Afrofuturism and Black Ecologies in Film. The Examples of "Black Panther" and "Space is the Place"

Term Paper, 2018

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents:

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Background
2.1 What is Afrofuturism?
2.2 Afrofuturism in Film

3 Afrofuturism in Film in the 20th and 21st Century
3.1 Analysis of Space is the place (1974)
3.2 Analysis of Black Panther (2018)

4 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

A survey from October 2017 has shown that almost all of the black people who responded to it (92 percent) said they felt that discrimination against African-Americans exists in America today (Demby, National Public Radio). Furthermore, at least half said they had personally experienced racial discrimination concerning equal pay, employment, and promotions, or in their encounters with police, but also when going to a doctor or a health clinic (Demby, National Public Radio). Many of these surveys illustrate the discrimination today of especially African Americans in the United States and hence their dissatisfaction with the political situation in the country concerning the treatment of colored people. Despite the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, which was a struggle for social justice for blacks to gain equal rights under the law in the United States, discrimination against blacks did not end then (History). Even though the Civil War (1861-1865) officially abolished slavery, African Americans continued to endure the devastating effects of racism, especially in the South (History).

Apart from nationwide demonstrations and similar social endeavors, the phenomenon Afrofuturism can also be seen as an attempt to criticize and make public present-day predicaments of black people while reexamining historical events. Despite the fact that the term was first used and explained in Mark Dery’s essay Black to the Future from 1994 (Broadnax, Huffington Post), Afrofuturist ideas can already be found in art, music, and text before that time. Space is the place by Sun Ra, for example, is a science fiction film made in 1972 (IMDb) which deals with issues like the salvation of suppressed black people through music, the dream of a better future, and the stance against discrimination and violence. Thus, an aim could be to save the black community through the power of music. Nevertheless, the current classic that introduced Afrofuturism to mainstream cinema is undoubtedly Black Panther (2018). It combines science fiction, fantasy, Afrocentrism, and in many ways Black Panther “creates a credible alternative to colonialism, exploring an afrofuturistic narrative of a country that had never been colonized and oppressed” (Murray, International Policy Digest). Therefore, one can say that despite the time difference between both described movies, they mainly deal with the same criticized issues, while many differences can be found concerning characters, plot, language, way of representing political issues and dilemmas, etc.

2 Theoretical Background

2.1 What is Afrofuturism?

“Afrofuturism plays tricks with history, wrapping street culture with science fiction to advance new and alternative views of the world” (LaFleur, Afrotopia is now). This quote by the author Denise Markonish expresses the main characteristics of Afrofuturism. Whereas the Oxford Dictionary defines Afrofuturism as “a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture” (Oxford Dictionaries), others understand Afrofuturism as “the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens” (Broadnax, Huffington Post). Therefore, Afrofuturism can be seen as a way to criticize especially present-day dilemmas of the black community. As already mentioned, the term Afrofuturism was first coined and penned by writer Mark Dery in his essay Black to the Future, where he outlined Afrofuturism as “the expression of blackness, black struggles and black ideas, through the imagining of new, hopeful and advanced futures or worlds” (Acquaye, okayafrica). Hence, with the use and combination of magical realism, Afrocentricity, fantasy, African traditions and aesthetics, intertwined with technology, sci-fi and social awareness, Afrofuturism narrates a reality that is empowering and scintillating (Acquaye, okayafrica). Dery mainly focused on what the movement meant for our past and future (Acquaye, okayafrica):

Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners, and set designers ― white to a man ― who have engineered our collective fantasies? (Acquaye, okayafrica)

Despite the strong link between Afrofuturism and science fiction, it is significantly different from that, since Afrofuturism is rooted in ancient African traditions and black identity (Broadnax, Huffington Post). Therefore, a narrative that simply features a black character in a futuristic world is by far not enough to be regarded as Afrofuturistic (Broadnax, Huffington Post). For something to be regarded as Afrofuturistic, “it must be rooted in and unapologetically celebrate the uniqueness and innovation of black culture” (Broadnax, Huffington Post).

