Weeks after Black Panther first mesmerized audiences, the film has raked in more than $1 billion at the box office. The world is still buzzing over the studio and director Ryan Coogler’s accomplishments.
It’s a super-hero film, but one that manages to do something never before accomplished in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: cater to both longtime comics fans and, with a dramatic and beautiful vision for the diaspora in the future, speak directly to African and African-American filmgoers in deeply resonant ways. What makes Coogler’s entry such an astounding achievement is that it does this without abandoning the titular character’s comic book origins as King T’Challa — and without damaging the sprawling-yet-fragile MCU timeline.
In fact, the film enhances the comic universe, spinning a tale that’s full of both modern political intrigue and reimagined ancient African rituals.
That blend has been long embraced by Afrofuturism, a genre and movement Coogler mined for creating the world of Wakanda, the fictional country where the Black Panther serves as king and protector.
Traditionally, most American sci-fi and fantasy works — and by turns, superhero comics — have erased the presence of black people in their depictions of future or otherworldly societies. Afrofuturism exists as the answer to that. It’s the marriage of sci-fi and African cultural markings expressed through film, comics, music, art, literature and, most importantly, community politics. It’s the real-world application of genre trappings that make Afrofuturism potent.
For audiences salivating over a potential Black Panther sequel (or at least for Avengers: Infinity War, which promises to prominently feature Wakandan lore), the the wait can seem like an eternity.
To satisfy that appetite, here’s a list of eight great works to dive into. The Afrofuture looks bright.
Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, Robert Mugge
This dreamy documentary highlights the ethereal, poetic vision of enigmatic jazz avant gardist Sun Ra. Released in 1980, when jazz was drastically moving toward a more sterile presentation, this film humanized the eccentricities of Sun Ra, yet still managed to reveal how mystical and mysterious the musician truly was. It shows the confluence of organization, discipline and cosmic delight that went into building fully realized trips to outer space — disguised as Arkestra concerts.
Seize the Time, Bobby Seale
Oakland’s revolutionary Black Panther Party for Self-Defense appeared a few months after Marvel debuted the superhero of the same name. After the adoption of its title for political use, the comic briefly changed its protagonist’s name, but T’Challa nonetheless became a powerful symbol of black empowerment. Seize, released in 1970, is an incendiary look by one of the Black Panther Party’s founding members at the climate, motivations and intricacies of how poor college kids and former gang members came together to radically change their communities for the better.
The Prey of Gods, Nicky Drayden
This sprawling, kinetic tale, released last year, is a mess of Afrofuturistic goodness. It’s representative of the tech-meets-tradition found in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series or Jennifer Marie Brissette’s Elysium — both afro-techno modern masterpieces in their own right. Prey has a narrative voice that etches itself into your psyche and doesn’t let go, unraveling a tale of demigoddesses, sentient A.I., mind-altering hallucinogens, chaotic bureaucracy, and the perils of rock stardom. Set in a rapidly changing near-future South Africa, Drayden pulls no punches, deftly weaving a tale for the ages.
Hardware, Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan
This Milestone Comics series tells the story of a black American man whose tech savvy and genius could rival T’Challa’s. After finding the company he works for is up to no good, he dons a highly advanced armored suit to combat the very organization he works for. It’s sheer comic book madness — wild action that pulls no punches, with a strong lead character who owns the page. The forward-thinking Milestone Comics (responsible for such groundbreaking work as Static Shock, Icon and Blood Syndicate) was the brainchild of McDuffie, who passed away in 2011, and Cowan, who fought for the success of black-led superhero books in a time — the mid ’90s — when it was thought nigh impossible.
Anything from Rosarium Publishing
Rosarium is a five-year-old Maryland-based publishing house that operates by a vision of true multiculturaism. Led by Bill Campbell and his cohorts, the company lives by the code: “Talent comes from everywhere.” In a 2013 anthology called Mothership, Rosarium gathered and celebrated the Afrofuturist cosmic storytelling of more than 40 authors. It has also published a Southeast Asian seapunk collection called The Sea is Ours, and a compilation of Latinx sci-fi and fantasy titled The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria. The publishers’ ideas have attracted writers like Junot Diaz and Nisi Shawl and artists like John Jennings, who drop by regularly to lend a hand, tell a tale and join the ever-growing family.
The City, Milton J. Davis
Milton Davis, who co-curates with Balogun Ojetada the seminal FB group State of Black Science Fiction, coined the phrase “cyberfunk.” The word is a play, obviously, on cyberpunk, one meant to denote cybernetic, tech-driven or dystopian tales that feature African-American lead protagonists, center themes around black issues, and take on the African diaspora’s relationship to technology. The City is the culmination of that vision, a semi-experimental anthology that weaves 18 semi-connected stories from 18 different writers. Many of the stories share the high-minded tech wizardry and philosophical nuances of Black Panther and The Matrix. It’s a powerful work that pulses and vibrates with a lucid clarity.
Vixen, G. Willow Wilson
Vixen, an African superhero with an ancient talisman that enables her to tap into fields of energy connecting woman and nature, is an almost criminally underused character in the DC Comics pantheon. In the stories, by rubbing an amulet necklace, actress/model/businesswoman Marie McCabe can summon the inherent abilities of any animal — flight from birds, strength from bears, electricity from eels or the speed and power of a lion. Creator Willow Wilson, who is also the acclaimed writer of Ms. Marvel, steeps her tales in the often mishandled political intrigues of Africa, the tension of the militarization of small villages, and what it means to be an expatriate of that community. It’s also a stunning epic that tells the tale of an oft-neglected group.
Anarchism and the Black Revolution, Lorenzo Kom’Boa Erving
While the Panthers embraced a staunch socialist stance that bordered on communism, their FBI-induced dismantling left black radicals searching for more egalitarian and sustainable solutions. Komboa Erving, a former Panther, helped introduce the concept of self-governing anarchism as a political idead for the black community. With this book, the activist laid a blueprint for how organized and self-determined communities could thrive without oppression, without vanguardism, and with semi-tribal cohabitation. Erving’s anarchy is neither a dreamy utopia or a harsh, structureless Mad Maxian chaos, but one of mutual aid and empowerment — reflecting, in fact, many of the hallmarks of Wakanda. A fascinating read, this is likely one of the hardest-to-find pieces on the list. Nevertheless, the future of black folk in America can’t be imagined without it.