Chances are, you’ve been hearing a bunch about Afrofuturism lately. It’s the genre and aesthetic that heavily inspired February 2018’s block buster hit and cultural staple Black Panther. But what is Afrofuturism? When the phrase comes to mind, many might think of African-Americans rocking cool, science fiction-y gear. Think Janelle Monáe, OutKast, or George Clinton. But Afrofuturism is much more than a flashy aesthetic nestled into pop culture. It is a space that imagines the future of Black lives far past the constraints of sci-fi.

Science fiction provides a space to examine the future in all of its potential utopian and dystopian glory. Yet, the genre often regulates Black people to secondary characters who die off quickly — often times without any nuanced discussion on how race might exist in the future.

marvel black panther vibranium and nakia

It is an ironic approach within a realm that is quick to depict superheros, aliens, robots, and even post-racial white people in some of the same predicaments that black people have actually lived for the past 500 years. Forced labor, false imprisonment, involuntary biological testing, and compulsory sterilization sound like dystopian fiction but have been very real and traumatic experiences among folks within the African diaspora.

There is a glaring disconnect when it comes to science fiction and black people. Luckily, the global black imagination is an expansive one that has given rise to Afrofuturism. This all-encompassing term describes an artform, practice, and methodology that allows black people to see themselves in future despite a distressing past and present. Practitioners conceptualize an array of visions of what a black future could look like.

Afrofuturism calls upon sci-fi imagery and futuristic ideas to reflect upon the marginalization of black people.

eletricspanking_warbabies cover by Pedro Bell

Whilst the official term was coined in 1994 by cultural critic Mark Dery, Afrofuturism as a practice has been around for centuries. Iconic figures like Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X fought for Afrofuturistic societies. They imagined expansive and prosperous lives despite living within a world of peril. Today, Afrofuturist artists and creators dream up ideas of black lives beyond marginalization, misogyny, transantagonism, generational trauma, and other systems of oppression.

In this Inverse original video, “Afrofuturism Isn’t Just Black Sci-Fi,” we identify four unique Afrofuturist artists who use their work to envision nuanced black futures.

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