Afrofuturism is an ambitious vision of the future that is informed by black culture. It is about creating a future where black people are in control of our own destinies.
For many, afrofuturism is a form of escapism; a reprieve from the present-day reality of an oppressive system. For some, afrofuturism is highly spiritual; a celebration of black imagination.
Ytasha Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, describes afrofuturism as,
The intersection between black culture, technology, liberation, and the imagination, with some mysticism thrown in, too.
Below is an original 5-part video series created by DUST (a platform for binge watchable sci-fi) that details the creation of afrofuturism and celebrates some of the pioneers.
Part 1: Exploring Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism
Sun Ra – the forefather of afrofuturism.
Part 2: Star Trek’s Uhura
Star Trek’s Nyota Uhura, a commander aboard the Starship Enterprise, was the first black character in a major role to be depicted in outer space. Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols in the original series, and first appeared in 1966. In reality, it would take nearly 30 years for a black woman to make it to space – NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, in 1992.
In episode two of DUST’s afrofuturism series, Uhura beams up Sun Ra, Martin Luther King, and the aforementioned Jemison, as narrator Little Simz tells us the true story of how King convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show after the first season. Nichols would go on to appear in 66 episodes.
Part 3: George Clinton Gets Funky on the Moon
In episode three of DUST’s afrofuturism series, George Clinton and the almighty Mothership emerge from a cloud of green gas to funk up the universe and expand the mythology of the philosophical and artistic lens that would later come to be known as afrofuturism. From getting funky in front of a massive crowd on the moon to breaking bread with Jimi Hendrix and Sun Ra, George Clinton’s ultra funky contributions to the galaxy only serve to reinforce the idea that all motherships are connected.
Part 4: Jimi Hendrix vs God
In the canon of popular black musicians who have written songs about space, there are none who shook up the mainstream nearly as much as Jimi Hendrix. Like Sun Ra before him, Hendrix wrote songs about interstellar travel, even including alien characters in songs like “Up From The Skies” and “Third Stone From The Sun”, which was inspired by George R. Stewart’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, Earth Abides. But Hendrix wouldn’t be able to bring his message to the masses until he traveled to England and battled God himself, Eric Clapton (then playing in a supergroup called Cream).
In this episode, DUST presents the animated story of that fateful night. Originally intended to be a friendly jam session between God (Clapton) and one of his biggest fans, the then unknown Hendrix, Clapton walked off-stage in the middle of Hendrix’s solo, stunned by the no-name’s guitar wizardry.
Hendrix’s performance that night forged a brotherhood with Clapton and is just one of many such stories of his mind-blowing performances that would carve out his place in rock n’ roll history as the unmatched greatest guitarist of all-time (according to Rolling Stone). Hendrix’s infatuation with science fiction, and his commitment to technological (and psychedelic) experimentation, pushed him to make his guitar sound like anything but, and has inspired artists of many genres to embrace their individuality ever since.
Part 5: Missy Elliott Descends from Planet Rock
Missy Elliott was the first popular black artist to make explicit, recurring use of science-fiction in her visual offerings. For this reason, and because of the lack of representation of black people in science-fiction films, Missy’s work can be viewed through the lens of afrofuturism.