Where Next for AfroFuturism? Thoughts on the Nine worlds panel et al.

I spent much of my Saturday at the Nine Worlds convention in Hammersmith, the first time I’ve ever been actually able to make it though not the first time I’ve heard of it. It’s been touted as one of the most inclusive geek events in the UK and for myself, I think that’s definitely the case, or at least from what I saw.

So wherefore my attendance? Well, I was on a panel titled ‘Where Next for AfroFuturism’, a panel I’d been invited to by Chella Ramanan from BAME in Games who I knew from January’s Afrotech Fest. A lot of – in fact all of – my recent talks have been on tech and inclusive design so it was nice getting to chat about AfroFuturism to a new audience.

My fellow panellists included Ziki Nelson from Kugali Media, a comics publisher that produces African centred narratives; Patrick Vernon who is a well known black community activist and organiser; Adam Campbell who I also sort of knew through Afrotech Fest and is a member of BAME in Games as well as an independent games studio, Azoomee games. We’d all been pretty well prepared for the discussion though helpfully I was on retreat for the preceding week so apart from hasty article re-reading on Monday morning, I could only really catch up the day before when I’d arrived back from the week away at Walsingham.

Anyway. Nine worlds!

As it turned out, I arrived much later in the afternoon and I was immediately struck by the level of inclusivity. Upon entry I was given the full introduction to how it all works, which lanyards I could choose and what the colours meant, how to show which pronouns I prefer, the code of conduct, access allies… it was really smoothly done and in a very friendly approachable way. As a former convention organiser myself, I was really impressed by the work that had been put in.

After meeting everyone totally by accident, the first panel I popped in was one about the Last Jedi movie which was a really cool discussion on themes of sacrifice, failure and messages about the nature of Star Wars fandom and how it’s opened up to new audiences. There were some really cool insights – Luke’s consumption of blue milk being redolent of diasporic food purchasing experiences (I can’t be the only Nigerian British kid who’s found solace in Chinese supermarkets just because of the unexpected similarity in variety and textures) – and it was just a friendly, actually quite accessible and interesting discussion.

Our panel started off with the question of the impact of the Black Panther movie so far. As well as financial, essentially showing that black centred science fiction can actually sell to a global audience, it’s definitely helped mainstream this thing called AfroFuturism and we all agreed that it’s provided a way not only to “Reclaim the space” as Patrick put it, but also to organise around from a creative perspective. I mentioned how my African Aunties use ‘Wakanda!’ as a compliment not just when I wear African fabrics (which I’ve always done. I was wrapping my hair before it was cool 😉) but also to other black girls regardless of background which to me signifies a resurgence of an aesthetic pan-Africanism, providing a fun, light framework for linking differing communities.

I think the question of the boundary between cultural identity and cosplay was particularly provocative. Patrick mentioned that in Oakland, people were attending Black Panther screenings in a mixture of traditional clothing, Black Panther cosplay and AfroFuturist inspired garb and although there have been articles discussing cultural appropriation within the black community*. For me culture is one more technology we’ve created in response to our environment (an extension of physical evolution in a sense): as cosplay allows people to pay homage to favourite characters, by nature there isn’t really a hard line between cosplay and cultural identity. In a sense, cultural trappings are the original cosplay as they’ve always been one way of paying homage to ancestral legends and understandings of the grand narrative we create out of human existence.

I very much enjoyed the rest of the panel where we explored a range of topics from the relationship between magic and technology in Black Panther (Ans: like all good AfroFuturist stories, it broke down and discarded the perceived difference and demonstrated it as a technological continuum), where AfroFuturism 2.0 is headed (Ans: creatively? To some great new stories, more attention and a slightly increased opportunity for more funding… socio-politically? Potentially to some very interesting radical places. On that note, Afrofuturism 2.0: The rise of Astro Blackness is some highly recommended reading).

After the panel I was graced with a quick interview about intersection of AfroFuturism and economics which turned into an equally great chat about AfroFuturist critical design practice and then headed off for a late lunch.

I stayed on for the rest of Nine Worlds as I figured I might as well make the most of a free day ticket, sitting in on a panel on Mental Health in games (which has given me a new list of games to try out), spending way too much money on new books and greatly enjoying the cabaret.

Overall I had a really great time and I will be going again next year if I can. I’ll share the interview when it comes out and the panel discussion will probably inspire a tonne of new articles… that will take me a year to write up and publish as usual but… well that’s par for the course, right?

Notes

Image credit: Chella Ramanan

Check out this fantastic thread on the panel discussion:

 

*Appropriation for me is fundamentally about credit rather than usage so no, I don’t think African Americans dressing in batik prints using Yoruba body paint is appropriation so long as they’re clear where it originates from and provide due respect to the originating cultures.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s