Modern Griots Reviews: Afrofuturism – The World of Black Sci-FI and Fantasy Culture

I know I am a bit late on reviewing this one, but finally here is my review of it:

Ytasha L. Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture is a well-thought out introductory book that is a smooth blend between a personal memoir and a reference source for those interested in delving into the world of afrofuturism. Each chapter expands on the last and expands conventional ideas of what afrofuturism is, giving space to many voices within it and giving plenty space for further research into the aesthetic and lens.

Besides mentioning more established names of afrofuturism, like Sun Ra, Lee “Scratch” Perry, George Clinton, Grace Jones, Octavia Butler, and Janelle Monae, Womack includes voices who are on the peripheral or who continue to open its perimeters. Musicians Leon Q and Nicole Mitchell of AACM, who are influenced by Sun Ra and Octavia Butler, and center on sonic healing, and CaribFunk creator and dancer, A’keitha Carey, who combines Caribbean dance style with European dance style to create a new form of dance with the emphasis on the wine, are some moving it forward. Another aesthetic I appreciate that has intersections with afrofuturism afro-surrealism (D. Scot Miller, Henry Dumas, Aime Cesaire), is also given spotlight in the book.

Two of my favorite chapters are “The African Cosmos For Modern Mermaids (Mermen)” and “The Divine Feminine in Space,” and not just because my blog is mentioned in the first one (thank again!). They provide other lens to look at afrofuturism, outside of Western-patriarchal concepts of science, futurism and fact.  For example, the Dagara who dot have a word for fiction, and think Star Trek is normal but that the characters should use their minds to space travel, or the Dogon, who saw the Sirius star system without telescopes and believe in nommo. They see little separation between the realms of magic, supernatural, myth and science, which is explored in the field of cultural astronomy and scholar Jarita Holbrook. Afrofuturist feminists tend to handle afrofuturism in a similar way, as Ingrid LaFleur acknowledged. Works from Krista Franklin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and Elizabeth Catlett blend the lines between fantasy and reality to push the boundaries of an overly objectified society., like questioning what is science and what is magic and how social constructions determine them.

Finally, the book comes full circle, discussing real-world applications, like The Afrofuturist Affair’s Rasheedah Phillips’ prison outreach and Adrienne Maree Brown’s Octavia’s Brood. Some thing that sci-fi, fantasy and afrofuturism  have little to do with black reality or are not applicable to everyday problems, but Womack’s Afrofuturism shows that it has always been an inherent part of our cultures and we can use it to expand our imagination to change our futures.

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