[Comic-Con@Home Panel Recap] Afrofuturism and Black Religion

When evaluating Afrofuturism, there is much to dissect under the flashy, kente colored iceberg. From theories of revolution to the concrete base it has within intersectionality, the storytelling genre represents more than what most people know. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con, which was completely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, featured the panel AFROFUTURISM AND BLACK RELIGION: CONNECTING IMAGINATIONS moderated by Aaron Grizzell and featuring John Jennings, Kinitra D. Brooks, and Sakena Young-Scaggs.

The panel began with the first question “how does Afrofuturism comment on imagination and the real lived-out experience”? This question was particularly relevant to the conversations being had about the accuracy of many cultures Afrofuturism can represent at one time. Is it the duty for this genre to have a hold in realism, or can it completely transform the inspiration? Kinitra D. Brooks used the example of time travel to answer: “The idea that time is conflated, that the past and the present [can] shape time.” This theme of different parts of time influencing each other is a theme that pops up in many Afrofuturist works. The best example being Marvel’s 2018 smash hit, Black Panther. In the fictional world of Wakanda, this nation is one untouched by White Supremacy and leads in technological advancement. Despite being the lead, the citizens keep customs from the past (inspired by real West African customs). The panel members made an important note, using an old saying to emphasize the point of time: “Is it life-giving or death-dealing?”.

Change as a part of survival was the second theme touched up on in this discussion. It serves as an escape – both in the sense of this being a fictitious theme, and in the sense that it is a larger metaphor for the need to escape that many Black Americans face. Afrofuturism is a way to tap into the power, ability, and spirituality that lies within African culture. It is a way to expand on that knowledge while adding a sense of “who could we have been” to the story. This theme forms a world that is not without its own violence but is based on a much more peaceful state of the world. It asks what kind of a world could Black people have achieved if not for slavery, Jim Crowe, and a lack of access to the same resources as their counterparts.

Much like Black Panther, Afrofuturism is a way to celebrate the parts of culture that we hold dear while letting go of the painful history that is a part of it. “Remixing and revisiting the page” as said by Brooks who also pointed out that sexism, transphobia and homophobia were things that needed to be left in the path to move forward. Afrofuturism allows one to analyze, and allows a look at all African identities Sakena Young-Scaggs responded to this idea with, “You look at the bones of the past, we claim them and look at how they could’ve been.” Here the panel began the transition into talking about spirituality.

The discussion begins with the history of the witch in Western culture. How the demonization of religions outside of Christianity was often done to claim power. When tying this all back into Black culture, it is key to note how important Christianity is, and how often it is used to invalidate other forms of spirituality. Through the demonization of Voodoo and other historically Black forms of spirituality many systems of knowledge were lost. In the context of Afrofuturism, the loss of a knowledge system can be devastating. Separation from culture can leave an individual or group feeling alienated. Afrofuturism serves as a “repair” for that broken system, connecting Black people of the diaspora to a version of their history.

The importance of this panel cannot be understated. It broke down the main themes, and goals of Afrofuturism in a way that could be easily understood to someone not familiar with it. To a reader/viewer/consumer of this genre, it allows one to connect with a country that may not necessarily exist physically but one that could exist in multiple ways. The panelists often referred to stories from Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, and Tananarive Du as good starting points into the genre. This is a world that is built around time-travel. Something many marginalized people can only consider when moving forward. Afrofuturism allows a glimpse into backwards time-travel that allows you to escape without having to consider any real-life factors. Understanding this genre when writing is something crucial, it investigates a different type of world-building rooted in fantasy but with real political effects. Afrofuturism thrives because it takes the present beauty of Black and African-American culture, leaves behind the pain of the past, and imagines an elevated future.

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