2.2 Afrofuturis m in Film

Consequently, Afrofuturistic movies would be science fiction films in which a black people’s or community’s history, tradition, and culture are incorporated. According to The Guardian, “the diverse slate of films, however, is united by one key theme: the centering of the international black experience in alternate and imagined realities, whether fiction or documentary; past or present; science fiction or straight drama” (Clark, The Guardian). Appreciable films from the 1970s are Touki Bouki (1973) directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty and Space is the place (1974) by Sun Ra (Diop Mambéty, The criterion collection). At the start of the 21st century, a number of short films were added to this list as well: The most current one is Hello, Rain (2018) directed by C.J. Obasi (IMDb), while the short film Pumzi (2009) is one of the most popular ones (IMDb). It critically addresses the geopolitical concerns of Kenya and the Earth globally. Pumzi is Kenya’s first science fiction film. It imagines a dystopian future 35 years after water wars have torn the world apart. As a matter of fact, East African survivors of the ecological devastation were locked away in contained communities. Nevertheless, a young woman in possession of a germinating seed struggles against the governing council to bring the plant to Earth’s ruined surface (Seibel, Wired).

Apart from short films, one of the latest Afrofuturist Films is Brown Girl Begins (2017), a film that takes place in year 2049 on a forsaken island off the coast of Toronto and centers around a young black woman who is a reluctant priestess. She must revive Caribbean spirits and survive the ritual that killed her mother, otherwise her people will die (IMDb). However, the American superhero film Black Panther (2018), directed by Ryan Coogler, is the film that introduced Afrofuturism to mainstream audiences. As part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther’s main character King T’Challa is the only colored superhero to fight alongside the ‘Avengers’. He also was the first black superhero in American mainstream Comics (IGN).

3 Afrofuturism in Film in the 20th and 21st Century

>3.1 Analysis of Space is the place (1974)

“It’s after the end of the world - don’t you know that yet?” (Space is the place), are the words with which the 85-minutes Afrofuturist science fiction film Space is the place (1974), produced by Jim Newman and written by Sun Ra (who also plays the main character), begins (IMDb). The Black Panther comic books influenced the Afrocentric science fiction jazz by Sun Ra, which finally lead to the film Space is the place (IMDb). The film centers around the music prophet Sun Ra, who was presumed lost in space for a few years, but finally lands his spaceship in Oakland (IMDb). Sun Ra claims that the planet that he is on is completely different from Earth (IMDb), and therefore decides to bring black people in so they can thrive without white people. This means that Afrofuturist features are incorporated in the very first few minutes of the movie: Wanting a better future for the black community by removing them from the white nation and thus enabling them to live in peace. After that, Sun Ra travels back in time and returns to a strip club in Chicago where he worked as a piano man using the name “Sonny Ray” in 1943. At the strip club he confronts the overseer, Ray Johnson, who can, in the course of the film, be interpreted as an embodiment of evil in the black community who presents himself as a community leader and a man of charity. However, he is a tool of the white power structure. Both are suddenly seated in a desert, facing each other and playing a card game for the fate of the black people. Not in 1943 anymore, but in present time (the early 1970s) Sun Ra lands with his spaceship in Oakland. Later, Sun Ra establishes an “Outer Space Employment Agency” where people who want to be employed and move to the planet can introduce themselves. In this scene, present-day and past dilemmas of black people become apparent, but in reversed roles: Sun Ra (a black man) is here representing the employer and thus the person who decides over the employment of the applicants. The first applicant, who is a white man, pleads for a job and explains that he needs this work to support his family that would otherwise become homeless. However, Sun Ra rejects him with the explanation that he is specifically looking for dark people. Being rejected for a job because of one’s skin color, as portrait in this scene, was a reality for many African Americans back in the 1970s as well as today. It is unsurprising that colored people are more often accepted to carry out undesirable labor, while whites were hired into skilled and higher paying jobs. Despite the fact that at the beginning it seems as if Sun Ra will win and recruit the black community for his new utopian place, now the viewers receive the impression that his plan will not work anymore. More and more white, but also black people, become suspicious of Sun Ra. That is why he is later kidnapped by white men shortly before his concert, but then saved by black teenagers that also protect him from being shot by NASA scientists. At the end, one after another the black community appears in Sun Ra’s spaceship to be transported to a new planet where the black community can be free of their history and oppression. However, Jimmy Fey, an employee of the overseer, does not want to leave Earth. Sun Ra tells him that if he does not leave he cannot keep his “black parts” with him, so Sun Ra continues to take Jimmy’s “black parts” with him and leaving his “white parts” on Earth . Thus, the overseer loses the game and as Sun Ra’s spaceship gets away from Earth, the planet explodes.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Afrofuturism and Black Ecologies in Film. The Examples of "Black Panther" and "Space is the Place"
University of Würzburg
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Afrofuturism Black Ecologies, Space id the place Black Panther
Quote paper
Nevin Baidoun (Author), 2018, Afrofuturism and Black Ecologies in Film. The Examples of "Black Panther" and "Space is the Place", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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