The Black British community has many faces, I, Robot: Afrofuturism – is another to add to the list

The Black British community has many faces,I, Robot: Afrofuturism – is another to add to the list

HC robots_brixton

The black British community has many faces, faces that are often unexposed to the mass forms of media, only to be stumbled upon through aimless wanders through the Twittersphere, which is exactly how I stumbled upon Afro Futures_UK – a blog and upcoming event celebrating the intersection of futurism and the black experience – and Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism combines futurism with the African or African Diaspora experience and identity, inspiring the reimaginings of African men and women or people of African descent in possible futures and imagined worlds. The term was originally coined by Mark Dery, in his wonderfully named article, Black to the Future. For Dery, ‘speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth century techno culture…might for want of a better term, be called “Afro-futurism”.’ (Dery, Mark. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delaney, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose.” Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyber culture. Ed. Mark Dery. Duke University Press, 1994. 180-222).

My definition of Afrofuturism is really a crude generalization of a vast movement that explores the experiences of African and African Diaspora communities with futurism, science and technology. A movement that has spread throughout African and African Diaspora communities, that can be found in the music of Janelle Monáe (her music and aesthetic ooze Afrofuturism) and the novels of Octavia Butler.

The short film, Robots of Brixton (2011) similarly combines science fiction with the experiences of the African Diaspora community in Britain. Directed by Kibwe Tavares – director of the Jack Thorne written and Daniel Kaluuya starring short film, Jonah – Robots of Brixton ‘follows the trials and tribulations of young robots hemmed in by poverty, disillusionment and mass unemployment. ‘

In the short Brixton is reimagined as ‘a disregarded area inhabited by London’s new robot workforce – robots built and designed to carry out all of the tasks which humans are no longer inclined to do.’

The short often feels like a mosaic. Computer animated visuals of crude robots and a rickety dystopian Brixton are layered over footage and sounds from the Brixton riots. Visions of an imagined future are conflated with experiences of the past, producing a sort of uncanny effect – Brixton being at once familiar and unfamiliar.

And, as with other Afrofuturistic works, with Robots of Brixton Tavares has created an imagined and futuristic space where past and present issues of the black experience in London are examined and discussed in a way that is both meaningful and innovative.

Watch Robots of Brixton here. Follow @AfroFutures_UK.

– Hannah Campbell


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