Afrofuturism has entered more mainstream conversations in the last decade thanks to its influence on fashion and art, notably in the music of Janelle Monae and in the film “Black Panther.”
However, the idea of Afrofuturism, which often combines science fiction, technology, and a Black understanding of liberty, expands beyond pop culture into practice and social action.
To help answer the question of what Afrofuturism is, Michigan State University Professor of English Julian Chambliss talked with experts around the country about the innovative movement for “Afrofantastic: The Transformative World of Afrofuturism,” a new Public Broadcasting Service documentary.
“Afrofuturism is a vehicle for people from many different disciplines to celebrate Blackness and reject the burdens of the past,” said Chambliss, the Creator and Host of “Afrofantastic.” “One of the things that all of these people share in their visions for Afrofuturism is a more inclusive space that helps and nurtures everyone.”
The 30-minute “Afrofantastic” film is now available on demand on pbs.org and for broader distribution to PBS stations. It premiered on MSU’s public media station WKAR-TV on June 19 with a Q&A panel following the showing that included Olivia “Liv” Furman, non-binary womanist, artist, educator, and researcher; Ytasha L. Womack, author, filmmaker, dancer, and independent scholar; and Chambliss. The panel was moderated by Teresa Goforth, director of exhibitions at the MSU Museum.
To create the “Afrofantastic” documentary, Chambliss worked with Peter Johnston, Digital Media and Film Production Manager with the MSU Film Studies program, who helped edit and co-produce the series. They traveled to the first-ever Afrofuturism Festival hosted by Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, and the Chicago History Museum in Chicago.
Some of the experts featured in the film include Reynaldo Anderson, Associate Professor of Africology and African American Studies at Temple University; Lonny J. Avi Brooks, Professor of Communication at California State University, East Bay; Dedren Snead, founder of Subsume Studio; and Ytasha L. Womack, author of “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture” and “Rayla 2212.”
“When you bring their perspectives together, you get a much fuller vision of the depth of Afrofuturism,” Johnston said. “I hope viewers gain a basic understanding of Afrofuturism and a curiosity to learn more about it. I’m thrilled to play a part in getting this out to the public.”
MSU Associate Professor of English Kinitra Brooks also shares her expertise in the documentary. Brooks is the Audrey and John Leslie Endowed Chair in Literary Studies in the Department of English. Her work focuses on Black women in popular culture in the areas of Afrofuturism, horror, and spiritual traditions, including conjure women.
“I think of Afrofuturism as a theory of time in which the past, present, and future are conflated together, and they operate as one. And I think it’s a question for Black folks of discovering, recovering the past, as well as assessing and deciding what we want to take forward,” Brooks said. “Once we make that assessment, we decide how we want to move into the future and create better worlds, better realities, and move toward our own liberation.”
“Afrofantastic: The Transformative World of Afrofuturism” further explores these themes of time and culture along with the ways Afrofuturism contributes to current national and global dialogues around art, politics, and social justice.
“Our film is offering a way to think about the Black experience that centers the perspective of Black people,” Chambliss said. “Whatever label we use, the implication is that Black people are seeking a different path, one where greater care and equality are central to the world we live in. The future vision they offer is complex because the problems they seek to overcome are profound.”
By Beth Bonsall, originally published by the College of Arts and Letters