Tag Archives: afrofuturism

An Encomium to the Black Experience: Why I am excited to see Black Panther

Colonized, broken, subservient, destitute, poor and reliant on aid. These are the common motifs that typically come to mind  when some give an errant thought to the continent of Africa. There is a deep history, explaining aspects of these considerations, mostly colonial but they are not the whole picture. Africa has a rich legacy, a cultural tapestry that stretches back to the dawn of time, achievements that have been unsung or even suppressed. I have been doing a lot of reading lately, mostly on literature that have undertaken a bold and honest look at the history of humankind. I have been studying how the legacies of colonization persist in modern day vestiges of prejudice and systematic disenfranchisement. I have also been looking at how language and narrative can exhibit and perpetuate invented divisions. Two books come to mind here and I would love to suggest them to you, They are Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harrari and Dialogical Self Theory by Hubert Hermans, and Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka.  

The former is an exquisite exploration of the journey of humankind, showing the many paths we have taken, niches we have settled in. It is exhaustive and holistic account of the different cultures that have been weaved, as well as how our tools, worldview, philosophy, most importantly how empire has shaped both the earth and ourselves. The latter takes a look at how language and narrative can either build bridges and understanding of the “other” or perpetuate divisions we have come to know. The book does an amazing job at explaining the source and drivers of threat perception upon the globalized stage. Critical to this is the examination and distinction between Monological and Dialogical communication. Monological being a top down and rigid form of discourse that limits the bandwidth of communication. Dialogical communications opens all possible channels, is inclusive and seeks to holistically deal with misperceptions, born from countering positions. 

Racism and prejudice are sterling examples of monological communication. Communication that serves to assuage a perceived grievance or rationalizations oriented towards a particular end, typically division, suppression dominance or protectionist impulse. Think here of the Trump White House’s worldview on immigration, or the attitude of noblesse oblige that continues to plunder African through the Charitable Humanitarian Complex” I count myself very fortunate to have lived in a country where my personal encounter with racism has never gone beyond the threshold of mere offence. My life has never been threatened, nor my personal or professional pursuits limited due to my race. Nevertheless I recognize that a system of suppression and oppression are firmly in place with various degrees of manifestation. As a black male in Canada, I cannot discount the full and complete legacy of  dispossession and disenfranchisement that continues to be the plight of my aboriginal brothers and sisters. Nor the strained relations between law enforcement and many people of colour as well as other vulnerable minorities. There is a system and it persists.

Black Panther, a story of the technologically superior and unconquered super power of Wakanda, is a welcome opportunity to buck the exaggerated and monological narrative surrounding Africa and perhaps other culture served the same treatment in history.

I do not know as much as I should about my deep ancestry, but my Grandmother has told my family she is descended from the Maroons. A group of West African slaves taken to the greater and lesser Antilles to fill the void left by the indigenous genocide that took place there. I am very proud to know that the Maroons were among some of the first slaves to revolt against their cruel masters in Jamaica. Knowing that I have that blood in my veins has been everything for me. For years I have pondered at the level of cultural and spiritual dispossession that European colonialism has dealt to my people, I have wondered about the cultural traditions I was torn from as a result and the Gods I have not had the opportunity to worship. My orientation towards Africa has always been a curious wonder, deep longing and pain that I do not know it as well as I should.  When I think about achievements like the Library of Alexandria, and the strength and monuments built by many on the continent I wonder about the real life Wakanda’s that have evaded modern western history’s record, narrative and respect.

Will there be some who are put off by this film? Of course, the symbol of the Black Panther and Black Panthers has always been controversial and weary by those determined to subvert and twist it for some of the reasons listed above, none of that will detract from the beauty and majesty of this re-presentation of black culture.

What I am most excited for is the generation of black boys and girls who will look to the big screen and see towering and talented heroes who look just like them. I look forward to those seeking reconnection and a homecoming, I look forward for the dialogical discourse that this film will no doubt launch. I look forward for the raising of a voice so often distorted or muted in the media.  I look forward to the day when parents no longer have to warn their children about walking at certain hours or wearing hoodies….they can wear capes….they can learn science. They can clothe themselves in vibranium, be bulletproof and achieve epic feats.

Whether in Marvel’s Wakanda, or DC’s Vathlo Island (Krypton), Afrofuturism is a welcome balm for those seeking reconnection with their motherland, inspiration and an invitation to a deeper understanding of race relations.

If we can confront historical grievance and misunderstanding in an inclusive and dialogical way, without suppression, there is no limit to what we as a human species can achieve or heal. I am proud of this opportunity, and it moves me deeply. Wakanda Forever!

I wrote this after watching Kendrick Lamar‘s video All the Stars, featured on the Black Panther original soundtrack. It almost brought me to tears. Take a look, a beautiful tribute to African dress and culture.

Afropunks and Blerds FULL #NYCC Panel

On Oct.6, 2016 at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center The Blerd Gurl a panel for New York Comic Con entitled “Afropunks and Blerds:The Black Nerd Renaissance“. The panelists included David F. Walker (Power Man and Iron Fist/Marvel), Vernon Reid (Living Colour/band), Corey Glover (Living Colour/Band), Ytasha Womack (Afrofuturuism: The World of Black SciFi and Fantasy culture), Dr. Sheena Howard (Black Comics: The Politics of Race and Representation), John I. Jennings (Blue Hand Mojo/Kindred: The Graphic Novel) and Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds).

