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“An exploration and methodology of liberation”: Afrofuturism anticipates a daring future

Hart House event discusses the impact of technology on Black expression
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MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY
MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY

As part of its Black Futures series, Hart House hosted an event on February 11 — “The Worldbuilding of Wakanda” — centred around the movie Black Panther. Speakers focused on the film’s unique relationship to ‘Afrofuturism,’ a term coined in the 1990s that refers to a cultural movement that imagines — and reimagines — the relationship between African culture and future technology. 

To facilitate dialogue, three prominent Black writers were present: writer and video editor Antoine Bandele, Afrofuturist writer Stephanie Chrismon, and Rashid Mohiddin, the editor-in-chief of Pressed Magazine

Black Panther was released in January 2018 and broke all sorts of box office records. The movie features the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, a prince who comes home to Wakanda — a fictional country in East Africa — to inherit his royal throne.  

Featuring Black actors and an African narrative, the movie ignited the imaginations of Black diasporas across the world. It remains relevant three years later, having amplified Black voices and provided much needed representation. 

At its core, Black Panther is an Afrofuturist movie. According to Denenge Duyst-Akpem, a prominent Black artist, Afrofuturism is “an exploration and methodology of liberation, simultaneously both a location and a journey.” 

Afrofuturism can push the imagination to an African continent untouched by the modern disasters of colonization and imperialism — issues that took a front row seat during the discussion of the worldbuilding of Wakanda. 

According to Bandele, Black Panther is special because it is unapologetically African and untouched by colonization. It is essentially a pan-Africanist movie, utilizing a range of authentic African clothing, accents, and styles. Mohiddin echoed that this is only the first step; it opens up the world for more authentic African possibilities in films, entertainment, and beyond. 

The speakers emphasized how the leaders of the Wakandan state are keen on preserving the natural order of Wakanda — including closing their borders. 

This movie broke through rampant stereotypes about Africa, including ideas of Africans living in huts. Instead, it offered a powerful portrayal of Africans thriving in Africa.

According to the speakers, Wakanda’s worldbuilding also had implications for Black diasporas across the world. For Chrismon, this meant imagining what her own personal Wakanda would look like. As a Black American who has never lived in Africa, she couldn’t imagine one there. However, she suggested that it would look like the Harlem Renaissance or perhaps Tulsa, Oklahoma — had it remained unburned. 

Blackness goes beyond geographical borders thanks to modern day technology. Chrismon explained, “We have this really technologically advanced system to have this conversation with one another about stuff that we find interesting [and] that we find funny — that impacts who we are as a people.” 

In a curious way, Afrofuturism is already in motion. Technology has made the discussion around Afrofuturism increasingly relevant, especially in Black communications. Recently, with the help of technology, Black folks and allies have been able to mobilize supporters for the Black Lives Matter movement, while also organizing protests in the fight against racism.

Chrismon highlighted Twitter and its resulting connections across the Black diaspora. Millions of Black people across the world are connected, able to discuss issues pertaining to them, and can even share relevant memes. 

In addition, a lot of African cultures are based on oral histories. Chrismon mentioned that, through short videos on social media, oral traditions are kept alive and propagated like never before. Beyond movies, artistic expression through poetry, painting, and music can also be used to share stories. 

In many ways, these are Afrofuturist actions. Avenues like social media provide platforms for Black folks to connect and dream loudly, beyond the confines of past histories. 

Mohiddin tactfully commented that as Afrofuturist authors, historians, and researchers are “telling stories the way [they] want to tell them, which is really powerful.” Movies like Black Panther inspire Black authors to continue to push forward in their endeavours in storytelling.