Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized

S1 E1 | FULL EPISODE

Afrofuturism 101

Join us on a fantastic voyage into the Afrofuture as we give you a crash course in what Afrofuturism is, where it comes from and a glimpse of what it may yet become. In this short film we’ll explore Afrofuturist music, art, literature, film and more!

AIRED: February 26, 2021 | 0:15:20
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TRANSCRIPT

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Narrator: Freedom starts in the mind.

Afrofuturism is a platform where Black people realize

our own liberation by exploring self-determined futures

across many facets of expression.

Afrofuturism is a new way to understand

the state of being Black, free of the terrorism,

oppression and violence of the past.

The term was first used in 1994 by author Mark Dery

in his essay Black to the Future.

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We're going on a fantastic voyage into the Afrofuture.

As we move through music, art,

design, literature, film, and culture,

we'll explore what Afrofuturism is,

check out its deep roots, and, if we're lucky,

we'll get a glimpse of what it may yet become.

Man: Do you feel ready?

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Narrator: The roots of Afrofuturism can be found

in ancient spiritual beliefs

originating on the continent of Africa.

These beliefs influenced iconic Black American creatives

who in turn brought new cosmic perspectives

to their audiences.

For the Yoruba of Nigeria,

life is a series of reincarnations.

In this culture,

which dates back to at least the first millennium BCE,

both the physical and spiritual worlds

are ruled by the mighty god Olorun,

who owns the sky and everything below it.

Communication with the spirit world

is essential for the Yoruba,

and that happens through a relationship with divinities

called Orishas, who are primordial, ancestral,

and nature-based divinities

that the faithful worship in tribute to.

The Yoruba belief system

is the basis for the spiritual practices of Cuban Santeria,

Haitian vodoun, and African-American voodoo.

The Dogon people of Mali

are known for their ancient system of astronomy,

which dates back to 3000 B.C.

The Dogon also developed calendars, calculators,

medicine, and pharmacology.

Dogon origin story involves Amma, the supreme God

who created the Nommo, amphibious hermaphroditic beings

who came to Earth from the star Sirius A.

We will see the stars again.

I want to do more than see them, brother.

The ancient Egyptians held a complex belief system

that was an integral part of life.

In fact, the ancient Egyptians had no word for religion

because it wasn't separate from their existence.

They believed in deities of various levels,

but all gods and goddesses were involved in the human world.

These deities took many forms,

and the mighty pharaoh bridged the human and divine worlds.

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These African cultures are in the DNA of Afrofuturism,

and they show up repeatedly in Afrofuturism's unique forms

of artistic expression.

20th-century Black artists who wanted to be

free of social, political, and creative constraints

were first drawn to ancient ideas of worlds

beyond the here and now.

These vivid concepts and belief systems

were a liberating way around the barriers

they faced in everyday life.

Cosmic jazz musician Sun Ra was the pioneer

at the forefront of this vanguard cultural phenomenon.

Not only was he an iconic artist,

he became the catalyst for Afrofuturism

in modern Black American culture.

Born Herman Blount in 1914,

he was a musical prodigy as a child,

and as a college student at Alabama A&M University,

He described being abducted by aliens and taken to Saturn.

The interaction he said he experienced

changed everything for him.

He shifted gears from straight-ahead jazz

to the cosmic sound that defined his career.

Just like the pharaohs in antiquity,

Sun Ra was also a bridge.

Through his music, he connected his audience

to the expansive freedom of the cosmos.

In Sun Ra's 1974 film "Space Is The Place,"

he rescues Black people by

using music to transplant them from Earth to another planet,

where their lives would be free of racism.

Sun Ra's political message was a testament

to how strongly Black people felt

about their own liberation --

that they would leave the planet

in order to be free of America's oppression.

Sun Ra was right in sync with the revolutionary spirit

of the 1970s.

Sun Ra wrapped himself in the iconography of ancient Egypt

and the planet he said he visited years before -- Saturn.

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Sun Ra's vision of space as the place to be

was shared by funkateer George Clinton

and his alter ego Star Child,

along with Clinton's band, Parliament.

At the same time, trailblazing 1970s artists

LaBelle and Betty Davis were avant garde,

straight-talking, empowered women

who knew what they wanted, sexually and otherwise.

That in itself was an alien concept for many.

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As we've seen, musical artists introduced Afrofuturism

into America's psyche.

Music is still a realm where artists create

the soundtrack for Black futures.

Their music and their lyrics create a vibe

and promise possibilities not limited by the here and now.

Singer Grace Jones hails from Jamaica

and has a long track record

as an edgy, futuristic counterculture goddess.

Now in her 70s,

Grace is still rocking stages around the world.

Missy Elliott has always been a trailblazer

with a futuristic approach,

while Erykah Badu's earthy vibe is a different kind of cosmic.

Janelle Monae is without a doubt

a prolific, modern Afrofuturist queen.

Philly native King Britt is a maverick of electronic music.

