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Staff Picks: Exploring Afrofuturism

by lucroe

Afrofuturism is a wide-ranging social, political and artistic movement that imagines a world where African-descended peoples and cultures (largely ignored in mainstream depictions of a utopian future) play a central role in the creation of that world. Afrofuturism’s influence is represented in every art form from the literature of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney to the music of Sun Ra and Janelle Monae to Black Panther and its costume designer Ruth E Carter. The list goes on….

Afrofuturism :  the World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha Womack | Request Now

Afrofuturism :  the World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha WomackA primer for understanding Afrofuturism and those that play a role in it. Whether one is interested in knowing the artists or further understanding the movement from its beginnings, this informative and entertaining work is, as DJ Spooky puts it a “…quantum romp through the Afro-Multiverse…”







Neptune Frost directed by Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman | Request Now

Neptune Frost directed by Saul Williams and Anisia UzeymanAn anti-colonialist computer hacking collective is formed in Burundi's hills by a gang of fugitive coltan miners. They want to overthrow the dictatorial government that is stealing the region's natural riches and subjugating its people. Cosmic forces bring an intersex fugitive and an escaping miner together which causes glitches in the larger divine circuitry. Through music (by way of director/songwriter Williams’ Afropunk stylings a la Sun Ra), lush cinematography, and dream-like storytelling, this movie brings liberation and hope to the forefront. Another excellent film to try, referred by the director as AfroSurrealism, is An Oversimplification of Beauty by director Terence Nance from Random Acts of Flyness fame.



Black Empire by George S. Schuyler | Request Now

Black Empire by George S. SchuylerOriginally printed in serialized format in the 1930s’ Pittsburgh Courier, Black Empire is part satire, part utopian vision in what is called proto-Afrofuturism. This melodramatic story focuses on a radical group called the Black Internationale who, through questionable means, devise a way to reclaim the African continent and achieve global dominance. They then punish European and American white supremacy and their crimes against the Black population with what they see as equal justice. Controversial and thought-provoking even today.





Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler | Request Now

Parable of the Sower by Octavia ButlerButler is one of the preeminent Afrofuturist writers and this is just one of her many classics. The story takes place in a not so distant dystopian future in California. In it the young main character, Lauren, has a special gift of ‘hyperempathy’ in which she can feel the pain of others within her sight. Living in a dangerous time, where water is severely rationed, there are drug crazed arsonists, and people live in walled off neighborhoods they have to defend, Lauren creates her own philosophy, Earthseed. With followers growing, she becomes a prophet for community survival and looking to the stars as a path forward. If you enjoy Butler’s works, try N. K. Jemison with notable series, Broken Earth and Great Cities well-worth reading.



War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi | Request Now

War Girls by Tochi OnyebuchiThis YA sci-fi adventure takes place in 2172 Nigeria during a civil war. Onyebuchi uses the real Nigerian civil war of the 1960s as inspiration for this novel.  Sisters, Onyii and Ify are dragged into opposite sides of the war but are trying to fight their way back to each other. With use of bioaugmentation for child soldiers including Onyii and mechanized battle suits, the future here is grim. But loyalty and sisterhood bring the two together. Touching on many issues including climate change, technology’s presence in war and its senselessness, child soldiers, and nuclear disaster. Onyebuchi has won awards for other books such as Riot Baby, another excellent example of Afrofuturism. If you like this try another YA novel, Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi



Binti by Nnedi Okorafor | Request Now

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor As Okorafor explains in her Ted talk, Sci-fi Stories that Imagine a Future Africa,  Afrofuturism is driven by Black people in charge of their own narratives. The award winning Binti trilogy follows this narrative arc with the title character who is the first of the Himba people to attend university. But she will have to travel to the stars taking her far from home and around others who are unfamiliar with her customs. There are also tensions between the University and an alien race called the Meduse. Binti must decide to use the gifts from her people in order to make peace with them. Okorafor poses questions about identity and growth in this illuminating novel.

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