Black Future Month: Black Panther and the Unveiling of the Afrofuturist Frontier

It’s time to celebrate fantastic depictions of Blacks. We are more than the suffering-centered narratives that Hollywood has deemed us worthy of.  We are an incredible people who belong in science and fantasy as much as anyone else.  Our perspective has so much to add to these realms and is a necessary voice to include in the narrative. Black Panther exemplifies this, and we are finally at a point that his story will be in front of more eyes than ever before.

Black Panther comes out in mere weeks and I, for one, am excited beyond words to see not only what promises to be an amazing piece of inescapably-black science fantasy, but also how it is received. Afrofuturism isn’t new, but it has never* been a mainstream concept. How fans, detractors, and the culture in general accept it is impossible to predict.  As for me, I fully embrace visions of the future and alternate worlds informed by blackness. What better time to celebrate than this February?  What better month than Black Future Month?

Taking some time, even if it is shortest month of the year, to highlight creators and projects that proudly place black people in visions of the future is beneficial. More than that, it is necessary. The past and present of black experience is frequently characterized by inequality and injustice, but the future doesn’t have to be. Neither do stories of science fiction and fantasy. When we think about the future and our place in it, when we imagine possibilities, when we tell stories about ourselves to ourselves, we need not be defined by limitations placed on us or mistakenly internalized.  We are capable of seeing black lives more fully emotionally, technologically, spiritually, and politically than we often experience.

Black Future Month embraces the Afrofuturist notion that blackness need not be an image of, at best, the exotic and, at worst, the primitive; it can create an image of the future and the endless possibilities that it represents. In their marketing push, the creatives behind Black Panther chose to lead off with a trailer showcasing Martin Freeman’s character facing the idea that the future had been hiding where he saw the past. If somehow I hadn’t been firmly in the bag for Black Panther already, that would have done it – but it promises to do so much more than even that.

Black Panther is the perfect symbol of Black Future Month and Afrofuturism in a number of ways. While, yes, it was originally created by well-meaning Westerners, it has been adopted by Blacks as an aspirational, modern representation of us. It is a way for us to shed the trappings of European influence and build a superior society embracing African culture. Wakanda allows us to envision what might have been, or might even still be.  It is a future for us in a way that Star Wars and Star Trek, for their efforts, simply are not and cannot be. It is OUR science fantasy.

I am going to take a minute to fawn over Wakanda because:

·       It is a (fictional) African nation depicted as the peak of technological advancement on Earth

·       It has never been conquered

·       It depicts Black Excellence uninterrupted by White colonialism

·       It is a nation that embraces its gods and history as much as its super science

·       Its access to perhaps the most unique and useful material on the planet is far from the only reason it has prospered

·       It features characters inextricably linked to their community

·       Its stories feature a wide cast of unique and powerful women (be they mortals or divinities)

·       It is led and protected by the Black Panther…who is a genius, warrior, king, and high priest (eat it Tony Stark)

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Wakanda is defined by its ingenuity, strength, and ability to achieve, but any Marvel fan could have told you that. What is really special is that for once, black excellence will take center stage in what is one of the most successful movie franchises in history. This pristine example of Afrofuturism, of a world reimagined through a Black lens, will be not just visible to the culture at large, but given prominence. Black Panther opens present and future worlds of fantasy to blacks, embracing the idea that this space CAN be inhabited by us, just as it has been by others. And more, that our Black lives, stories, histories, and ideas fuel unique and enriching visions of our world.

Black Panther is more than just a good starting place for Afrofuturism.  The mere teases of this movie beg you to get on its level, to step into a new world and, for many, a new way of thinking about what could be. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes this movie so special.

*Not an ounce of disrespect to well-known creators like Janelle Monae, Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler, George Clinton, or the many others whose unique content and variety of aesthetics proudly display themes of Afrofuturism and have been an excellent introduction for many, myself included.

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