Dr. Reynaldo Anderson is an Associate Professor of Communication and Chair of the Humanities department at Harris-Stowe State University in Saint Louis Missouri and serves as an executive board member of the Missouri Arts Council. He is the Past Chair of the Black Caucus of the National Communication Association (NCA). He has previously worked for international prison reform with C.U.R.E. International in Douala, Cameroon, and as a development ambassador in Ghana.
Dr. Anderson publishes extensively in the area of Afrofuturism, communication studies, and the African diaspora. He is the executive director and co-founder of the Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM), a network of artists, curators, intellectuals, and activists. He is the co-editor of the book Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness (Lexington books); the volume Cosmic Underground: A Grimoire of Black Speculative Discontent (Cedar Grove Press); co-editor of the forthcoming volume The Black Speculative Art Movement: Black Futurity, Art+Design; co-editor of “Black Lives, Black Politics, Black Futures,” a forthcoming special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies; and co-editor of “When is Wakanda: Afrofuturism and Dark Speculative Futurity,” a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Futures Studies.
For those who are not familiar with your work and the rapidly growing Black Speculative Arts Movement, could you historicize and discuss the difference between Afrofuturism and Afrofuturism 2.0?
Afrofuturism is a word that emerged in the early 1990s during a period of time that I think was best characterized by scholar Barbara Christian in 1987 as “The Race for Theory.” During that period, towards the end of the Cold War, you had a generation of scholars like Cornell West, Molefi Asante, bell hooks, Henry Louis Gates, and others that gained notoriety and were introducing ideas to explain the cultural moment we were living in. During that time, the cultural critic Mark Dery and others coined the term Afrofuturism around predominantly African American speculative traditions and practices.
It can be argued we are currently in a second race for theory that can be traced back to the middle of the last decade with the emergence of social media, forces of globalization, and the economic crash of 2008. Afrofuturism 2.0—a term I described in interaction with Alondra Nelson during a conference at Emory University and published in a volume I co-edited with Charles E. Jones entitled Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness—represents the second phase of Afrofuturism emerging in the last several years that acknowledges its development as an emerging pan-African social philosophy characterized by dimensions that include metaphysics, aesthetics, theoretical and applied sciences, social sciences, and programming. Black Panther represents a mash-up of those dimensions in a popular cinematic format.
And what distinguishes the Black Speculative Arts Movement from Afrofuturism or how do they relate?
The term Black Speculative Arts Movement was coined by the visual artist John Jennings. The movement drew upon previous work by writers and thinkers such as Sheree Renee Thomas, Octavia Butler, Amiri Baraka, Kodwo Eshun, John Akomfrah, and Nnedi Okorafor. I would argue the key event where we acknowledge its existence as a movement was the exhibition Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination co-curated by John Jennings and me at the Schomburg library in Harlem. The traveling convention format was founded, with participation from Maia Williams, at Harris-Stowe State University in Saint Louis, MO at the end of the Harlem exhibition. The work from that co-curated event is coming out in a book this spring, Cosmic Underground: A Grimoire of Black Speculative Discontent (Cedar Grove Publishing).
There are other international formations that are also engaged in this work, such as The Afrofuturist Affair in Philadelphia, BlackSpace in Durham North Carolina, Wildseeds in New Orleans, Chale Wote in Accra Ghana, and Afro-futures UK in Great Britain. The movement or the term Black Speculative Arts serves as an umbrella for different points of engagement that sometimes overlap, like Magical Realism, Black Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Sword and Soul or Fantasy, SteamFunk, Afro-Surrealism, Ethno-gothic, and others. I would argue the Black Speculative tradition is the spiritual mother of Afrofuturism with its roots in nineteenth-century discourses around anti-slavery revolutionary practices, science, and early pan-Africanist sentiment.
Right now the film Black Panther has helped make Afrofuturism a public trend or topic of conversation. What are your thoughts about the sudden Hollywood-sized publicity of something that many have been taking quite seriously for years?
I am happy it has made people more curious about the term Afrofuturism. I believe there is a paradigm shift going on among Black folks globally. The movie is impacting the young and the old. The last time I recall this much discussion about a cinematic event was the production of Alex Haley’s Roots in the ’70s. Yet this film is different than Roots in many ways. For example, Black Panther opened in the entire African world in 72 hours its first week, and the response has been dramatic on several sociological, psychological, and aesthetic levels. I have been intrigued by the response along linguistic lines. Afro-Brazilians have been heavily impacted by the film. I have seen some critics from the French cultural zone, although they should be slow to criticize anybody after the production of the Le Flop of a movie that Valerian turned out to be.
