Butler: Emphasizing the “Afro” in Afrofuturism

Standard conceptualizations of Afrofuturism tend to focus heavily on the technological aspect of futurity, particularly as seen in Black Panther, with their tech developments, and even in Space is the Place, which foregrounds extraterrestrial exploration. In Parable of the Sower, however Octavia Butler presents an alternative approach to Afrofuturism that seems to prioritize the “Afro” aspect more heavily than a sci-fi based tech world. Although a dystopian science fiction, Parable of the Sower seem to examine more intensely the religious and communal structures within black culture that might contribute to an specifically black vision of the future: “This was about staying alive, learning to live outside…” (64). With this statement, Butler forces readers to contemplate how a belief system might have the same promise of surviving and shaping the future as more typical sci-fi features, such as new technologies. Indeed, Butler also highlights the imperative of, within a community attempting to survive, finding “someone you trust to protect your back” and having “a good, comfortable, recreational time,” (69); such values serve to elevate features of African communalism and spirituality that reinforce the importance of blackness and black history, rather than just black scientific advancement, in discussions of Afrofuturism. In fact, from what I’ve read, Butler spent a considerable amount of time researching African religions while writing this novel. The payoff of that research comes in a work recenters the black community’s collective history and experiences as a focal point of Afrofuturism. Specifically, this focus on religion and community seems to serve, within the novel, the purpose of achieving advancement, rather than letting advancement and sci-fi tropes overshadow the specificity of the black community.

 

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