This blog is in development and will be the medium in which I express my critical analyses for “Aboard Mothership: Introduction to Afrofuturism” class at UCLA.
🎥 Pumzi (Wanuri Kahiu) *Africanfuturism
🎥 White (A. Sayeeda Clarke)
🎥 The Space Traders (story by Derrick Bell, featured on Cosmic Slop)
🎥 Space is the Place (Sun Ra)
🎥 Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)
🎵 Mothership Connection (Parliament Funkadelic)
🎵 Face the Music, Space is the Place (Sun Ra Arkestra)
🎥🎵 Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe)
🎵 The Rain (Missy Elliot)
🎥🎵 Tightrope (Janelle Monáe)
🎥🎵 This is America (Childish Gambino)
🎥🎵 Alright (Kendrick Lamar)
🎥🎵 DNA. (Kendrick Lamar)
🎵 Bitches Brew (Miles Davis)
📖 Parable of the Sower (Octavia E. Butler)
📖 Spider the Artist (Nnedi Okorafor) *Africanfuturism
📖 Herd Immunity (Tananarive Due)
Greedy Choke Puppy
"Greedy Choke Puppy", by Nalo Hopkinson, is a literary imagining of the Caribbean folklore creature called a Soucouyant. Like the Southern Gullah tales about a vampire-adjacent creature called a Boo Hag, the Soucouyant takes her skin off at night and flies around. The Soucouyant and Boo Hag prey on people, sucking their blood like a vampire.
"Greedy Choke Puppy" begins with a grandmother talking to her granddaughter about seeing a Lagahoo, which she says looks like a donkey with gold teeth that is dressed up like a human man. The Lagahoo seems to be an omen which leaves the grandmother shaken. She recalls seeing the Lagahoo before her daughter’s death.
The grandmother clearly loves her granddaughter and still grieves the loss of her daughter. The story includes mundane day to day components as well. The grandmother lovingly fixing her granddaughter's hair. The grandmother telling her granddaughter she has time to find a man. The granddaughter eating from the stove and spitting back the food because it is too hot. “Greedy puppy does choke!”, says her grandmother. She mentions the young woman’s mother used to do the same thing. I like the daily interactions with the grandmother and granddaughter as the darker story occurs in the background.
The story includes excerpts from Caribbean academic journals which explain the Soucouyant folklore to the reader. The Soucouyant lore is explained and looked at from a supposedly educated perspective. One journal article says women in the past used the Soucouyant stories to address the loss of children. “Primitive times”, those days are condescendingly called in the article.
The Soucouyant in “Greedy Choke Puppy” has a darker and more demonic characterization than other Soucouyant tales. The Soucouyant in this story will harm anyone if threatened or discovered. The vampire-like behavior is a consistent trait of Soucouyants. However, some stories like "Loneliness is in Your Blood", by Cadwell Turnbull, which is taught in the “Sunken Place” horror class at UCLA, actually inspire empathy for the Soucouyant and her loneliness. The Soucouyant in “Greedy Choke Puppy” has a monster quality, and she demonstrates it by the end of the story. To be fair, though, the Soucouyant has very human characteristics when she’s a woman.
The concept of a vampire-like woman who drains the blood of other humans makes me wonder why there is not a male counterpart. Why are women the monsters? Why don’t men shake off their skin and fly around as a vicious fireball. What about women inspires these folktales? Why are women often the villains in folklore and mythology? Is it because of the patriarchal structure of societies throughout history? Is it because men often wrote the stories and were gatekeepers to literary canon? Is it because men needed to justify oppression of women by vilifying them? Why doesn’t someone write a Soucouyant story about men?
"Herd Immunity" by Tananarive Due is a story that I feel was undoubtedly inspired by Octavia E. Butler's "Parable of the Sower". In "Herd Immunity", the protagonist, Nayima, is all alone and walking across a post-apocalyptic landscape. One day, walking down the road, she sees a man ahead of her. The subsequent choices made by Nayima are so painfully human.
Humans need companionship and care to soften the burden of life. Humans need others to help them keep their "soul" or essence or whatever you believe, together, or it begins to get brittle at the edges and can get cast around and lost in chaotic winds. Humans can be the tough girl or guy, resilient and strong warriors who overcome the most impossible odds and greatest defeats. It isn't wrong to be proud of ourselves for making it through hell, but let's not romanticize it to the point where we don't believe we need others. When you're all alone in life, with no support, you cannot possibly dig your way out of a rock bottom scenario. You can survive, but you can't elevate yourself as much as if you had some help. Hardening your heart and rejecting those who care about or love you will not save you. Keep your heart soft and open.