Tell us more about the significance of Black Panther to historical Black radical politics? For example, is there an actual relationship between, say, the artist Jack Kirby who created the character and THE Black Panthers?
I think people should go back to the origin of the Black Panther Party in Alabama. In 1965 the Lowndes County Freedom Organization was founded. This organization adopted the Black Panther as its symbol. Huey P. Newton adopted the symbol from them. The Black Panther Party of Lowndes County Alabama believed in Armed Self-Defense in the tradition of Robert F. Williams. This predates both the 1966 founding of the Oakland Black Party by Huey Newton and Bobby Seal, and the launching of the comic series Black Panther in 1966. It should be noted that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization was started by the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) as it was moving towards Black Power ideology. Thus, you cannot separate the symbol Black Panther from the Black Liberation Struggle. That is what the symbol stood for before there was a comic series and that is why the symbol was adopted by Blacks fighting for the right to vote in the south to Blacks in Oakland who were also suffering from racist oppression.
As far as relationships go, Jack Kirby and the artist Billy Graham were creating this character during a transitional time in America and the world system, in an environment of the Black Power movement, the Black Arts Movement, the African liberation struggle, and during the time of Black Jazz creatives, like Sun Ra during his New York period. Jack Kirby and Billy Graham were not operating in a cultural vacuum when these events were going on, and it probably impacted their creative expression.
A good deal of the response to the film in the Black world has been framed around tensions in the Black Diaspora, such as the representation of Africa, the role of “real” Africans vs. African-American fantasies, the tension and/or limits of, say, Black Nationalism and pan-Africanism. From your 2.0 perspective, from a perspective rooted in Astro-Blackness, how do you frame or respond to such tensions and debates?
First of all, I am African-American and I don’t have fantasies about Africa. I have been dealing in the reality of Africa and the African Diaspora for some years now. Yes, you have some misinformed African-Americans and others in the Diaspora, and there are some misinformed Africans on the Continent. Second, after traveling around the world for much of the last decade lecturing on Black Futurity, I have reached the conclusion that the African diaspora and Black Africa have no friends. But, we do have interests that have to be attended to. So, time out for silly talk.
We must remember that this misinformed state on both sides of the Atlantic is due to an educational. historical, political-economic design of the White Atlantic and their allies who, in too many cases, instilled in Africans of the Diaspora a slave mentality and in continental Africans a colonized mentality. Leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, and Claudia Jones have been working hard for generations to help Black people all over the world to overcome the psychological hindering and underdevelopment that was done to Black people by White Supremacy and the White Atlantic. No one has a problem with people of Jewish ancestry around the world supporting the country of Israel wherever they live.
Furthermore, NATO is a military organization that represents the political-economic strategic interests of the White Atlantic. There is a Nordic council founded in 1952 for societies in that region. There are Arab and Asian formations with international goals and aspirations. Therefore, it is logical for people of Black African descent to be interested in developing organizations and entities that focus on their international goals and aspirations. So, I would say the 2.0 development of Afrofuturism and Astro-Blackness, is analogous to the earlier development of pan-Africanism (an idea that started in the diaspora) that would later be adopted by the African continent when they established the O.A.U and later the African Union, which, by the way, formally recognized its diaspora as a sixth zone of the union. In the near future, the hope is that Afrofuturism 3.0 (or some other name) will emerge as African Union members or organizations refashion it for their own sensibilities, tastes, and strategic goals.
Finally, a more interesting exchange would be what can we learn from each other? For example, what can the African Diaspora learn from people like Wangari Maathai on environmental sustainability? Or, more importantly, what is the continent doing to defend itself? At the time of this writing there is no sub-Saharan African country with a military ranked in the top 40 in the world. In a multi-polar world, the strong prey on the weak and it’s shaping up to be a scenario similar to those of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries where Black/African societies are impacted by Arab-centric jihadist elements from the north throughout the Maghreb region, Asian Tiger societies from the east (China is building a base in Africa), and the Western White Atlantic entities.
In closing, I would say people that entertain such arguments need to think bigger.
What do you think people are getting wrong about the film or about Afrofuturism as represented in the film?
