I just read Dilman Dila’s ‘The Trouble with Afrofuturism’ and found it quite poignant. It touches on a number of things that scratch around my mind when I hear the term. Such as, what does it actually mean? Really though? What does it mean? How broad is this thing, and as Dila notes, there’s almost a fanciful, one size fits all approach, where the definition varies according to what the user wants to describe as Afrofuturistic.
Definition arguments aside though Dila’s piece also made me think of the ‘one-way transaction’ style I feel Afrofuturism sometimes falls victim too. These are mostly behind the scenes, niggles, that industry personnel would be aware of, but consumers probably aren’t paying too much attention to.
For example the issue of Lina Iris Viktor, vs Black Panther & Co. For those unaware, Viktor alleges her artworks were stolen for use in the music video ‘All The Stars’ by Kendrick Lamar and SZA. I would say she has a very strong case here, as she was contacted twice to participate, and declined.
If you’re not schooled on Entertainment Industry Bullshit 101, the general stealing process operates in this manner. First, you, Leviathan Artist Inc. contact lesser known artist and ask them to participate for A. Exposure or B. Peanuts. Said person declines your ridiculous offer, as they actually want to pay the rent, and/or highly value their work (as they should, they made it!). You, Leviathan Artist Inc. then hire other, probably even lessor known artist, and ask them if they can make something ‘similar’, usually taking precaution to remain in the grey area of copyright infringement just in case someone notices. This is mostly to avoid bad publicity. You don’t really have to worry about the legalities as you probably have more lawyers, and you can run a smear campaign claiming the artist is a bitter hater, whose own self-pity and mental illness is the reason they’re suing you. I’m not saying this is what went down in this case, it’s just how it generally goes down.
Anyway, industry politics (bullshit) aside, as noted in the piece:
“In an interview, Ms. Viktor said what matters to her most is the principle, not compensation. “Cultural appropriation is something that continually happens to African-American artists,” she said, “and I want to make a stand.”
Things get very strange here. A team consisting of African-Americans, making a movie that’s supposed to represent black excellence, and Afrofuturism I suppose, rip-off (allegedly…) a British-Liberian’s artwork? I find no better way to describe this scenario other than: a complete mindfuck.
There’s also that slightly colonial smell of claiming intellectual property, and narrative merely because you have the bigger gun. I don’t like that I sometimes observe a weird colonial type thing going on in the creation of Afrofuturist works. I also find myself constantly seeing the “I Have the Bigger Gun” phenomena in the juxtaposition between what African Spec Fic authors (or movie directors in Dila’s case) living in Africa can achieve versus what those living in more developed nations can.
It largely boils down to access: social capital; funds; decent infrastructure. The world has a hierarchy (even with the internet), so on average, there’s generally going to be more infrastructure to take advantage of, off the African continent. It is what it is. There’s just something very painful in that fact. Despite these optimistic Afrofutures (Afrofuturies? Afrofutury? Afrofuture`?) we might like to see, most Africans still have to leave the continent, and access Western infrastructures, in order for those very Afrofutures to reach your computer screen in the first place. It’s a biting irony…
This goes onto Dila’s discussion of the difficulties of imagining and ingesting Utopian Afrofutures when you actually live in Africa. Most of the daily experiences living in Africa are so far removed such Utopian concepts that you find yourself with Schizobrain, walking between fantasy ideals and real world realities. Dystopia might be a dead genre, but dystopia is largely what I see when walking the insanely unequal streets of South Africa, hence why I write a lot of it.
I’m definitely on the fence about this whole Utopian Afrofuturism thing. I prefer a more Mamdani inspired interpretation. In a post from last year, I noted, contrary to what is often a Black African knee-jerk reaction to decolonization, that Mamdani suggests the future of Africa may not be a revert to traditional beliefs, and a throwing away of all Western influences. Instead he suggests, it may be a convergence of the two, which creates something new and unorthodox.
I feel somewhat the same about Afrofuturism at times. It may also be the South Africa in me, as we’re such a mishmash of Afro and Euro centrism, I find it difficult to turn off that lens. I was also not born in South Africa, so that strange limbo place between African and African diaspora is pretty much my comfort zone.
Either way, I believe a more realistic Afrofuturism might speak to the convergence of our current realities, and how we hope things might be. Maybe an African does create a new amazing technology that defies all expectations, and could save the entire continent, and turn it into a Utopia. But then again, maybe the West steals it from us, with the help of our limp politicians and we reap none of the benefits. Who knows?