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New PBS It's Lit Video Essay Celebrates Afrofuturism's Past and Present

From Octavia Butler to Black Panther, explore the transformative power of Afrofuturism.

The PBS digital series It's Lit uses funny and informative video essays to explore all things book-related. Co-hosts Princess Weekes and Lindsay Ellis have previously covered subjects like the evolution of science fiction, the appeal of fan fiction, and the strengths and shortcomings of mandatory high school reading lists. 

In the latest It's Lit episode, Weekes take a look at Afrofuturism across movies, music, and books. Watch the video below.  

As Weekes explains, Afrofuturist works have received mainstream acclaim in recent years, including the box office success of Marvel's Black Panther; Tomi Adeyemi's award-winning Legacy of Orisha series; and singer Janelle Monáe's concept album Dirty Computer

These works are a departure from whitewashed visions of the future such as the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Jetsons, which Hugo Award-winning author N.K. Jemisin highlighted in her essay "How Long 'til Black Future Month?" Writing on the conspicuously Eurocentric vision of the future presented in the cartoon, Jemisin asks what happened to people of Color: "Are they down beneath the clouds, where the Jetsons never go? Was there an apocalypse, or maybe a pogrom? Was there a memo?"

RELATED: Explore Afrofuturist Mermaid Novel The Deep

By contrast, Afrofuturist works imagine a future for people of the African diaspora, whose histories have been deliberately obscured by colonialism. In addition to highlighting recent Afrofuturist works (Wakanda forever!), Weekes also celebrates the Afrofuturist visionaries who are no longer with us, including Pauline Hopkins, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Octavia E. Butler. The late Butler, whom Weekes calls "the GOAT," or Greatest of All Time, has received increased attention in recent years, in part because her visions of the future have proven to be almost prophetic. 

RELATED: Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors You Need to Read 

For instance, Butler's Earthseed duology depicts a young woman struggling to survive in an America ravaged by climate change. In the second book in the series, a corrupt leader even promises to 'make America great again.' The protagonists must adapt to a rapidly-changing landscape, trusting in the belief that "the only lasting truth is Change." 

For more essential Afrofuturist reads, download the books below!

Earthseed

By Octavia E. Butler

Lilith's Brood

By Octavia E. Butler

How Long 'Til Black Future

By N.K. Jemisin

Dhalgren

By Samuel R. Delany

Featured still from "It's Lit" on YouTube.

Published on 20 Mar 2020

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