The New Marvel Universe. Born Out of Africa and Afrofuturism.

SecretWars_009I’m going to warn you, this post has spoilers. If you haven’t read Secret Wars #9, you might want to do that first.

You sure you don’t care about spoilers?

This is your last warning.

Secret Wars #9 hit shelves this week wrapping up Marvel‘s world shaping event as Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom battled it out over the fate of existence. Many have focused on Miles Morales’ introduction in to the Marvel 616 (or Marvel Prime, whatever you want to call it). Or they were focused on the future of the Fantastic Four. Maybe they were focused on Doctor Doom’s face?

While all of those things were interesting, I was more focused on the statement writer Jonathan Hickman made, whether on purpose or unintentionally, as to the cradle of humankind (really the whole Marvel 616 Universe) and its future. Hickman anchored both on the shoulders of a man from Africa, the leader of Wakanda, T’Challa, the Black Panther.

The idea of humankind being birthed, evolving out of Africa, is a relatively new one, tracing back to just 1924, less than 100 years ago. In 1871 Charles Darwin said it was “probable” that Africa was the cradle of humans due to the presence of chimpanzees and gorillas, but he also said there was an extinct ape in Europe, which created some doubt. “Speculation was useless.” In the early 20th Century it was thought that humans evolved somewhere in Europe or Asia. It was a fossil discover in 1924 that changed things, and even then that was disputed for some time. What we take for granted as a given today, is something relatively new.

Secret_Wars_#9_Black_Panther_Infinity_GemIn Secret Wars, Doctor Doom has taken god like power and remade existence in his image creating a tough new reality called Battleworld. The miniseries builds up as the remaining heroes rally to stop Doom. Part of that plan is the Black Panther’s wielding of the Infinity Gauntlet and its gems which have the power over strength and durability, time, teleportation, manipulating one’s soul, alters all of reality, and gives psionic/psychic abilities. Doom initially battles Black Panther and Namor, as Reed Richards gets to the heart of Doom’s power, the Molecule Man. Eventually Doom is distracted, fighting Reed Richards, and as the Molecule Man tears the universe apart, T’Challa uses the Reality Gem to create a new reality, a new Marvel Universe. In his actions he brings Miles Morales to this new world, saves “orphans” such as the Squadron Supreme members, places his nemesis Namor back on the throne of Atlantis, and even heals Doom’s face. The world was remade, and remade better, due to the will and wisdom of an African man.

Secret_Wars_#9_Black_Panther_It_WorkedIf there’s any doubt that T’Challa is responsible for the new Marvel Universe, one just needs to read that first panel after he clenches his fist. His words, “it worked,” with the Infinity Gem no longer present, burnt away from its use indicates what has happened, and he’s responsible.

T’Challa could have cast away the Squadron Supreme, punished Namor, left Doom to rot, or forgotten about Miles, one of the few high-profile African-American superheroes in the Marvel universe. Instead he shows compassion and a fatherly touch befitting his noble position and wise ruling.

T’Challa also clearly knows of Doom’s Battleworld, so this new world was formed around him, he’s the center of this new universe. While he was using the gem, this is the world he shapes and wants to start from, this is his vision for the present and future. It’s not just the present Marvel Universe that Hickman and T’Challa gives us. Hickman takes it one step further. He gives us the future and the possibility that the future of the Marvel universe is built upon Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism is “a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past.”

Secret_Wars_#9_AfrofuturismIt’s not just interesting to me that T’Challa, an African ruler births humankind (really the whole universe) by shaping reality with the gem, but it’s also his positioning of Wakanda as the center of our future as a civilization. As he says in the panel on the right, “Great societies are crumbling around us. And the old men who run them are out of ideas. So all eyes turn to you our children… to build us something better.”

It’s clear Marvel is centering the character more with a new high profile comic and an upcoming movie with one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. This also comes after Marvel has stumbled a bit, especially when it comes to inclusion of African-Americans with their All-New, All-Different Marvel launch that has been overwhelmingly male and white when it comes to creators, was accused of cultural appropriation, and according to data may lag in African-American fans.

Secret_Wars_#9_Alpha_FlightIn the few months since the launch of All-New, All-Different Marvel, we’ve seen subtlety that Wakanda plays a major role now in the Marvel Universe. In The Ultimates it was clear there was something big going on, but we’re never really explained exactly what.

It’s laid out clear in Secret Wars #9 that humankind’s future is being built on Wakandan technology. That the new space operation, Alpha Flight, is Wakanda’s project. That it’s Wakandan science fueling it all, especially our expansion in space. Step by step.

Technology is addressed, diaspora is addressed, and done so through science fiction and magical realism. It even addresses Wakanda’s past briefly. In Marvel’s past, it was Tony Stark, and Stark Industries/Enterprises that drove the world’s future, fueling every day technology up to the funding of the Avengers. Now we have a new focus, a new history, a new leader to guide the Marvel Universe, and he’s African. The shift is undeniable, and a bold start for 2016.

Here’s hoping the company sees the groundwork laid out by Hickman, and like T’Challa, uses wisdom to build a brighter future.