How Afrofuturism is Influencing TV Shows

Black Panther brought Afrofuturism to the forefront of the film world when it broke the moulds of superhero stories. And now, we are seeing Afrofuturism in TV shows. These TV shows include Black Mirror (most notably the episode 15 Million Merits, starring David Kaluuya of Get Out and Black Panther fame), Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine with Captain Benjamin Sisko and Star Trek Discovery with Michael Burnam, a female Black character who steals the show.

Afrofuturism is an effective way to change African art in the eyes of the Western world as it places African people in the future in a way that has not previously been seen: as lead characters in their own story. Below are just some of the ways that Afrofuturism is influencing TV shows.

It allows African women to shine on screen

More often  we are seeing strong, powerful female characters and, thanks to the rise of Afrofuturism, more strong women of colour characters. This movement in both film and television has allowed African women to shine on screen, becoming heroes and lead characters in their own right.

Who fears Death in development at HBO

We can see this in TV shows such as American Horror Story: Coven, with Angela Bassett’s character of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, an immensely powerful woman who curses her master to an eternity of pain and misery, Mariah Dillard in Luke Cage, played by Alfre Woodard, who fights back against her abusers by becoming strong and influential and most excitingly, in the upcoming HBO series entitles Who Fears Death, based on the novel by Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor.

This new series will focus on the titular character, Onyesonwu (whose name is translated from Igbo to form the title) and will see a female lead character taking on her destiny to change a post-apocalyptic world.

It illustrates social ills

Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine features Captain Benjamin Sisko, an African-American man who is the commanding officer of Deep Space Nine, a space station located deep in space. He is a character much loved by fans fo the show, but has a strong Afrofuturistic presence, even before the trend became as well-known as it is now.

benjamin sisko deep space nine

One particularly poignant episode features Sisko experiencing hallucinations, seeing himself as Benny Russell, a talented science fiction writer for a small magazine in 1950s New York. Benny Russell has futuristic visions of a black Starfleet captain and uses these ‘visions’ to write a science-fiction story with an African-American protagonist.

His story is not accepted by publishers, as editors claim that nobody would accept a ‘Black hero’. In this, Afrofuturism and science fiction illustrate the social ills of society, where a Black hero might not be accepted as a ‘norm’.

It speaks about the struggle for Black liberation

The most recent superhero series to hit our screens includes Luke Cage, a series that focuses on Luke Cage, a Black man who is a wrongly convicted prisoner who obtains super strength and impenetrable skin through a prison experiment. This shows the audience that Black bodies, throughout time have been coded as ‘easily accessible’ by white supremacy.

Luke Cage often tries to be and do too many things at once in order to navigate the streets of Harlem and live a normal life. He is a superhero to a deteriorating Black neighbourhood, but his goal is to save it from illegal activity in the city to preserve the beauty and history of it, while also not being able to afford the rent in his beloved hometown.

Afrofuturism brings to light the struggle for Black liberation, where many Black people seek to better themselves and their neighbourhood but are unable to achieve this liberation due to capitalism and economic status.

It flips history and the future on their heads

Traditionally, Africa itself has not been seen as a hub of technology, which is why artists are trying to change African art in the eyes of the Western world. Afrofuturism allows them to do so, and can even be seen in TV series such as the Kenyan TV show Usoni, which re-imagined Europeans as refugees fleeing to Africa because, in the future, the sun is no longer visible in their countries.

Usoni kenyan TV show

Usoni wanted to look at immigration issues and portray African nations as hubs of society, rather than the traditional poverty-stricken views that many Western countries have. This flipping of history (the idea of African people leaving their countries for a better future elsewhere) and the future (European countries now having to flee to Africa) is one of the major features of Afrofuturism and has allowed artists, filmmakers and musicians to challenge societal norms and put their message across in a powerful manner.

Afrofuturism: a voice for the African future

Afrofuturism in film is being celebrated by box-office hits such as Black Panther and Get Out, and in television, we are seeing more and more Black characters as protagonists, such as in shows like Black Mirror, Luke Cage and even American Horror Story.

African women are given a chance to shine and to give powerful messages to the public, and social ills are brought to the forefront during an entertaining 45 minute episode. Afrofuturism might not be anything new to the art world, but the public has just recently been exposed to the voice of Africa’s artistic and social future.

Read MoreAfrofuturism in Film: What is it & Why is it Important?

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