Afrofuturism 101: Black To The Future

Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African culture with technology. It combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentrism and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique the present-day dilemmas of black people and to interrogate and re-examine historical events.

The term was coined by early Technoculture Writer Mark Dery in his 1993 essay “Black to the Future”.

Seminal Afrofuturistic works include the novels of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; the canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Angelbert Metoyer, and the photography of Renée Cox; the explicitly extraterrestrial mythoi of Parliament-Funkadelic, the Jonzun Crew, Warp 9, Deltron 3030, and Sun Ra; and the Marvel Comics superhero Black Panther.


Afrofuturism can be distinguished from Blaxploitation, an ethnic subgenre of  exploitation films emerging in the United States during the early 1970s. The films, portrayed famous but stereotypical Black characters like ‘Shaft’.

Although Blaxploitation films were originally made specifically for an urban black audience, the genre’s audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines once Hollywood realized the potential profit of expanding the audiences of Blaxpoitation films across those racial lines.


Blaxploitation Icon: Shaft


The difference between Afrofuturism and Blaxploitation lies in the ability of Afrofuturist Protagonists to imagine a reality beyond their current experience, whereas characters like ‘Shaft’ almost ‘revel’ in the ghetto experience without feeling the need to question how they got there, and whether perhaps the ghetto is not their natural home and should think of leaving.

Such ‘fundamental’ questions are cast aside for purely visceral pleasures in Films like ‘Shaft’. Afrofuturists however, directly confront the Social structure by questioning the ‘appropriate’ place for Black people firstly in Art itself, and by necessary extension Society…It is the rejection of a preconceived notion of the ‘role’ a Black person is expected to play in Art, and ultimately Society itself.

Basquiat & Other Afrofuturist Artists

Jean-Michel Basquiat December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist who during the late 1970s combined the hip hop, punk, street art movements with classical art.

You may remember the ‘Hip Hop Faculty’ entry we did on Graffiti and Basquiat last year. Since then, Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ 1982 painting, depicting a skull, set a new record high for any U.S. artist at auction, selling for $110,500,000.

Famous Basquiat Works

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The mantle has been carried by quite a few Artists from the Eclectic Sun Ra and Grace Jones, with Janelle Monae representing the movement in Pop Culture today. The success of Black Panther has further cemented the appeal of the Afrofuturist aesthetic.

Janelle Monae


Grace Jones: Slave To The Rhythm Full Album


Sun Ra



Afrofuturism represents a re-imagining of the Self beyond the limitations imposed by Society in both Art and ‘real’ life. In expressing themselves in ‘unexpected’ ways, Afrofuturists challenge the normalization of Black marginalisation within Society itself.

Check out more on Afrofuturism and our tribute to the Afrofuturist Movement in our Pinterest Board ‘Muthaland Funk’ below.

A documentary of the life and times of Basquiat can be viewed via our YouTube Channel’s ‘Music, Sports & Culture’ Playlist.


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