He's an innovative DJ and composer

who produces epic, funky, sci-fi music

under the moniker Fhloston Paradigm.

And then there's cosmic jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington,

who has stepped into his own as Sun Ra's heir apparent.

Across the pond in Great Britain,

1990s jungle music combined dance hall reggae

with glitchy electronic beats.

This new sound was a side of Afrofuturism

that no one saw coming.

Jungle uprooted Black Caribbean music

and put it in a cyber-future far, far away

from its birthplace in sunny paradise.

Producers Goldie and Roni Size

are UK pioneers of jungle's younger sibling, drum and bass.

Goldie laid the pain of the hood on top of tech-heavy rhythms

in a way that had never been done before.

Roni Size's unique, futuristic sound is hard-hitting, soulful,

and maybe even mathematical.

In the 21st century,

Black artists from all over the world

are making music from a futuristic perspective,

creating a mosaic of innovative, soulful sounds.

Brazil has the largest Black population

outside the continent of Africa.

These days, it's home to Black recording artists

who embrace Afrofuturism

while telling a new story of Black Brazilian life

that's empowered by its African past,

even as it speeds into the future.

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Literature is a realm where imaginations truly run free.

In the way that musicians use sound,

Afrofuturist writers use the power of the written word

to show us worlds where Black people are center.

They are quite literally world builders.

Writers have been essential

in rooting Afrofuturism in the collective consciousness.

Novelist Octavia Butler

is the empress of modern Afrofuturist literature.

Her speculative novels imagine the outcomes

of political, social, and environmental dilemmas

in possible future scenarios.

When Butler came on to the scene in the early 1970s,

her work was groundbreaking

because she centered people of color and women

as full participants in humanity's future worlds.

Imagine that.

Author Samuel Delaney

is the don of modern Afrofuturist literature.

His stories often take place in complex, high-tech worlds

where political and social conflict play out,

and where gender and sexuality are fluid.

The fact that Delaney does all this with characters of color

was unheard of when his work was first published.

These days, there is an exciting new group

of Afrofuturist writers, both veteran and up-and-coming,

who are telling vibrantly diverse futurist stories.

Their work centers Black characters

and the cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora

in worlds both near and far.

Their wildly-imaginative stories

come from a range of perspectives,

in unique settings whose rules have no limits.

Afrofuturist literature spans many genres -- science fiction,

fantasy, cyberpunk, magical realism, nonfiction and more.

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What do you remember?

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Everything.

A fast-growing community of Black filmmakers

is flipping the script on sci-fi film worldwide,

with intriguing, culturally rich,

speculative cinematic stories about Black characters.

Their moving images explore Black futures

without the limits of time, space, or reality as we know it.

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Like filmmakers, visual artists are also illustrating

unlimited possibilities for existence in the Afrofuture.

They allow us to see meaningful,

imaginative visions of unfettered Blackness

with mind-blowing clarity.

Their art reflects the past, present, future,

and everything in between.

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Speaking of visuals,

the children of the African Diaspora

are known for loving adornment.

The truth is, the origins of eye-catching Black cosmic style

go back to our ancient foremothers and forefathers.

The distinctive looks they sported had meaning

that reflected their connection

to the world around them.

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Today, Afrofuturist designers from around the world

combine African-rooted aesthetics with

future-forward sensibilities

to create gorgeous, head-turning styles

that celebrate intrinsic Blackness.

Afrofuturist style reinterprets shapes,

forms, and silhouettes,

which become a timeless, wearable synthesis

of past, present, and future.

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Afrofuturist cultural stewards

are taking representations to the next level.

They go to society's leading edge to build consensus

in socially-conscious coalitions to improve Black life

from an Afrocentric perspective,

with an eye toward a better, brighter future.

Ingrid Lafleur is the founder

of the Afrofuture Strategies Institute,

a consulting firm that works with communities and businesses

to ethically imagine autonomous potential futures

using methodologies based on Afrofuture principles.

Black Quantum Futurism is a Philadelphia-based

multidisciplinary artist collective

that explores the intersection of time,

quantum concepts, and Blackness.

Located at the University of Iowa in Iowa City,

the Center for Afrofuturist Studies

is an artist residency program

that reimagines the futures of marginalized people

by creating dynamic work spaces for artists of color.

The Afro Punk Festival is an international phenomenon

that celebrates cutting-edge Black music, art, and culture

in major cities all over the world.

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All of these cultural guardians remind us and reassure us

of the timeless beauty and power of Blackness.

The Afrofuture holds everything that Black people

choose to make a reality.

We're speeding deeper into the 21st century,

and Afrofuturism is on the leading edge of this exciting,

magical journey.

The possibilities are as fascinating

as they are infinite.

See you there.

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♪ Love and life interested me so ♪

♪ That I dared to knock at the door of the cosmos ♪

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♪ Love and life interested me so ♪

♪ That I dared to knock at the door of the cosmos ♪

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