AfroBubblegum: African Sci-fi offers alternatives to “Hopeless Africa” narrative

By Angela Okune

At CIHA Blog, we recently highlighted how African cinema is serving as a key avenue through which important critiques of humanitarianism are being made. Continuing the conversation, this piece highlights “AfroBubblegum,” a new aesthetic movement started by a Kenyan filmmaker that builds on themes of Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism has increasingly gained popularity as a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, Afrocentrism and non-Western cosmologies–including religions–in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of black people, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. Afrofuturism largely addresses themes and concerns of the African diaspora, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences.

While the style is originally African American, there is also a growing movement by Africans on the continent to use Afrofuturism to re-shape “Hopeless Africa” narratives that require if not explicitly, implicitly, a focus on the problems and issues of the continent such as poverty, diseases like HIV, insecurity and radicalization. Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu explained to PBS Newshour:

“A couple of years ago, I was writing a love story, and I was looking for funding for it. And when I said I was looking for a love story, and I approached investors, one of them to me, if you add a rape scene, then we might be able to get you some funding. And this was devastating to me. It felt as if Africans just can’t fall in love or be joyous. There has to be some sort of tragedy linked to their love.”

Kahiu therefore decided to start advocating for what she terms “AfroBubblegum Art” that includes images of Africans who are not dying, not in need of saving and living a joyous, thriving African life. In bringing this discussion to the blog, we are not trying to feed the seemingly stark dichotomy between narratives of Africa as Hopeless Poverty and Africa Rising. But we believe this idea of Africans “just falling in love” does not have to be part of either and can instead be part of a move to highlight the wide range of everyday lives and experiences on the continent.

Read more on AfroBubblegum Art and Kahiu’s recommendations for some African cinema movies to watch here.

Listen to an interview with Kahiu and Nomusa on #BlackGirlSciFi and #Afrofuturism here.

Learn more about Afrofuturism more broadly here and here.

Read more on Wanuri Kahiu here.

Featured Image Source: Ryan Lash //TED (Wanuri Kahiu speaks at TED gathering in Vancouver, Canada)

Angela Okune is a PhD student of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She is also an editorial assistant and Luce Graduate Fellow of the CIHA Blog. Follow her on Twitter at @honoluluskye.