C2E2: Eve Ewing and more discuss how Afrofuturism reaches far beyond Black Panther


After the success of Black Panther, the values of Afrofuturism seem to be on the rise. At C2E2, Eve Ewing and others discussed why it’s so important to keep that idea alive.

In February 2018, a cultural phenomenon rocked the movie world. Black Panther far-surpassed everyone’s expectations about how a futuristic-like movie set in Africa could resonate with people worldwide.

For some, the world of Wakanda may have been their first introduction to Afrofuturism, but it’s certainly not the first or last work to highlight those ideas.

The Beyond Wakanda: The Rise of Afrofuturism in Pop Culture and Comics panel at C2E2 in Chicago let that be known over the weekend, and Culturess was there to hear all the great ideas about the future of this movement. The esteemed panelist included Ytasha Womack, Eve Ewing, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Afua Richardson, all of whom are artists, creators and activists whose work has been influenced by Afrofuturism in some way.

But before the panel was able to get into how works like Black Panther will drive the Afrofuturist narrative down the line, they first had to begin by defining what Afrofuturism exactly was in the first place. Womack, who literally wrote the book on Afrofuturism, defined it quite eloquently.

“I always tell people that a lot of times, they were probably an Afrofuturist, and didn’t know they were an Afrofuturist because the term is somewhat new,” she said. “But Afrofuturism is a way of look at the future or alternate realities, but through a black cultural lens. And when I say ‘black,’ I’m referring to the continent of Africa, people and the diaspora as well. It intersects black culture but also the imagination, liberation, technology, mysticism. And it’s a great way to really celebrate the value of imagination and resilience of people of African descent.”

On the other side, Eve Ewing had a quick and easy way of defining Afrofuturism.

“For me, Afrofuturism is the simple premise that Black people continue to exist,” Ewing said.

Both definitions are completely valid and touch on the many facets that Afrofuturism plays in not only pop culture but our society as a whole. Before we had films like Black Panther or music like Janelle Monáe’s album Dirty Computer in pop culture, the foundation of Afrofuturism was being built in our history.

The panel, for example, looked at how cities like Chicago have become major landmarks and symbols of this movement, especially when it comes to Black American culture. Following the abolition of slavery, we saw two Great Migrations where Black people moved from the rough conditions of the South to the more idyllic North. They were looking for a better quality of life for their families, and envisioned a future where they could be a part of the utopia they dreamed of. Ewing referenced Fredrick Douglass and Sojourner Truth as pioneering figures who embodied the idea of Afrofuturism way before the term was even coined.

Eventually, as McDaniels saw it, these struggles and hardships were reflected on in music — hip-hop especially. But the true idea of Afrofuturism comes into play when that message in music is used to not only reflect on the current state of society, but help shape it for the future. McDaniels mentioned, for example, rapping about the acceptance of wearing glasses and getting a GED. In the most basic sense, it was the idea of being “woke” in your music to uplift and inspire others through that message.

So, how did we get to intersecting Afrofuturism and the stories of comic books? Ewing mentioned that superheroes actually play a significant role in the African-American cultural mythology.

“In our culture, we don’t have Zeus and Athena and those kinds of myths,” she said. “Superheroes represent our shared understanding of what it means to be good, what it means to be brave, what it means to be flawed, and to struggle through your flaws.”

Ewing, McDaniels, and Richardson all had the opportunities to work on heroes who fit into building this new narrative of Black superheroes that others could look up to: Ewing through her immensely popular Marvel comic, Ironheart; McDaniels with publishing comics through Darryl Makes Comics (DMC); and Richardson with her illustrative work on Marvel’s World of Wakanda.

In a way, though, Black Panther was one of the works to finally put a spotlight on a cultural movement that has been going on for years. And because this idea is so deep-rooted in history, the panel collectively ensured everyone that this wasn’t anything that would be going away anytime soon.

Yes, Black Panther 2 may be one sign that the idea of Afrofuturism will continue to find its way into pop culture. But there are also niches and other communities that need and will be served through an Afrofuturist lens. (Just take Michael B. Jordan’s latest project, for example.) This could be through music, or comic books, movies, science, politics, or anything, really. If it’s an idea worth having, it’s an idea worth pursuing.

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The panel encouraged everyone to find their voice, and don’t hold back on the possibilities of their future. Current circumstances may look like there’s no space for Black directors, or Black LGBTQ leads or any other marginalized identity to conquer something others can’t imagine. But just because others can’t see that possibility now, it doesn’t mean you can’t help shape the future by pursuing what you believe in. That’s Afrofuturism in a nutshell, and the future of the philosophy is looking bright.