Words by Leah Abraham
So it’s 2017, and here’s to spotlighting (fangirling) more female focused filmmaking across the globe. If there’s ever a genre to capture Black and Brown identities, and project their presence in the imagined future, then AFROFUTURISM is doing big things.
With its marked focus on sci-fi aesthetics, modern technology and astral vibes, Afro-futurism resuscitates and blends Afrocentric identity with themes spanning science-fiction and technology. Theorist Mark Dery identifies Afrofuturism as any speculative fiction that visualises the concerns of the Afro-American identity, merges appropriately forms of techno-culture and aesthetics as working within the genre. In a very real sense, Afro-diaspora can be considered descendants of a colonial abduction of history and culture - a “sci-fi nightmare”, expresses Dery. Afrofuturism places Black identity as both subjects, and innovators of narrative, in a ‘for us by us’ manner to take charge of representation and envision discerning, empowering perspectives of the Black cultural discourse. In short, Afro-futurism declares the position of Black/Brown narratives in our contemporary technological world, as well as 50 or so years down the line. Afro-futurism come through.
We’ve been mulling over a series to spotlight and reflect nostalgically on a few international firm favourites of the genre.
We begin with Kenyan/South African Short PUMZI (2009) which critically addresses the geopolitical concerns of both Kenya, and the Earth globally. The Cannes/Sundance award winner is an Afrocentric gaze at a future world that is ecologically dried-up. 35 years after a World War III, water becomes a limited source. Female filmmaker WANURI KAHIU’s environmental drama places Kenya at the heart of a Sci-fi nightmare. Tapping into the 3rd world realities of the ongoing drought and water shortage in East Africa, PUMZI envisions a dystopian reality of water scarcity, and self generative survival in artificially contained communities.
'What’s been really great is that the majority of the filmmakers coming from Kenya are women. So, that’s broken all those barriers of 'What’s it like to be a woman [in the film industry]'
Kahui casts the fate of the remaining Maitu community into the hands of a female scientist Asha (Kudzani Moswela). She maps our future through an Afro-feminist lenses and the female identity is given a cinematic elevation. PUMZI lenses as a metaphysical fiction of Mother Nature grappling with survival in an artificially contained reality.
The sentimental short charts Asha’s journey through the desert-like junkyard of Earth with Lara Croft-esque cutaways of Moswela trekking through the derelict desert landscape. Carrying her tiny seedling remains of her self-generated water supply, Asha breaks out of the bureaucratic bunker and its mechanistic system of oppression. She evades the Matrix.
PUMZI supplants her legitimate trajectory for the environmental future. Our woman hero Asha comes to represent the remaining source of life in amongst the debris of the natural world. The screenplay also illustrates a desire to reclaim and empower the Afro-diaspora, challenging and transforming normative representations of the sci-fi genre in radical, invigorating ways.
In projecting the African woman as the living, breathing life force, and literal water carrier, PUMZI reinforces the African female as integral and central to the fate of natural survival in the near future. Where there is real cause for concern about the detriments of global climate change and water shortage, PUMZI carries forth a pressing political warning about our current geopolitics. How long will we take to realise the the Earth's resources are limited..? How long until the real water wars are upon us..?
PUMZI is mapping a growing grassroots community of women filmmakers in the African continent. It's a kind of prophetic filmmaking that’s not too overdone, but its political message asserted poetically, and masterfully. With a tangible focus on science fiction and water politics Kahui empower’s African femininity, and conscientiously projects the global concern surrounding natural resources. She also makes sci-fi clothing look damn good.
Leah Abraham is freelance writer, follow her on Twitter @refleurberate