It is too early to tell. Right now, people are generally critiquing from their own space of the chess board, and some people have problems with depth perception. Whether it’s through the analytical framework of Black feminism, Black Nationalist, Afro-pessimism, Afropolitan discourse, and so on, I would argue that people are generally trying to reposition themselves to be in the debate on Black futurity. They are reflexively doing what they have already been doing from their various traditions or practices, but some have been caught unprepared. At the end of the day, the Disney Company made a shrewd business decision and developed a new global market for Black super heroes. However, the film unexpectedly tapped into a global Black reservoir of desire and agency that is long standing and built and autonomously maintained in the cultural software of Africa and its diaspora.
So in light of your answer, say something about the place of the “Afro” in Afrofuturism and its relationship to “futurity.”
I would argue that “Afro” implies an orientation to the data or phenomena on Black futures. A few years ago, at an Astro-Blackness meeting at Loyola Marymount University, I said if there is no Africa in your Afrofuturism then you are not doing Afrofuturism, you are doing somebody else’s. This position makes it necessary to have an intellectual relationship or understanding with the Africana Studies tradition in the area of Afrocentricity and other formations.
Most impressive about your work is the insistence on making a movement rooted in imaginative expression speak to extant political movements in the Black world. What do you hope Black Panther can achieve in this context, or is it secondary to what’s already been going on?
Black Panther is amplifying a global dialogue about Black futurity that has primarily been the province of a small group of creatives, intellectuals, and academics for about two decades. As the masses are slowly being awakened to its existence, there will be mutations of the Afrofuturism project based upon marketing, locale, linguistic differences, and geopolitics.
The following is a syllabus/research guide on Afrofuturism and Black Speculative Arts and Criticism from Dr. Anderson.
Afrofuturism 2.0 syllabus
This course is designed to help students refine their theoretical approaches to the study of second wave Afrofuturism and the Black Speculative tradition, and to help sharpen and broaden their critical thinking and analytical faculties through a study of selected works. This course prepares students for the questions raised by the scholar Kodwo Eshun when he notes the need to study the conceptual framework of our cultural moment: What are the parameters of that moment, the edge of that framework? We will be examining more than just the works and their authors, but also the social, ethical, spiritual, political, and philosophical bases upon which the emerging field is being built.
Module 1: What is Afrofuturism?
Pfeiffer, J. (1975). Black American Speculative literature: A checklist. Extrapolation, 17(1), 35-43.
Sinker, Mark. (1992). Loving the Alien: Black Science Fiction. The Wire 96: 30–33.
Dery, M. (1994). Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose. Flame wars: The discourse of cyberculture, 179-222.
Nelson, A. (2002). Afrofuturism: A special issue of social text. (Introduction)
Eshun, K. (2003). Further considerations of Afrofuturism. CR: The New Centennial Review, 3(2), 287-302.
Elia, A. (2014). The Languages of Afrofuturism. Lingue e Linguaggi, 12, 83-96.
Anderson, R. Jones, C. (2015). Introduction: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness. Lexington Books.
Anderson, R. (2016). Afrofuturism 2.0 & The Black Speculative Arts Movement: Notes on a Manifesto. Obsidian, 42(1/2), 228.
Module 2: Metaphysics
Fisher, M. (2013). The metaphysics of crackle: Afrofuturism and hauntology. Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 5(2), 42-55.
Van Veen, T. C. (2013). VESSELS OF TRANSFER: Allegories of Afrofuturism in Jeff Mills and Janelle Monáe. Dancecult: Journal of electronic dance music culture, 5(2).
Rollins, A. (2015). Afrofuturism and Our Old Ship of Zion: The Black Church in Post-Modernity. In Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 127.
Gaskins, N. R. (2016). The African Cosmogram Matrix in Contemporary Art and Culture. black theology, 14(1), 28-42.
Steinskog, E. (2018). Vibrations, Rhythm, and Cosmology. In Afrofuturism and Black Sound Studies (pp. 109-138). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Module 3: Aesthetics
David, M. (2007). Afrofuturism and post-soul possibility in Black popular music. African American Review, 41(4), 695-707.
Josephs, K. B. (2013). Beyond Geography, Past Time: Afrofuturism, The Rainmaker’s Mistake, and Caribbean Studies. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, 17(2 (41)), 123-135.
Rambsy II, H. (2013). Beyond Keeping It Real: OutKast, the Funk Connection, and Afrofuturism. American Studies, 52(4), 205-216.
Anderson, R., & Jennings, J. (2014). Afrofuturism: The Digital Turn and the Visual Art of Kanye West. In The Cultural Impact of Kanye West (pp. 29-44). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Barber, T. (2015. Cyborg Grammar? Reading Wangechi Mutu’s Non je ne regrette rien through Kindred. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 3-25.
