Speculative fiction is about the future, advances in technology, and the endless possibilities of extraterrestrial life. But it often tells stories from the past and present that revolve around the same themes as mainstream fiction: conquest, betrayal, revolution, and the power of human relationships. Recent movements in science fiction literature, led by a new cadre of increasingly diverse writers, have opened up new ways to tell these stories by drawing on traditions from different cultures. Afrofuturism, a movement that gained popularity among Marvels Black Panther and Beyonces Black is king, takes inspiration from African diaspora culture to tell these familiar stories.
The free online film festival Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized acts as an introduction and invitation to the genre. The film collection, curated by the black futurist and filmmaker Celia C. Barnes, comprises an international selection of 10 Afro-futuristic films from America, Nigeria, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago.
The films selected for the festival differ greatly in genre and medium and show the range of works that fall under the Afrofuturism movement. In an introductory video to the festival entitled “Afrofuturism 101” Barnes describes the movement as “a platform on which blacks realize our own liberation by exploring self-determined future prospects through many facets of expression.” The films follow this thesis and show a range of immediate and distant futures that black independent filmmakers have envisioned. The collection may seem incoherent at first, but all films apply the black look to science fiction, resulting in unique works that may not have found an audience outside of the Afrofuturism movement.
The films of Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized Tell familiar stories in established genres. The uniqueness comes from the filmm akers’ perspective and their inclusion of cultural details that are still underrepresented in all of science fiction.
The inclusion of African diaspora culture enriches storytelling and portends the future of science fiction as a whole, as one editor relates Polygon in an interview. “In science fiction or fantasy we are used to working with the tropics. People really love that. They love to see the things they grew up with, remixed and warmed up. And once you add new voices and cultures, new perspectives, things may feel tired of feeling original, ”says Orbit / Redhook editor Nivia Evans.
The special thing about the festival is Battledream Chronicle, a full-length animated film by screenwriter and director Alain Bidard from the Caribbean island of Martinique. The film takes place in the year 2100 on an earth covered by deadly pollution and on which the world was colonized by the land of Mortemonde. The country uses a video game called Battle dreamto enslave those it defeats. Syanna Meridian, a young Martine slave, has to play the game every day in order to produce XP for the leaders of Mortemonde. She delivers 3000 XP per month or is about to die. One day Syanna discovers the firebird, a Battle dream Weapon powerful enough to destroy the empire and must choose whether to rise or use the weapon to buy her freedom.
The first full-length animated film from Martinique in French with English subtitles, Battledream Chronicle is a marvel of breathtaking animation, realistic and digitally stylized at the same time. The plot is a story of conquest and revolution, a popular theme in science fiction, but it also includes the story of Martinique, a Franco-Caribbean island and former colony with a history of slave rebellions. In the film, this power struggle is played through a video game in which the colonizers have special skills and cheat codes with which they win and are thus in power. The weapons and skills in the game are inspired by different cultures, including Creole, Egyptian and Greek mythology. Many of the characters have realistic battles and choose between submission and revolution while considering the fate of their families and friends.
The short film that brought the festival to life Soulsshows a more terrestrial and well-known vision of Afrofuturism. In Malakai’s film, a young girl named Kai faces the declining health of her grandmother Hattie, a cosmologist confronted with Alzheimer’s disease. The film uses both sunlight and starlight as metaphors for the human mind as it tells the story of Hattie’s transition into the afterlife and how it affects Kai and her mother Sinea, played by Tabitha Brown. It also features a realistic and personable portrayal of Alzheimer’s through Johan Beckles’ performance, which includes scenes interacting with Kai and Sinea, as well as self-recorded notes of memories.
Another notable short film is view, directed by Janeen Talbott. The film follows Naji Bloom, a woman who lives in a technologically advanced future in which humanity is dependent on ghosts in the tradition of African folklore. At a time of crisis, Bloom is heralded as a candidate to become her tribe’s new seer, a leader who communicates with spirits. Although she does not initially believe in ghosts or the immaterial, she comes in contact with you and has to decide whether to become a seer and make a sacrifice that shows the extent of her belief. The short film offers an excellent example of the rapid construction of the world, which is partly successful thanks to excellent costumes and sets. The story is a nice allegory of the sacrifices that faith requires.
The second feature film of the festival, digis an elegant space exploration and artificial intelligence story by Trinidadian director Nick Attin that depicts a multinational space mission in 2025. The first act of the film goes slowly and focuses on the logistics of testing the special AI assistant for the expedition. As soon as the journey begins, the film follows Commander Nelson Obatala, who has to deviate from course in order to save his fellow astronaut and friend. The low-budget film continues with captivating performances by Kearn Samuel as Commander Obatala and Conrad Parris as MILO, the surprisingly human-like AI. The talks between Obatala and MILO offer an interesting examination of the immense possibilities of artificial intelligence.
Other films at the festival are the Alien Exploration Short Star thievesdirected by H. Leslie Foster II; The demolition, an alien invasion short film starring Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown; and Hello rain, Directed by Nigerian director CJ “Fiery” Obasis and based on Nnedi Okorafor’s short story “Hello, Moto.” These films demonstrate the immense capacity of the Afrofuturism movement and black imagination, and point to the plethora of films that have received no support beyond the independent film market. Many of these excellent short films would never have been available to the general public without this easily accessible online festival. Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized The free festival not only reveals possible future prospects for the world and technology, but also suggests compelling stories that could be told in the future when international and POC filmmakers receive more funding.
All films in Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized will be available online free of charge until the end of 2021 and will also be broadcast on the All Arts TV channel.