On the other hand, don't allow your need for people to cause harm to yourself or others. In the story "Herd Immunity", Nayima is so desperate for companionship, she chooses to let down her guard and risk lives. Her target, a man with a guitar, has no interest in making any connection with the woman. He vehemently rejects her again and again. In the worst display of humanity, she kisses him in his sleep. Nevermind this being a violation at any time, but she doesn't care if she infects him with a virus. She has chosen to believe he has natural immunity, because she wants it to be true.
Sometimes, humans behave in a selfish way when they are trying to alleviate the pain they are feeling. A heartbroken person might use another person to feel better about a break-up with their love. This seems like a much lighter scenario than a terminal disease, but there is still a major ethical dilemma.
Loneliness is a crushing pain like no other, and it is human to want to find an elixir. But sometimes, to keep your soul, your integrity, the very deepest part of you that you know is right and true, you have to be alone.
This is America/We Gon' Be Alright
Childish Gambino's "This is America" and Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" both have powerful visual and lyrical commentary. They address many social issues including police violence, gun violence, and capitalism.
Childish Gambino's "This is America" begins with a guy walking to a chair and sitting down to play a guitar. Childish Gambino, with his back to the camera, suddenly turns and begins dancing toward the camera. When he reaches the guitarist, now wearing a hood, Childish Gambino pulls out a gun and shoots him in the head.
Childish Gambino begins to dance again, his facial expressions and behavior wild and incongruent with the events that have just taken place. The tone of the lyrics and music change from wanting to party to addressing some of the darker realities of America like gun violence and the police. Then Childish Gambino enters an area where a church choir is singing and he shoots them all. Even though Childish Gambino is the shooter in the video, and the scene could reflect gun violence in general, I am always reminded of the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The scene could also be saying nowhere is sacred, and mass shootings happen everywhere now. This is America.
The video becomes more and more chaotic with people running, a man falling off the balcony, police, a car on fire. Childish Gambino continues to dance and sing about vapid things like "I'm so pretty" and money, which contrast with the scenes around him.
Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" opens in black and white at the Port of Oakland and shows scenes of nice houses. Then a distressed man yells, and sneakers are seen hanging on a powerline. There is a scene looking up at tall buildings, and then another distressed yell is heard from the man. Scenes from the city continue to play, and they become more chaotic: money, fire, being chased by the police, and a gunshot. Kendrick Lamar and his friends are sitting in a car. The camera pans back and in a moment of magical realism, we see the cops are carrying the car.
Both videos show a black man in America, trying to live his life. He lives his life despite the circumstances and chaos around him, though he becomes a part of those scenes around him. There is a positivity in Kendrick Lamar's "Alright", as he repeatedly sings, "We gon' be alright." Childish Gambino's "This is America" is far darker, and in the end, we see a haunting visual of Childish Gambino running away and terrified. Kendrick Lamar's video ends with him being shot by the police's finger gun, but Kendrick Lamar smiles up as he lays on the ground. The scene is upsetting, but there is a much more positive feeling after watching Kendrick Lamar's video. "We gon' be alright." In contrast, Childish Gambino's concluding words reflect how his race is what matters in the end and how he's "just" a black man and a product.
Sorry to Bother You
"Sorry to Bother You" by Boots Riley is a film for which you cannot be prepared to watch. I was under the vague impression that viewers thought it was very unexpectedly weird. I had read it was supposed to be anti-capitalist. I am familiar with Lakeith Stanfield from his roles in “Atlanta” and “Get Out”, and I think he's a fantastic actor. So, when I attended an online screening of the film, I thought I was prepared for this movie.
The opening scene had me hooked immediately, from Cassius Green's desperation to get a job, to his new boss admitting he doesn't care who he hires. If anyone hires you immediately, there is bound to be trouble. Cassius sees an opportunity though, and he takes it.
