What is Afrofuturism, and why is it everywhere right now?

May 14, 2018

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Afrofuturism is an aesthetic that combines science fiction with black culture to create a future informed by black peoples’ experiences.

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The term “Afrofuturism” wasn’t coined until the ’90s, but the art form dates back to the mid-20th century.

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Afrofuturism was epitomized in the ’50s by jazz musician Sun Ra, whose songs featured the theme of space as a black getaway.

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Sun Ra starred in the 1974 film Space Is the Place, in which his character planned to start a colony of black people on a new planet.

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We set up a colony of black people here, see what they can do on a planet all their own, without any white people there.

— Sun Ra as himself in Space Is the Place

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Culture theorist Mark Dery described the art form in his early ’90s essay “Black to the Future,” in which he examined this trend of Afrocentric science fiction.

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The notion of Afrofuturism gives rise to a troubling antinomy: Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out ... imagine possible futures?

— Mark Dery, “Black to the Future”

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In the decades since the term was coined, Afrofuturism has become a major part of mainstream culture and can be seen in recent popular works.

In Janelle Monáe’s new visual album, Dirty Computer, she explores Afrofuturism by portraying a resistance fight against an oppressive system.

Janelle Monáe/YouTube

The Marvel box office hit Black Panther shows a fictional African nation that’s unaffected by the external world. It’s been allowed to thrive on its own.

Marvel Entertainment/YouTube

It isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future. … It is the idea that we will have won the future.

— Carvell Wallace in the New York Times

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