I am just formally announcing that I am taking a couple of weeks off from my blog. Running it by myself can be a bit draining on me physically and mentally, and after my eye started twitching, I knew I needed a break. So I will be back after Thanksgiving with some new stuff, like an interview with filmmaker Janluk Stanislas about his Guadeloupe-based futuristic film, Trafik D’Info.
Author Archives: Aker
*I am featured in Atlanta Blackstar’s blerd’s “Black Speculative Tech – Uses of Technology in Black Science Fiction, Part 2:” “Because of institutional racism and our positions as mere subjects of science, Black people have typically been excluded from the mainstream scientific establishment as actors, practitioners, researchers and policymakers. Black scientific and technological innovation and achievement have gone virtually unrecognized, save for the handful of Black scientists and engineers who get their acknowledgments during Black History Month. Contrary to perceptions of Blackness as divorced from tech and science, we have a long and well-documented history, present and anticipated future of technological development behind and ahead of us. In this series, we continue to explore the expansive realm of Black speculative technologies in music, art and literature.”
*Black Girl Dangerous’ “What Good Is Science Fiction to Black People?:” “But to sci fi? Is this a stretch? Like so many others, I once thought of sci fi as a white man’s genre. But like all literature and virtually all art, while the genre came to me under the cloak of white men’s ownership, I’ve found my own heroes, disproving the dominant narrative that devalues the stories of people like me. Black women like Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, and Nnedi Okorafo dismantle and rebuild our world to center black women’s voices where they’re so often silenced. They infuse their writing with ancestral spirits of Africa, fabulist folklore from the Caribbean, and the innovative power of our people.
The imaginative spirit of science fiction lets me know that, in spite of what I’ve heard, the genre is mine to have. My imagination has always been mine and used for everything from dreaming up talking animals to expressing the inexpressible about the trauma of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Science fiction pushes against the constraints of reality, and in order to embrace it, I have to suspend disbelief about many things, including the limits imposed on me.”
*VMF Magazine’s “Afrofuturism in the Time of Renisha and Trayvon:” “Fact: Black people are killed by a culture that doesn’t value them, and degrades and squashes attempts at bolstering communal self esteem.
This is an inconvenient truth, and it is one that many people avoid. But in all the circumvention, the bodies keep piling up, and we are seeing classic examples of misappropriation and erasure all the time. Black people, in a land that is hostile and holistically foreign, have looked back to Africa, like Garvey, to nationalism like the Black Panthers, and into separatism like the citizens of Tulsa and Rosewood, as means of establishing a place where Black pride and Black-centeredness could be viable options for the prosperity of darker peoples. While looking at possibilities on this terrestrial plane…others looked to the stars and the future in a philosophical and aesthetic movement called Afrofuturism. It begins with the works of such visionaries as Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney, Grace Jones, Basquiat, Sun-Ra, and Parliament Funkadelic and has grown to encapsulate the works of artists like Erykah Badu and Andre 3000. Although heavily dependent on science fiction, fantasy, and mysticism, Afrofuturism is not escapism. It is a realm of re-envisioning and rebuilding.”
*Patheos’ Emerging Voices’ “Black to the Mothership:” Micky ScottBey Jones talks about the intersections between Afrofuturism and theology.
On Wednesday night after watching American Horror Story: Freak Show, I tuned in to watch the latest of TV One’s Hollywood Divas episode, “Five Black Witches.” One of the opening scenes is the de facto leader of the group, Paula Jai Parker, presenting to producer Carl Craig the idea agreed upon in previous episode for a supernatural film about five black sisters who are witches who each would have their own special powers.
Parker acknowledged that there is no film she was familiar with that deals with the supernatural through the experience of the black community, although it can be argued that several exist (Beloved? Sankofa? Several independent films?), but Craig’s immediate reaction was an obvious aversion to the concept. He looked as if he was wondering what the hell Parker just give him. Although he did say this was cutting edge material, he felt that black audiences would have a difficult time embracing this type of story, that they will look at it as “demonic” (here we go).
