Afrofuturism on Stage and Screen
For decades, Afrofuturism has influenced what is seen on stage and screen. Through its futuristic and fantastical worlds, it provides a creative platform for themes of Black liberation and social equality and offers a futuristic, utopian vision of an inclusive and diverse society.
On stage and screen, representation matters. It is important so that art and media can reflect the diversity of society. With the global reach of film and television, seeing heroes of color, or seeing Black villains who aren't one-dimensional stereotypes, or seeing powerful women in roles typically occupied by men, these aspects of representation become even more powerful. Afrofuturism provides a platform for reimagining Black characters in traditionally white roles.
Twenty-first century Black science fiction and horror films are not brand-new. They follow in the lineage of films like Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess and Son of Ingagi – the first known Black science fiction film. Yet Black creators have often been excluded or made to represent “the other” in speculative fiction and horror. Writer H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, a complex world of dark magic, monsters, and Old Gods, has had a major influence on science and horror made by Black creatives, but Lovecraft’s white-supremacy infected much of his work- something Black creatives have countered face on. The television show Lovecraft Country, based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel, approached this issue directly, pairing Lovecraft’s monsters with the horror of 1950’s racism and segregation.
Nichelle Nichols ushered in a new era as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek. As the show was refreshed and redeveloped throughout the decades, it included ever more Black characters. From LeVar Burton’s Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation to Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Celia Rose Gooding’s role as an early-career Lt. Uhura on Stark Trek: Strange New Worlds, creators and Black actors have embraced Nichols’ legacy.
…there’s a way in which reality is weaponized against Africans … there is this tradition and legacy of the camera or documentation being [a tool] of scrutiny, examining, educating, teaching
Nuotama Bodomo, filmmaker
Black filmmakers have taken Afrofuturism themes to new levels, whether in big-budget movies or art-house films. The latter can be seen in Nuotama Bodomo’s Afronauts, in which the true and the imagined story of the Zambian Space Academy is brought to life, and in Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi, which imagines an ecological collapse after World War Three.
Though Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian made a memorable impact in 1980’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, subsequent success from media-makers has pushed major film franchises to include more Black characters in their films. Characters like Samuel L. Jackson as the first Black Jedi Mace Windu in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, Moses Ingram’s Reva in Obi Wan Kenobi, and John Boyega’s Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens have expanded Black representation in the world’s most successful space franchise.
Black lives have always mattered. We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless.
Nuotama Bodomo, filmmaker, 2020