AfroFuturism with Kibwe Tavares & Keguro Macharia

Jonah (trailer above) premiered at Sundance 2013. A synopsis of the film from its creators follows:

Mbwana and his best friend Juma are two young men with big dreams. These dreams become reality when they photograph a gigantic fish leaping out of the sea and their small town blossoms into a tourist hot-spot as a result. But for Mbwana, the reality isn’t what he dreamed – and when he meets the fish again, both of them forgotten, ruined and old, he decides only one of them can survive. Jonah is a big fish story about the old and the new, and the links and the distances between them. A visual feast, shot though with humour and warmth, it tells an old story in a completely new way.

The visuals alone captured my attention, but reading up on the director, Kibwe Tavares, got me excited. On the TED Blog, Tavares discusses the relationship between his training as an architect and the science fiction aesthetic of his films:

As an architect, you’re always thinking about the future, too. You build in narratives that are in the future, because you’re always thinking, “When I design a building, I’m designing it for what happens 10, 15 years into the future.” And when you start looking at the future, it’s hard not to have that kind of science-fiction element.

Tavares’ commentary took me back to my initial impression of the film trailer. Afrofuturistic.

Hopefully you haven’t grown too tired of the word’s (mis)use because I think it’s really important here, especially after I’ve read Keguro Macharia’s Imagine in Black. In the blog post, Macharia offers a parallel between our everyday lives and those in dystopia:

In dystopic fiction, oppressive forces attempt to control dreams, acknowledging the danger of an imagination that can contemplate a different kind of world: dream management is a major function of all oppressive systems, which use their bureaucratic apparatus to render dreaming impossible. Thus, one is offered a narrow range of ways to imagine one’s future: I’m thinking here of the forms I received in high school that offered a range of about 20 careers and encouraged me to choose my life’s path, as though I knew what I was doing at 17!

And this dream management extends beyond the individual; Macharia describes how this type of thinking has limited NGO work and “certain political imaginings.” He goes on to discuss how science fiction may offer a response to this and finishes the post with more questions (and some helpful links):

How might something called “afro-futurism,” in all its various manifestations—in sound, in vision, in narrative, in film, in poetry—provide the grounds for a different kind of imagining in black, beyond, besides, and around the reach and pull of the statistical imagination? And, given the very biased sample with which I started, three black gay men, how might something called afro-futurism be a peculiarly and particularly queer project, a way that queerness can re-frame the black imagination?

I have no answers: but I’m excited by work being done by Kara Keeling, Tavia Nyong’oJayna Brown and others that will extend the labor of the black imagination, framing it in new ways, opening up new possibilities, teaching us to imagine more, imagine better, imagine in black.

In the weeks since I’ve read Macharia’s piece, I’ve been thinking about all the areas of my personal life that I’d like to imagine anew. If nothing else, I should be able to create a home with a partner who doesn’t seek to reinforce ideologies based on oppression but thinks as radically as I do about our various identities, right? And when thinking about larger, collective goals, I’ve been trying to take on a more optimistic mindset. Every time I’ve started to feel hopeless because of Kimani Gray, Steubenville, or just my everyday existence as a black woman, I’ve reminded myself: another world is possible. It’s more of a mantra than anything but I think being open to seeking answers is much more productive than my previous attachment to cynicism.

So as I’m experiencing Tavares’ work I think about how his profession is one that is not easily categorized (not something chosen from a narrowed list in the way Macharia describes), and how science fiction isn’t completely escapist, because even as an aesthetic, it can serve as inspiration for the radical imagination.

Another short film by Kibwe Tavares, Robots of Brixton:


That track at the end! It’s Insurrection by DJ Hiatus featuring Linton Kwesi Johnson.

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