Sci-Fi and Fantasy media has always suffered from a lack of racial diversity. It's definitely gotten a lot better in recent years, but it still suffers. Just randomly pick ten (I'll even give you twenty) mainstream sci-fi films, comics, and/or video games, and I can guarantee you that a large majority of them will have white leads and very few, if any, Black supporting characters. If you were to give any credence to that observation, it would seem as though the ideal future or alternate world (at least the one pushed by the media) would be one free of Black people and the idea of Blackness altogether. This revelation would understandably be disappointing for someone like me, who, like many people, enjoys experiencing the world of sci-fi and fantasy and the awe-inspiring power of escapism it possesses.
This harsh reality even affected the things I created. For example, when I was younger, I used to draw a lot more than I do now, and I remember how every character I made up and drew was either race-less or explicitly white. I didn't think much of it then. But looking back, I realize that drawing Black superheroes and space explorers à la Dragon Ball Z was simply something that didn't come naturally to me. Mainly because the fantasy media I consumed at the time was so oversaturated with white (or blue, or green, or pink, etc.) characters.
However, as I grew older and became more active on the internet, exposing myself to a wide array of new ideas, I started to see something I’d never seen before in such large quantities: Black faces being portrayed in the same context as aliens, magic, and interstellar adventures. I was excited, but I never realized just how deep those images went. It wasn’t until recently that I came across AFROFUTURISM, the somewhat formal term for the style, that I finally understood the cultural significance of Black fantasy and just how much of it had been going on right under my nose.
Afrofuturism, as defined by good ole Google, is "a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of Black history and culture." Sources vary, but it is generally believed to have developed in the mid 20th century with figures like Sun Ra and George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic) who drew inspiration from traditional Black/African genres (i.e. gospel, blues, jazz, funk) and techno-futuristic sounds and themes.
These ideas have even managed to bleed into modern pop-culture with figures like Missy Elliott, André 3000, Solange, Jaden and Willow Smith, Janelle Monae, and Erykah Badu all getting in on it. It blows me away that I've been engaging with these artists for years and yet I've never heard of this thrilling and extremely important idea by name.
I say this idea is important because of the fact that media representation is crucial to an individual's sense of belonging within a particular society, and young children (the primary consumers of most fantasy media) should be able to grow up and regularly see images that accurately reflect them. This has been a luxury white children have had the privilege to enjoy for years; however, children of color have had to live with the idea that they aren't wanted in the bright and shiny utopias of the future.
Luckily, there is an entire movement dedicated to reminding us that we're capable of existing somewhere beyond the mundane present. And that we too, can live among the stars in fancy spacecrafts equipped with ray guns and other questionably "scientific" gadgets.
© ELI T. MOND 2017