Nyawalo, M. (2016). Afro-futurism and the aesthetics of hope in Bekolo’s Les Saignantes and Kahiu’s Pumzi. Journal of the African Literature Association, 10(2), 209-221.
Module 4: Race & Theoretical and Applied Science
Eglash, R. (2002). Race, sex, and nerds: From black geeks to Asian American hipsters. Social Text, 20(2), 49-64.
Rusert, B. (2013). Delany’s Comet: Fugitive Science and the Speculative Imaginary of Emancipation. American Quarterly, 65(4), 799-829.
Gaskin, N. (2015). Afrofuturism on Web 3.0: Vernacular Cartography and Augmented Space. In Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 27-44.
Brooks, L. A. (2015). Playing a Minority Forecaster in Search of Afrofuturism: Where am I in this future Steward Brand?. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 149.
Callus, P., & Potter, C. (2017). Michezo Video: Nairobi’s gamers and the developers who are promoting local content. Critical African Studies, 9(3), 302-326.
Luba, A. R. (2017). The Change Game: A Critical Game For Recognizing & Generating Alternative Futures.
Brooks, L. J. A., & Anderson, R. Student Visions of Multiple Urban Futures 2050. Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education, 385.
Module 5: Social Sciences and futurity
Yaszek, L. (2006). Afrofuturism, science fiction, and the history of the future. Socialism and Democracy, 20(3), 41-60.
DeIuliis, D., & Lohr, J. (2015). Rewriting the Narrative. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 167-84.
Guthrie, R. (2015). The Real Ghosts in the Machine: Afrofuturism and the Haunting of Racial Space in I, Robot and DETROPIA. In Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness. 45-60.
Elia, A. (2016). WEB Du Bois’s Proto-Afrofuturist Short Fiction: The Comet. Il Tolomeo, 18, 173-86.
Moduel 6: Critical theory and Method
Tal, K. (1996). The unbearable Whiteness of being: African American critical theory and cyberculture. Kali Tal Web site.
Mayer, R. (2000). “Africa As an Alien Future”: The Middle Passage, Afrofuturism, and Postcolonial Waterworlds. Amerikastudien/American Studies, 555-566.
Michael Tillotson and Serie McDougal (2013) Applied Africana Studies Journal of Black Studies Vol. 44, No. 1 pp. 101-113
Sunstrum, P.(2013). “Afro-mythology and African Futurism: The Politics of Imagining and Methodologies for Contemporary Creative Research Practices.” In Africa SF. Ed. Mark Bould. Paradoxa, no. 25: 113-29.
Ford, J. (2013). Cultivating citizenship as feeling: a conversation with three digital alchemists jillian ford, in conversation with L’Erin Alta-Devki, Moya Bailey, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 29(2).
Phillips, R. (2015). Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice- Part One. In Black Quantum Futurism Theory& Practice, 11-30.
Whitted, Q. (2015). “To be African is to Merge Technology and Magic”: An Interview with Nnedi Okorafor. In Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise Of Astro-Blackness, 207-213.
Anderson, R. (2015). Critical Afrofuturism: A case study in visual, rhetoric, sequential art, and post-apocalyptic Black identity. In Blacker the ink: Constructions of Black identity in comics and sequential art, 171-192.
Module 7: Criticisms that overlap Time and Space
Reichardt, U. (2000). Time and the African-American experience: The problem of chronocentrism. Amerikastudien/American Studies, 45(4), 465-484.
Okembe-Ra. N. (2015). The Implications of Africa-Centered Conceptions of Time & Space for Quantitative Theorizing: Limitations for paradigmatically-Bound Philosophical Meta-Assumptions. In Black Quantum Futurism Theory & Practice, 31-48.
Van Veen, t. (2015). The Armageddon Effect: Afrofuturism and the Chronopolitics of Alien Nation. In Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 63-90.
Chude-Sokei, L. (2016). “A Caribbean Pre-Posthumanism.” In The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, 179-224.
Brooks, K. D., McGee, A., & Schoellman, S. (2016). Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black Women in Contemporary Horror Fiction. Obsidian, 42(1/2), 237.
Module 8: In conversation other cultural explorations of Futurity
Ramírez, C. S. (2008). Afrofuturism/Chicanafuturism: Fictive Kin. Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, 33(1), 185-194.
McLeod, K. (2013). Afro-Samurai: techno-Orientalism and contemporary hip hop. Popular Music, 32(2), 259-275.
