We need Afrofuturism; not as a box to put people in, but as a lens with which to change the way we imagine and actualize an inclusive future. A future where black people are in control of their own destinies.
Afrofuturism is not a sub-genre. For some, like Sun Ra, Afrofuturism (though the term was not coined until after Sun Ra passed away) is a form of escapism; a reprieve from violent systems of segregation and white supremacy. For others, Afrofuturism is a celebration of black innovation; filmmaker and author Ytasha Womack describes Afrofuturism as, “The intersection between black culture, technology, liberation, and the imagination, with some mysticism thrown in, too.” For some it is highly spiritual. Above all else, it is an ambitious vision of the future and mankind’s place in it that is continually informed by black culture and history.
What kind of message is sent when mass audiences are presented with visions of the future that do not include people of color? Since Hollywood has historically excluded black characters from leading roles in science fiction films, black people have had to envision and ultimately create space for themselves above and beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. In DUST’s original series, we celebrate a handful of those people, and encourage you to dive deeper into the Afrofuture.
What kind of message is sent when future worlds are depicted without black people?
Star Trek’s Nyota Uhura, a commander aboard the Starship Enterprise, was the first black character in a major role to be depicted in outer space. Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols in the original series, and first appeared in 1966. In reality, it would take nearly 30 years for a black woman to make it to space – NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, in 1992.
In episode two of DUST’s Afrofuturism series, Uhura beams up Sun Ra, Martin Luther King, and the aforementioned Jemison, as narrator Little Simz tells us the true story of how King convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show after the first season. Nichols would go on to appear in 66 episodes.
In episode three of DUST’s Afrofuturism series, George Clinton and the almighty Mothership emerge from a cloud of green gas to funk up the universe and expand the mythology of the philosophical and artistic lens that would later come to be known as Afrofuturism. From getting funky in front of a massive crowd on the moon to breaking bread with Jimi Hendrix and Sun Ra, George Clinton’s ultra funky contributions to the galaxy only serve to reinforce the idea that all motherships are connected.
In the canon of popular black musicians who have written songs about space, there are none who shook up the mainstream nearly as much as Jimi Hendrix. Like Sun Ra before him, Hendrix wrote songs about interstellar travel, even including alien characters in songs like “Up From The Skies” and “Third Stone From The Sun”, which was inspired by George R Stewart’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, Earth Abides. But Hendrix wouldn’t be able to bring his message to the masses until he traveled to England and battled God himself, Eric Clapton (then playing in a supergroup called Cream). In this episode of Afrofuturism, DUST presents the animated story of that fateful night. Originally intended to be a friendly jam session between God (Clapton) and one of his biggest fans, the then unknown Hendrix, Clapton walked off-stage in the middle of Hendrix’s solo, stunned by the no-name’s guitar wizardry. Hendrix’s performance that night forged a brotherhood with Clapton and is just one of many such stories of his mind-blowing performances that would carve out his place in rock n’ roll history as the unmatched greatest guitarist of all-time (according to Rolling Stone). Hendrix’s infatuation with science fiction, and his commitment to technological (and psychedelic) experimentation, pushed him to make his guitar sound like anything but, and has inspired artists of many genres to embrace their individuality ever since.
Missy was the first popular black artist to make explicit, recurring use of science-fiction in her visual offerings. For this reason, and because of the lack of representation of Black people in science-fiction films, Missy’s work can be viewed through the lens of Afrofuturism.
…I always feel like Voltron fans, even old school ones, are quite a different breed from Super Robot fans.
I think what it highlights is that ‘voltron’ (even the old school version) was never really a mecha series. I mean, honestly, GoLion itself was kinda second-rate, compared to others coming out at that time, even if it had a nifty little twist on the combining-robot aspect.
Except GoLion ≠ Voltron, and Voltron might have the mecha but it’s not a mecha series. It’s just American SF with mecha set dressing. Which, done well, is not necessarily a bad thing! It’s just not a mecha series. It’s basically, idk, Starship Troopers or Star Wars or Space: Above and Beyond, just with robot cats instead of space jeeps. And speaking as someone who wept bitter childhood tears over the cancellation of SAaB, these kinds of series can totally capture the imagination, and make viewers fall in love. But the source of that love is by definition likely to be something other than why we watch mecha, because the two are so different in storytelling ways, means, and purposes.
So I’m not even sure there’s much value left in comparing voltron fans to any kind of mecha fans. In fact, seems like a fairly large segment of the fandom I’ve seen would probably be utterly disinterested in any mecha series.
That said, VLD remains fascinating to me, if only because it’s such a strange confluence of potential fan-sets. You have fans who are here for some kind of character-arc heavy exploration a la AtLA/LoK, you have fans who are here to see if their childhood fave can be rebooted well, you have fans who will give at least some chance to anything mecha, and so on. That’s a pretty tall order for a writer (or group of writers) to try and please all those different groups who are only interested in single dishes at the story-buffet.
Even if we had EPs/writers who were clearly going in one direction (ie the lions are sentient vs the lions are just robots), it’d still be rough. At some point, they’re going to hit a point of no return and lose some chunk of the fanbase, because the story’s no longer including (or has just downgraded) that one flavor that made that fanbase respond. The problem is we’re 30+ episodes in and the EPs/writers are still dancing around which flavor is ultimately the unifying, core flavor. Mecha? Political intrigue? Character-driven? Action-driven? Warfare? Romance, rivalries, defeat, victory?
And the worst thing is, I’ve watched plenty of series that have compressed all those facets into a single story and done it in half the time this group has been given. I mean, hell, Gurren Lagann took us from zero all the way up to the final battle – and with significant philosophical discussions on the nature of humanity! – in just fifteen frickin’ episodes. A seven-year time skip and the story picks up again and we get the battle for the fate of the universe by episode twenty-seven, all told. And yet there’s loss, romance, defeat, politics, characterization, action, battles, intrigue, and plenty of goddamn mecha. Also, an awesome soundtrack.
So it can be done. But it takes a passel of damn good writers to do it, and they need a clear purpose. The question about showing, in-story, robots clearly acting on an agenda, and then word-of-god declaring the robots are just machines, wow, does that tell me something about VLD’s writers. They’re either trying to cater to all sides in a story whose scope and facets are too vast and too complex for their skills to keep up, which is bad enough, or they don’t actually know what kind of a story they’re telling.
Either way, I think it’s time we stop considering Voltron – along with a major chunk of its fandom – as anything to do with mecha. It’s SF (or at least science fantasy), but it’s not mecha. However, if someone happened to be at the next EPs/writers panel and could ask them to explicitly list their favorite mecha series, I’d still like to hear what they’re using as genre-context (if anything).
Fandom: Marvel Character(s): Bucky x Reader Rating: T [semi-nudity??, mentions of sexual acts] Summary:The amount of awkwardness in the small space only swells after your brief conversation. You know there is more to be said – perhaps about boundaries – but it’s difficult to get past the discomfort that’s plaguing the air.
A/N: Hey, wow, how’s it going? Um, this is my first Marvel fic ever and it was just a small idea that popped in my head after thinking about my love Bucky way too much. Let me know what you think - please and thank you! - and I hope you enjoy <3