I’ve noted before that this summer I’m doing a lot of reading for both Rhetoric & Composition theory as well as Afrofuturism (I’m also reading the new textbook for my English 1010 class coming up for Fall 2019 to try to lay out how I’m going to teach it). I’m noticing quite a few things. One of the things that I want to talk about today is the fact that because Afrofuturism is just now going “mainstream” due to the success of Black Panther, its “canon” (the works that define it) are still being written/formulated/expressed. There’s still a quite a bit of debate as to what exactly constitutes an Afrofuturistic text (heck, my spellcheck even now is underlining Afrofuturism in red, highlighting that the term is still one that is not widely disseminated).
What is (currently) considered Afrofuturism?
So, the one of the most current definitions of Afrofuturism that I’ve seen is that Afrofuturism is a future (futuristic future or future that has futuristic elements) that deals in some way with the African diaspora. That is, the contintent of Africa in some way or the forced migration of African citizens to other continents (mainly for slave labor) and the effects (future) that has had on the culture. While I personally feel that this definition is too narrow (for reasons I’ll explain shortly), this means that the “canon” is generally forming around authors and filmic representations of this idea. So far the major authors are Delany, Butler, Hopkinson, and Okorafor (a fairly recent addition). I’ve attempted and abandoned Hopkinson’s seminal work Brown Girl in the Ring, but at some point before my dissertation, I know that I’ll have to hold my nose and read a representative work by each of these authors. Again, while I have no particular animus towards these authors in particular, I don’t really like their brand of sci-fi, which in the days before the Afrofuturism term began to be used in the 1990s, there work would have been label Social Sci-Fi and this is a sub-genre that doesn’t really interest me as much. The filmic representation for Afrofuturism is even bleaker. Basically, the only “mainstream” examples are Black Panther (seminal, in my opinion) and maybe Space is the Place (formative). If you google Afrofuturism films, you will find others listed, but again, none of them could be considered mainstream.
What is (currently) Excluded from Afrofuturism
Quite a lot, actually–too much in my opinion. A specific example from one the articles that I’ve read is Hancock because it doesn’t explicitly deal with the African Diaspora. If that’s the case, then it stands to reason that other predominately African American/African Descent movies in the Sci-Fi genre would also be excluded, even if there is a valid for including them. I, Robot would be out (even though it talks about robots as an underclass/servant class like People of Color used to be), most of Will Smith’s other work, pretty much any of the Denzel Washington Sci-Fi movies, the (poorly reviewed) adaptation of the Dark Tower which “race-bends” the main character and most certainly should be discussed–in terms of controversy to Idris Elba’s casting and what that means for those of African Descent in Fantasy/Sci-Fi, and even the recent Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, which I would argue is probably the most important Afrofuturistic film to be released since Black Panther because it argues for “self determination” and not letting your past define your future–yet, it doesn’t do so from an African Diaspora context, so it will probably be excluded–and I don’t think that right. In the book space, both Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due are working in the Sci-Fi genre, but while I’ve seen them on the list for one forumulation for the canon, they are often left off of others for the “Big Four” listed above.
Why We Need ALL Our Authors of Color
So, this one is running longer than I intended, so I’ll end by saying: we NEED ALL our African American/Descent authors who are working in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy space for Afrofuturism. Too often, Sci-Fi and Fantasy have been genres that have been the province of writers outside the African American/Descent culture and as such, our voices have been marginalized and hindered through lack of representation. Without voices inside the field, we risk letting others define who we are and more importantly, without different ideas flowing throughout the “canon,” we risk others labeling our contributions as “one-note” and lacking the diversity we find in ourselves and wish to bring to the greater writing community at large. “Canon” formation is a good thing, but limiting a canon too much can create a homogeneity that can rob us of our voices just as surely as no recognition at all.
Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:
- Purchase Dragonhawk on Amazon.com (Paperback) or Kindle
- Purchase WarLight on Amazon.com (Paperback) or Kindle
- Purchase Ship of Shadows on Amazon.com (Paperback) or Kindle
- Purchase Faerie Knight on Amazon.com (Paperback) or Kindle
- The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
3rd Draft of 3 Drafts
Drafting Section 1 (of 3)
Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2019
- I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
- Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel
(Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
Personal Deadline = September 30, 2019
- HawkeMoon (upcoming) = Edits turned in to editor 5/31/19