people in sci-fi.

    Personally I don't really have a problem with it becoming "sci-fi/fantasy with black people in it" because a big part of the spirit of Afrofuturism is saying "hey, black people belong in sci-fi too!". As the George Clinton quote points out, black people were never really seen in sci-fi environments, and given the long history of stereotypes depicting black people as lazy, unintelligent, savage, superstitious, primitive, etc, deliberately including black people in sci-fi settings - implicitly showing that they have the intelligence and work ethic to fit into high-tech futuristic environments - is kind of a meaningful artistic choice in and of itself.

    That being said, maybe we could make an addendum? Something like "This trope is not simply Black People IN SPACE! It refers to science fiction and fantasy that is either created by black artists, and/or draws on the aesthetics, culture and history of Africans and African Americans."
  • October 26, 2017
    Prime32
    ^
    created by black artists
    draws on the aesthetics, culture and history of Africans and African Americans
    The second of these is a trope. The first is not (though it could potentially be an index).
  • October 26, 2017
    DrSleep
    ^ So something like, "This trope is not simply Black People IN SPACE! It refers to science fiction and fantasy that is specifically draws on the aesthetics and history of African and African American cultures." And I would definitely not be opposed to an Afrofuturism index :P
  • November 2, 2017
    everlasting
    NVM
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