Detroit is Cassius Green's girlfriend. She is a beautiful artist and activist, and unlike Cassius, she has a firm hold on her moral convictions. She helps Cassius to maintain perspective in the world. At the beginning of the film, he wonders about "Worry Free", the live-at-work organization being advertised on the television. Detroit asks, "Are you crazy?" before showing him her Murder/Kill earrings. Later, Detroit is so steadfast in her morals, they drive a wedge between herself and Cassius. I think Cassius needs Detroit to keep him in check, and his life really went off the rails when she wasn't around.
Cassius’ initial acceptance of the telemarketing job at Regal View is reasonable since he needs money. His subsequent choices cause his life to quickly escalate to the level of insanity. Needing money to survive became grotesque greed and moral degradation, and once he was passed the point of no return, he paid heavily.
Detroit’s only confusing moment was her art show where she seems to behave in a way that is unlike her. “Why would you subject yourself to this?” Cassius asked her. I think she was struggling with how to handle what was happening in her relationship with Cassius. Love is not controlled by reason, and we do things that are crazy when we love people.
Detroit stands by Cassius even though she is fighting against the capitalist system. Cassius tells her he did it for her, but that’s not really true. Detroit is a ride-or-die girlfriend whose love for Cassius transcends materialism and capitalism, and Cassius knows this. Detroit loves him for who he is as a person. She doesn’t care about false assertions that your value is in your contributions to capitalism and what you own because of your labor. Detroit loved Cassius when he was sleeping in a garage with a broken door. She loved him all the way until the end when the sun finally exploded-- at least for Cassius Green.
**Explain TWO (2) real-life issues that make it necessary to create your Earthseed community. What are you seeking shelter from?
My Earthseed community is an escape from capitalism and racism, which can be more succinctly described as racial capitalism. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore says, “Capitalism requires inequality and racism enshrines it.” Capitalism in the United States was founded upon enslavement of African peoples, the commodification of black bodies, the exploitation of their labor, and the theft of indigenous land by European colonizers. This allowed many white people to accumulate large amounts of wealth, while other white people were placated with assurance they were of the superior race. Legal oppression continued with Black Codes, Jim Crow, and enforcement by poor white people (slave patrols) who were given the power to terrorize black people. This is capitalism’s inescapable legacy.
Racial capitalism functions through a very intentional design and is always meant to exploit people. It places ever-shifting racial categorizations in hierarchical order, always with the white categorization at the top. Wealth disparity in the United States continues to widen. State sanctioned violent law enforcement agents and imprisonment have become a multi-billion dollar industry. The American Dream is a lie. The few who benefit from the capitalist system almost always have generational wealth and are well-connected. Revolution doesn’t come from a sparse few outliers succeeding from this system. My Earthseed community is based on a rejection of capitalism and racism.
**Quote two (2) Earthseed verses from Parable of the Sower and show how you will apply them to your community. You may be creative in your interpretation.
One of my favorite quotes from Parable of the Sower is,
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
God Is Change.”
I believe the first four lines are definitely true, and each individual human being has the capacity to create positive change in the world. If “the only lasting truth is change”, followers of my Earthseed community would have to continue to adapt to the world over time and yet somehow hold onto the basic foundation of our community.
“In order to rise
From its own ashes
This another quote I really like, partially because I relate to the phoenix on a personal level. The phoenix is an image of rebirth and strength after one’s life has been physically or figuratively burned to the ground, and it has a spiritual connection for a lot of people. The quote sounds positive, as if anyone wants to be a phoenix. Instead, I think it just means those are the conditions in which one becomes a phoenix and then rises from the ashes. My community would be a group of warriors who had survived somehow and realized that community is the best way to sustain our future survival.
**Explain WHERE you will create your Earthseed community to be safe.
I think we would create our community on an island somewhere. An island sounds improbable because in a capitalist, imperialist world, you expect all the islands to be occupied or owned by some multinational corporation, capitalist or government. However, the island would not necessarily need to be completely uninhabited. If the community on the island seemed like a safe one in which to coexist, the Earthseed community could begin there.
**Who can join your community and why? Who can’t join? Why not?
There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the year about a nation divided cannot stand and let’s band together without any regard for politics or social views. This was after the capitol was invaded by right-wing white supremacists in a failed coup attempt. Those people are not people with whom I believe I can reconcile differences. They carried symbols of racism and violence. They committed acts of violence and murder. Obviously they cannot be a part of my community, but neither can anyone who believes in trying to have peaceful reconciliation with people like that. Anyone who values money over life cannot join my community. Anyone who believes in any sort of hierarchical value system for humanity cannot join my community. We will acknowledge each others’ differences but they will not be put in a tiered or numerical value system.