Some of the best stories are the ones that connect back to original tales and cultural rituals that are part of the human journey. Today, sometimes the universal meanings, archetypes and principles behind our modern stories are hidden because we are disconnected from those ancient tales and rituals. Think of, for example, Little Red Riding Hood, which can be interpreted as an initiation fairytale with the grandmother as the grand wise mother or crone figure and the wolf as an Anubis-like figure leading her onto a path of rebirth of herself.
Eliciana Nascimento captures that universal story of returning to one’s roots and the ancient continuing to live in the new in her Afro-Brazilian and Yoruba Orisha-inspired film, The Summer of Gods. Opening with a boat ride, a young girl, Lili, is traveling with her mother and brothers to visit her grandmother and right from the start, we see she has the ability to hear and see spirits around her. Lucumi priestess and professor of afrofuturism, Koko Zauditu-Selassie, said during the panel that this establishing scene of the family going across the water symbolizes fluidity of generational memory and listening to the past, and that despite being abducted and forced across the water during the transatlantic slave trade, it did not change us completely. Water is a theme throughout the film, including a honoring ritual at the waterfall in Brazil in the beginning of the film and the two water-related Orisha – Yemanja (whose is along with her Brazilian festival a main inspiration for the film) and Oshun (the Orisha of the life-giving rivers). The water represents for this young girl a return to her ancestral roots and traditions, but also a fertile creative place where her new life can begin.
Here are two videos I watched from New York’s Channel 13’s Reel 13 film showcase and competition:
Catron Booker’s The Alien Project: “Alien imaginings? Alien times?Alien futures? Alien lives matter. An Afro-Futurist vision of resistance.”
Gus Péwé‘s The Vacuum Is Too Loud: “The story of a man who finds himself lost on Earth, determined to return home.”
Below are some notes from two of the three conversations from Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine:
Conversation on Self-Determination: Black Radical Brooklyn: Past, Present, and Future
*The history of Weeksville (James Weeks bought land in order to vote) and the four projects of Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine pointed out the intersections between race and space, that part of self-determination is the ability to claim and preserve safe spaces and refuges.
*Weeksville’s history and the protects also stressed sustainability, creating sustainable projects that benefit the community and environment. Instead of looking at the community as having deficits, we look at it as having a richness of resources and assets.
*Art should not be for just for art’s sake, but should encourage political action and involve the community and community organizations to build solutions together. For example, MacArthur Fellow Rick Lowe has a community revitalization project in Houston where he transforms a block and half of houses in poor condition into Project Row Houses (PRH).
*We need to support more of our own institutions before they disappear. Several of the institutions and organizations in the Weeksville neighborhood struggled to stay open, including the three places involved in the exhibition — Stuyvesant Mansion, AME Church and Weeksville Heritage Center. As gentrification creeps in, it is more and more difficult to keep these institutions here.
Our society often focuses more on representation and showing images of oppressed people as proof we have “progressed,” but the other side of true moving forward for people who live in oppressive societies is self-determination, something that often gets ignored for the more superficial representation only politics. Self-determination is the freedom and ability to control your own life, taking full responsibility in making decisions for yourself that will impact your future. That is something often not celebrated or promoted when it comes to those of us who are not at the top; we are expected to remain dependent on the dominant powers.
The recent month-long exhibition at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, set out to highlight ways black communities in Brooklyn have in the past and today are doing actions of self-determination. Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn honored the history of the neighborhood of Weeksville in Brooklyn, founded by James Weeks, who bought land in 1838 in that area in order to receive the right to vote and convinced other black people to do the same. New Weeksville executive director Tia Powell Harris listed a few words that represents the history of Weeksville and the projects: empowerment, equity, sustainability, self empowerment and self actualization. Placing four different art and community projects throughout the neighborhood as well as having different conversations focused on the different aspects of the exhibition, Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine revealed interconnections between self-determination, community, politics, art, spirituality and health that often are disregarded in the individualistic mainstream culture.
The four parts of the title were attributed to each project: