The Future is Now: The Power and Promise of Afrofuturism

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Blaylock Jr, Sidney Clyde
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Middle Tennessee State University
In the summer of 2020, with Covid-19 raging, the high-profile deaths of three African Americans—Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd— brought race and empathy into America’s political and social consciousness in a way not seen since the Civil Rights movement. A lack of empathy in America’s social and criminal justice systems became a major focus of study. Lisa Blankenship, in Changing the Subject: A Theory of Rhetorical Empathy (2019), describes a way in which empathy can be enacted through rhetorical processes. Ytasha Womack, in Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy (2013), examines the burgeoning Afrofuturistic culture for Blacks who are interested in Science Fiction. Womack describes an Afrofuturistic aesthetic in which Black people are no longer marginalized by racism and prejudice. Afrofuturism tells futuristic stories through a Black lens, dealing with Black themes and issues relevant to the Black community. Relying on recent scholarship by Blankenship, Womack, and others, Chapter One explains how rhetoric and empathy shape personal narratives and how Afrofuturism disrupts traditional narrative structures to promote new points of view. Chapter Two expands on the necessity of Afrofuturism and underscores the relevance of Black Panther (2018), a film that merges Blankenship’s rhetorical empathy with Womack’s Afrofuturism. Black Panther invites viewers to see how Afrofuturism, when deployed strategically and rhetorically, engenders empathy for those marginalized in society. Chapter Three investigates the ways in which New Media, specifically video games, use Afrofuturism to break traditional barriers inhibiting empathy. Assassin’s Creed Origins (2017) and Spider-Man Miles Morales (2020) employ Black characters to engender empathy through narrative devices. Chapter Four contrasts Afrofuturism with another Black ideology: Afropessimism, or the feeling that nothing will ever change for Black people. This chapter explains how movements such as BlackLivesMatter and #OscarssoWhite speak to Afropessimism. This chapter explains that, ultimately, such movements align themselves more with Afrofuturism than Afropessimism to create a positive change in Western society for Black people.
Afrofuturism, Black Panther, Film, Video Games, Rhetoric, Film studies