To commemorate Black History Month this year, the College of Charleston’s African American Studies Program is hosting “Afrofuturism On Film.”
Specifically, the film festival focuses on artistic portrayal of the future with respect to African culture, a style known as Afrofuturism. The genre importantly highlights black artists who are rarely included in more mainstream sci-fi productions.
On February 18, the third night of the current film festival, students watched the short film “Pumzi”, and a collection of other clips. A short academic discussion followed each viewing.
The first feature of the night was the trailer for “Space is the Place,” a 1974 film by Sun-Ra. The trailer underlined black nationalism through science fiction visions of the future. Moreover, in the film, Sun Ra finds another planet to which he hopes to transport people of African descent. Also, Sun-Ra sends messages to the people through jazz music, urging them to free themselves of racism. Interestingly, the film’s trailer featured a scene of Sun-Ra himself, dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh, explaining his elaborate plan.
Furthermore, The following clip was from Parliament’s “Mothership Connection” concert. In this creative mix of music and mythology, George Clinton (lead singer) plays out a story of funk music liberating the Earth. Elaborate costumes, massive props, and brilliant use of light give the concert an otherworldly feel, a mark of true science fiction.
In addition, we viewed “Pumzi,” an East African short film following the Parliament presentation. This film took on an entirely different tone. “Pumzi,” envisioned a dystopian future for the world. In the film, water was scarce and an enclosed community in Africa is the only safe place to live. In furtherance, the film follows a young girl who leaves the enclosure in search of fresh water to plant a “Maitu” seed (mother seed). “Ponzi” is short, yet powerful in the way it conveys dreams and hope throughout darkness.
Finally, Mari Crabtree, the moderator, exhibited Janelle Monae’s “Emotion Picture”-“Dirty Computer.” Additionally, the film chronicled another dystopian adventure, with Monae as Jane 57821. The character is a victim of an oppressive society which “cleans” anyone who is different. As a “dirty computer,” Jane is forced to undergo a memory-wiping procedure. As the government officials proceed to erase her memories, they all play as music videos for her album “Dirty Computer.” The album calls out trials of sexuality, race, and what it means to be an individual in society.
The night concluded with a few closing remarks on Afrofuturism and it’s importance today by Mari Crabtree.
On February 25th, a screening of the widely acclaimed “Black Panther,” served as the finale to a successful month of Afrofuturism study.