Ritskes, E. (2017). Beyond and Against White Settler Colonialism in Palestine: Fugitive Futurities in Amir Nizar Zuabi’s “The Underground Ghetto City of Gaza”. Cultural Studies↔ Critical Methodologies, 17(1), 78-86.
Module 9: Black Women and futurity
Morris, S. M. (2013). Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 40(3), 146-166.
Jones, E. (2015). Africana Women’s Science fiction and Narrative Medicine: Difference, Ethics, and Empathy.
TURMAN, A. (2015) An Afrofuturist Africana Womanist Affair. (Book Review)
Afrofuturism’s Musical Princess Janelle Monae: Psychedelic Sould Message Infused with a Sci-Fi Twist. In Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, 91-107
Morris, S. M. (2016). More than Human: Black Feminisms of the Future in Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories. The Black Scholar, 46(2), 33-45.
Module 10: Black LGBTQ futurity
Muñoz, J. E. (2007). Cruising the toilet: LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, radical black traditions, and queer futurity. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 13(2), 353-367.
Fawaz, R. (2012). Space, that Bottomless Pit: Planetary Exile and Metaphors of Belonging in American Afrofuturist Cinema. Callaloo, 35(4), 1103-1122.
Griffiths, T. M. (2015). Queer. Black Politics, Queer. Black Communities: Touching the Utopian Frame in Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. African American Review, 48(3), 305-317.
Jaime, K. (2017). “Chasing Rainbows” Black Cracker and Queer, Trans Afrofuturity. Transgender Studies Quarterly, 4(2), 208-218.
Module 11: Programmatic Spaces (Case Studies)
The AfroFuturist Affair – is a Philadelphia based grassroots community formed to celebrate, strengthen, and promote Afrofuturistic and Sci-Fi concepts and culture through creative events and creative writing.
BlackSpace- BlackSpace provides free Pan-African centered social entrepreneurship and digital media resources for local youth in Durham North Carolina.
The Center for Afrofuturist Studies – (CAS) is an initiative in Iowa City, Iowa to re-imagine new futures for marginalized peoples by generating safe work spaces for artists of color. The CAS hosts visiting artists and artists-in-residence and produces lectures, workshops, public forums, and exhibitions on the intersections of race, technology, and the diaspora.
Blacks to The Future- Located in Paris, France the collective focuses on collective experimentation through their transmedia platform with the belief that Africanity and Afrofuturism embody a humanistic perspective that all people can embrace.
Afrofutures_UK- Located in England is a connective made up of artists, writers, activists and academics interested in exploring the future black experience through multi-media and disruptive technologies.
Wildseeds- Wildseeds is a collective of feminists of color that uses speculative fiction as a resource for social change. Our work, steeped in Black feminist traditions of survival and healing, engages Octavia Butler and other speculative/sci-fi and fantastical authors.
Black Speculative Arts Movement- aka BSAM and BSAM-CANADA, is a yearlong, traveling Afrofuturism, comics, film, and art convention held at multiple universities, colleges, and venues in the United States and Canada.
Academic text book resources:
Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles Jones
Afrofuturism and Black Sound Studies: Culture, Technology, and Things to Come by Erik Steinskog
Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice (Volume 1) by Rasheedah Phillips
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha Womack
The Black Imagination: Science Fiction, Futurism and the Speculative (Black Studies and Critical Thinking) by Sandra Jackson and Julie E. Moody-Freeman
More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun
Afrofuturism: A Special Issue of Social Text by Alondra Nelson
Speculating Futures: Black Imagination & The Arts: Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora edited by Sheree Renee Thomas, Nisi Shawl, Isiah Lavender III, Krista Franklin
Special Issue on Afrofuturism: Vol 5, No 2 (2013): Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture. Edited by Tobias C. Van Veen
Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora by Sheree Renée Thomas
Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall
Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown
Black Kirby: In Search of The MotherBoxx Connection art exhibition catalog By John Jennings and Jonathan Gayles
Cosmic Underground: A Grimoire of Black Speculative Discontent by Reynaldo Anderson and John Jennings
AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers by Ivor W. Hartmann
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Futureland by Walter Mosely
Midnight Robber Nalo Hopkinson
Nova by Samuel Delaney
Black Studies Supplements:
The Demise of the Inhuman: Afrocentricity, Modernism and Postmodernism by Ana Monteiro-Ferreira
The Afrocentric Idea by Molefi Asanti
The Africa centered perspective of history and social sciences in the twenty-first century by C.T. Keto
Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior. By Marimba Ani
The Souls of Black Folk. By W.E.B. Dubois