S7 E12 | CLIP

To the Future and Beyond

Afrofuturism may be a newer lens for viewing art, media, and philosophy, but it frames stories that have been thriving since long before their representation in the mainstream

AIRED: July 16, 2021 | 0:08:40

(instrumental music)

(upbeat music)

If you've yet to encounter

the vibrant world of Afrofuturism,

get ready to feel the past,

the present and the future become one.

- It's both an art and an attitude

and it's a culture.

- Afrofuturism is a way of looking at alternate realities

through a black cultural lens.

- [Jim] Afrofuturism is a broad concept

with its roots in science fiction.

In recent years,

the likes of Janell Monae, Beyonce

and the Black Panther movie franchise

have brought it into the mainstream.

Aesthetics mingling ancient African symbols

with high tech, cyborgian imagery.

Stories about a future in which black people

and black culture

are not merely included.

They are foundational

and in a world

where the legacy of slavery lives on

and public policy and private discourse,

Afrofuturism offers an escape

as well as a means of envisioning new possibilities

for justice and equality of opportunity.

The filmmaker, scholar, and writer, Ytasha Womack

believes that this is changing self perception

in the black community.

- Many people of African descent

aren't always accustomed

to seeing images of themselves

in the future.

That showcase in and of itself

transforms people.

(upbeat music)

- Afrofuturism is very much where the people,

you know it allows me

to fully be creative

with the means that I have.

- [Jim] For experimental musician, Moor Mother

Afrofuturism is a life philosophy

and a path to deliberation.

- I like to use my music

as a form of time travel.

So I try to use different things, you know

from throughout time, sounds, field sounds

just things that may spark

some type of memory

within people that takes them to another place.

(upbeat music)

- Western civilization's mode of time

is very much future oriented.

Moving into the future

on this progressive linear line.

Ancient African traditions of time flow backwards.

They flow cyclically.

They, you know, they return.

- Rasheedah Phillips is a sci-fi author

and with Moor Mother,

the co-founder of the artists collective,

Black Quantum Futurism.

She says that the term Afrofuturism

is relatively new

but its guiding principles are timeless.

- We've always speculated

but it's been called different things.

And now Afrofuturism is like the,

two thousands version of something we've always done.

The term was coined

in the early 90's

by a white cultural critic named Mark Dery

who wrote this essay called,

Blacks to the Future

where he essentially started off the essay by asking,

"Well, why isn't there a presence

"of black people

"in mainstream sort of science fiction?"

- [Narrator] This is especially perplexing

in light of the fact that African-Americans are,

in a very real sense,

the descendants of alien abductees.

They inhabit a sci-fi nightmare

in which unseen

but no less than passable force fields

of intolerance frustrate their movements.

Official histories undo

what has been done to them.

- You know, I wrote this essay

one time about

this choice that I had to make,

you know, just being a book lover,

going to the bookstores

and having to choose

between going to the African-American literature section

and the science fiction section,

because I don't know

where's Octavia Butler going to be?

She going to be in sci-fi

or she's going to be in African-American literature?

She's often not in sci-fi.

And so if I go to the sci-fi section

and I don't see Octavia Butler

how am I as a young person

going to know that

black people write science fiction

or that we are the characters

or the protagonist in these stories?

- I mean I think I would find that frightening

if there were a futuristic science fiction

and people who looked and sounded

and walked and talked like me were not in there

it would almost feel like,

somewhere there was an agenda

for me

not to be around that future. - OH yeah.

- You think?


- Is that what your reaction to it?

- Yeah, but that was only my reaction

after I became aware

that we were even absent.

- [Jim] Today, Octavia Butler

is considered the godmother of Afro-futurism.

Its godfather is Sun Ra,

the late American jazz musician and philosopher

who claimed to be visiting from Saturn

on a mission to preach peace.

For more than 40 years,

he led an ever-shifting roster of musicians

the Arkestra,

in creating slices of utopia on stage.

(jazz music playing)

- His music itself

is like the definition

of what Afrofuturism would be

down to his very instrumentation

in the sounds he experimented with.

- He was very much on one level

exploring alienation

and kind of creating

a reason of sorts

to justify this alienation

by literally saying

he came from somewhere else.

But I think,

that now we're in a different space

and people very much feel like

they can make a difference here.

(jazz music)

- [Jim] Despite pockets of progress

it's clear that life has not really been improving

for African-Americans.

Afrofuturism is a powerful tool

for radically re-imagining the world.

In her day job,

Rasheedah Phillips is an attorney

at a free civil legal assistance organization

in Philadelphia.

And she doesn't just practice her art at home.

- I was like, "Oh, this is fun and useful."

And how can I apply this to my clients

or to the people that I'm seeing in my community

who are feeling hopeless about the future

because of their they're in poverty

or because they've been told,

you know, that they don't belong in the future,

or because they've seen that,

you know, from mainstream ideas

of what the future is

and who gets to make it into the future.

(upbeat music)

- For me, success in the Afrofuturism

is just encouraging people

to use their imagination

to transform their circumstances.

Giving people a platform

to feel comfortable telling stories

they didn't feel had an audience before.

I would just jump up and down for that

in and of itself.

- [Jim] And for those on the front lines for change

like Rasheedah Phillips,

Afrofuturism offers the chance

to look at a world

riddled with problems

and feel more optimistic.

- Afrofuturism informs me

in how I view time

and how I view the ending of problems.

I don't live with this notion of finality

that, you know,

there's this final thing

that things are never going to get better

and that is the final conclusion.

No, there is this dynamic sense of what changes.

And so, you know, I have hope.

- [Jim] Much traditional sci-fi

imagines a dystopian future,

one of great injustice and suffering.

Many African-Americans

have no use for such fantasies.

They are already living in a dystopian present.

What Afrofuturism presents

is an idea, a belief, and a hope

for some future eutopia.

(reggae music playing)

(soft instrumental music)

- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter

- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter


- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter


- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter


- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Articulate with Jim Cotter


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