So much of Black Identity has been shaped and molded in the cauldron of European tradition. To be sure, a great deal of the energies expended in the last half of the 20th century have been devoted towards a more balanced ethnic representation (hopefully) to make for a healthier psyche for future generations. But by and large, the prevailing Afro-American image is still projected through a lens reflecting the ulterior motives and morals of an outsider culture.
Mankind has always been interested in speculating about the future, so perhaps it is a logical extension of that curiosity that a specific movement evolved to address the needs and interests of the disaffected, disillusioned, and marginalized. Too vague to have a definitive starting point, this philosophical movement gradually assumed the label “Afrofuturism,” to denote its purpose in addressing the concerns and needs of people of color. Largely acknowledged to have gained momentum with the arrival of generations “X,” ‘Y (also known as the “Millennials” or the Millennial Generation),” and “Z,” the age groups that followed the “Baby Boomers” spawned after World War II, Afrofuturism is an aesthetic concept that encompasses virtually every musical, literary, or visual format that isn’t rigidly bound to the constraints of Eurocentric convention.
While gaining a following among faculty members in establishments of higher learning, this mindset built upon a solid foundation in grassroots and popular culture, as Jazz musician Sun Ra, and especially George Clinton, his musical collective Parliament/Funkadelic, and other practitioners of the danceable “Funk” genre that gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s.
Professor Adilifu Nama has spent a good portion of his academic career pondering the subject of Black identity, especially within a political context and within the framework of pop culture. In the course of this exploration, he has written two books, Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film (2008), which covers the way the genre has been used examine racial issues since the 1950s, and Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (2011), which covers the history of Black representation within this specific genre of fantasy fiction.
He is presently working on a third book on the film director Quentin Tarantino, who has utilized the issue of race, often controversially during the course of his career.
Now in his third year at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) after years teaching at Cal State Northridge, Nama has consolidated his eclectic interests in racial constructs, pop culture, and Pan Africanism as a whole, and is mounting the first symposium on “Astro Blackness” on the LMU campus on February 12 and 13. Subtitled “Remixing and [Re]Mixing Black Identity Before, Now, and Beyond,” this two day event will host dozens of artists, authors, musicians, scholars, and thinkers in a colloquium of discussions, round tables, seminars, and screenings, to examine the wide spectrum of vehicles through which “the Black Experience” might be expressed.
Among the notables slated for attendance are writer and professor Nalo Hopskinson of UC Riverside, authors Steven Barnes (see profile by Vince Moore online at www.ourweekly.com) and his wife Tananarive Due, speculative fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor of Chicago State University, animation director and producer LeSean Thomas of Black Dynamite and Boondocks fame, comic book artist Denys Cowan, and screen writer Tony Puryear (Eraser).
Nama and his co-organizer, John Jennings, envision this undertaking as an opportunity to gain new and different perspectives about how members of the Diaspora can view themselves. “How do we imagine ourselves,” is the way Nama poses the question.
“Ideally, all these different experts from dissimilar fields will come away from LMU revitalized, and in turn become more innovative and creative in making the next step forward, whatever that may be.”
Jennings is, like Nama, an academic, teaching visual studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition, he is a noted graphic artist, wielding his talents in such disciplines as design, cartooning, and illustration. He is particularly interested in the topic of African American stereotypes in the media, and attempts to empower his students to reverse this long, damaging, and deeply entrenched tradition by developing skills in “visual literacy.”
Towards this goal, he produced the graphic novel “The Hole: Consumer Culture,” (Front Forty Press, 2008). A science fiction horror story, it uses capitalism, popular culture (specifically Hip-Hop), Nazism, and voodoo to weave a complex story about the buying and selling of race in America (The Hole won the 2009 Glyph Comics Award for comics made by, for, or about people of color).
Next on Jennings’ agenda is another foray into the sci-fi realm, the storyline involving an African American woman who journeys to the Motherland for an encounter with her ancestral spirits.
“Astro Blackness: Remixing and [Re] Mixing Black Identity Before, Now, and Beyond,” will be held at Loyola Marymount’s University Hall on February 12 and 13. Admission is free. More information can be found at http://iafrofuturism.wordpress.com/.