Immersing into the world of Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism can look like traveling into the future and living amongst other species, not all necessarily good, and not always on earth. It can look like a drastically different world with new technological advancements. It can look like living in a world where extraterrestrial life exists and coexists among us. It can look like a post-apocalyptic world on an alien planet where aliens use male humans as vessels for their offspring (if you find that oddly specific, it's because it’s from Octavia Butler’s short story Bloodchild). It can transform the way we imagine the past, present, and future. It can challenge the way we see ourselves today, and it can be liberating from the constraints of society. In addition, Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism intersect and focus on African American and African themes, respectively.
For example, the movie Black Panther combines elements of imagination while also incorporating and drawing inspiration from African tribes and legends. If you are unfamiliar with Black Panther, it takes place on earth in the present and follows T’ Challa, the newly appointed leader of Wakanda, as he fights to protect his nation. The film is vastly more complex, but to explain Afrofuturism, this will do. A couple of the imaginative elements of the film are the creation of Wakanda and the use of the substance vibranium. In addition, the movie incorporates traditions and cultures from nations and tribes in Africa. For example, the female warriors of Wakanda were inspired by the Agojies, also known as the warriors of Dahomey. This film also incorporates many elements of the western world, making it a part of Afrofuturism.
Now, let us look at the trilogy Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. It follows the protagonist, Binti, on her journey to Oomza University, the most prestigious university in the universe located on another planet. The trilogy has many elements of science fiction, such as alien species, advanced technology, and space travel. It also incorporates elements of the Himba, an indigenous tribe located in Namibia, a country within South Africa. Specifically, Binti is part of the Himba tribe and follows the tradition of using otjize. This novel is not concerned with African Americans in western society and focuses on Africa and people from Africa. This trilogy is an example of Africanfuturism.
Now that we’ve looked at an example of each genre let us take a closer look at both Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism. The following two sections look at the different ways scholars define each term. If that is not your thing, feel free to skip to “ So, Why Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism?
Afrofuturism, as defined by the scholar Ytasha Womack is “an intersection of the imagination, technology, the future, and liberation”. Afrofuturistic works cross through various mediums including art, music, literature, and film, expanding past only a literary genre. In recent years, Afrofuturism has received more attention, and you might not think so, but you may have come across Afrofuturistic works. For example, you might have heard of musicians like Sun Ra and Janelle Monáe, writers like Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, and popular movies like the Black Panther.
Although Afrofuturism has been around for a long time, it was not until 1994 that Mark Dery coined the term in his essay “Black to the future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose., opens a new window” Dery defined Afrofuturism as a form of “speculative fiction that addresses African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture.” Now, let us unpack what Dery meant.
Speculative fiction is a subset of fiction that incorporates elements of the supernatural, futuristic, and other imagined elements. Speculative fiction is set outside of our real world. For example, Black Panther, as mentioned above, is set in current times but includes elements of imagination, including the creation of the technologically advanced country, Wakanda. In addition, Black Panther also draws inspiration from African tribes and legends. So, Black Panther is not only a piece of speculative fiction, but it also addresses African and African-American concerns intersecting with technology.
In addition to Womack’s and Dery’s definitions, there have been countless renditions and adaptations to the term Afrofuturism throughout the years by scholars in the field. One adaptation defines Afrofuturism as a means “of looking at the future and alternate realities through a black cultural lens”. With this definition, Afrofuturism offers a distinct perspective for people to view the future, one that defies the norms of today’s society.
Now, What About Africanfuturism?
Africanfuturism is a term that Nnedi Okorafor coined and it “is concerned with visions of the future, is interested in technology, leaves the earth, skews optimistic, is centered on and predominantly written by people of African descent (black people) and it is rooted first and foremost in Africa”. Although the two terms may have similarities, the main distinction between them is Africanfuturism is rooted in Africa and not African Americans in western society. Nnedi Okorafor coined this term to describe her own literary works, which did not align with Afrofuturism. To read more of her definition check out Nnedi Okorafor’s blog post about Africanfuturism, opens a new window!
In addition, I recommend Wole Talabi’s anthology on Africanfuturism, opens a new window. There he defines Africanfuturism and includes eight short stories that he believes embody the term. His definition aligns with Nnedi Okorafor’s and emphasizes the genre’s focus on Africa.
So, Why Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism?
For me, finding Africanfuturism was serendipitous. A few years ago, in 2016, I randomly came across Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Binti, the first of the trilogy, and fell in love with Nnedi Okorafor’s writing. I continued my journey by searching for similar novels and came across the works of Octavia Butler. During undergrad, I decided to take a critical writing course that centered around Afrofuturism and discussed Ytasha Womack’s Afrofuturism. From there, my interest peaked more, and I have never stopped reading the genre. I encourage everyone to pick up an Afrofuturistic or Africanfuturistic novel, even if speculative fiction and sci-fi are not your genres of choice. It is important to explore and expose ourselves to new genres, and who knows, maybe you will fall in love with Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism just like me.