In honor of Black History Month, we will discuss today a cultural aesthetic that will certainly spark more interest this month thanks to a pop culture phenomenon that will arrive next week: Black Panther. Afrofuturism is a literary genre or style, that visualizes Black culture in the future using magic realism.
The term emerged in 1994 by Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future.” He emphasized the censorship of Black History and questioned the possibility of visualizing the future for upcoming generations of black men and women. Afrofuturism wants to project African myths, traditions, colors and morals through a creative lens using sub-genres, such as science fiction.
Sandy, the curator for the “Black Magic: AfroPasts/AfroFutures” exhibition, believes Afrofuturism is more than literature, but a movement. “But I feel like it isn’t just a literary genre, it’s how we understand the earth- an ambulatory cosmology, how we move through the world.”
Ytash Womack, author of “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture”, describes the concept as “an intersection between black culture, the imagination, liberation, technology and mysticism. […] it’s also a way of looking at the world as well.”
It’s grown since the early nineties thanks to artists who portray it in their music and art, and writers who’ve brought to the newborn genre sci-fi/fantasy books and films.
Black Panther is the perfect example of this genre since it follows the aesthetic norms of Afrofuturism. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Marvel character creators, published Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966, but the intention was not involved with this philosophy.
However, T’Challa has adopted afrofuturistic traits through his transition as a superhero; such as his constant use of retrospection and foreshadowing, the balance between male and female power, and his sense of community. T’Challa contacts previous Black Panthers to gain advice for his future plans and he’s protected by a Wakanda version of the Amazons, the Dora Milaje; a group of female warriors whom defend Black Panther and keep peace in Wakanda.
His constant use of retrospection to keep in touch with his ancestors resonates with the afrofuturistic trait of never letting go of one’s historic background. The celebration of female empowerment in the comics also contributes to sense of community as a tribe.
Wakanda itself can stand alone as an afrofuturistic masterpiece because it exalts everything the genre stands for. The fantastic advance in technology, the characters and morals that revolve around the community create a perfect balance. It is a kingdom untouched by foreign invaders, so it remains pure to its African philosophies and lifestyles. Every element colors the essence of Afrofuturism which aims for a well-rounded perspective of the past, present and future for African cultures and generations.
As Womack described, Afrofuturism is an upcoming force of nature that will serve as a reminder that despite Africa’s history has been blended out in time, Africa will continue to contribute to the growth of humanity as a community.
We think the Marvel film premiering on February 16th this year will help catapult the aesthetic into younger generations and promote diversity as a positive trait into the social mainstream.