What will your leadership model be for your community?
My community will be egalitarian without a central leader. If anyone wants to be a central leader, they can’t be a part of my community. Our goal is to live together in a supportive community, not feed anyone’s ego or devolve into a miniature stratified capitalist community.
**Create a FUTURE TECHNOLOGY (one on the horizon, not something like teleportation or time travel) to help improve life at your Earthseed community.
We would have an amphibious vehicle which could travel on land and in water. We would be able to reach either end of the island quickly. We could travel easily to other islands and across them. This would be an improved version of current cars that turn into boats. This one would offer more protection while traveling in the water. A futuristic enclosed dome as a protective cover would over it. There would be a possibility for the vehicle to hover as well.
**Explain/show how your Earthseed community will SURVIVE.
My Earthseed community will survive by working together to have a thriving community. We will have a community garden space where anyone can grow or eat the food without question. When I went to Santa Monica College, I planted, tended, and harvested a garden plot with a few classmates. There was spinach, arugula, and herbs. We set up a shared schedule to care for our garden. People will contribute their skills such as fishing, cooking, sewing, carpentry, music, art, etc.
Explain/show what TWO steps your Earthseed community will make to build a better future, i.e. education, housing, conservation, farming, etc.
My community will be one hundred percent housed and fed with no concern for how much money they possess or whether they have a job. People are always more valuable than money and my community will exist and thrive in that spirit.
Janelle Monáe's "Dirty Computer" is a beautiful, musical, afrofuturist film about a woman named Jane57821. She has been kidnapped and taken to a compound where people view her as a "dirty computer". Jane's memories are being erased one by one to return her to a "clean" state. Interspersed between the scenes from the futuristic compound are Jane's memories. From the beginning, she remembers a woman with whom she had a romantic relationship. While in the compound, the woman from her memories visits her. The woman tells Jane she is a "torch" who has come to "bring her to the light". Jane recognizes the woman as her girlfriend, but the woman claims they are strangers.
Jane's memories are youthful scenes of wild and free exuberance mixed with science fiction elements like flying robots which appear to be the enemy. The robots seem similar to police, to whom Jane and her girlfriend grudgingly show their IDs when they are pulled over in their car.
Janelle Monáe's music throughout the film is filled with statements of rebellion against societal expectations of her. She notably sings about sexuality, gender, and her experiences as a black woman. Her lyrics are often unabashedly about women in her life and her sexual feelings toward them. Her music also reflects her views on social issues such as feminism, police brutality, and capitalism. Janelle Monáe knows who she is, and she fights for her freedom and the freedom of others.
The music pays homage to musicians who obviously inspired Janelle Monáe. "Make Me Feel" is undeniably inspired by Prince. The first scene accompanying this song has men dressed like one of David Bowie's alter-egos.The fashion throughout "Dirty Computer" is from another generation and has a lot of elements from the 1980's. Jane’s character wears a black leather jacket with spikes, pretty dresses, suits and ties, pants that are meant to elicit an image of female genitalia, as well as many other artistic and fashionable clothing items which indicate gender fluidity.
Near the end of "Dirty Computer", Jane's girlfriend walks her down a hallway where Jane falls to the floor. The scene is reminiscent of the story of Jesus' crucifixion, especially when you consider her tattoo and the previous scene of a beach with Jane, her girlfriend, and a man.
Jane and her girlfriend are in love, and the strength of their love is what sustains them in the oppressive system in which they live. Their love transcends the system's efforts to have control over them. "That's not a memory. What is that?" asks one of her captors.
Afrofuturism in music has been around for decades. It can be found in George Clinton's "Mothership Connection" where the lyrics are about longing to ride on the mothership and the music entices you away to distant starscapes. Sun Ra is another representative of afrofuturism in music. His film "Space is the Place" is a beautiful afrofuturist imagining of another planet for black people. Janelle Monáe pays homage to Sun Ra and "Space is the Place" in her "Tightrope" video with her own version of hooded mirror people. Janelle Monáe has created a fresh new image and contributions for the genre which will be built upon by musicians into the future.