Futurity in black popular culture
- Afrofuturist cultural production and the field of Afrofuturist studies have received a surge of critical attention since the turn of the twenty-first century. Afrofuturist studies emerged in the mid-1990s to explore the continued significance of the history, culture, and experiences of the African diaspora in different visions of the future. Still a relatively nascent field, as Afrofuturist studies continues to transform, definitions of Afrofuturism evolve as well. Scholars have defined Afrofuturism as generally as a future-oriented worldview or as specifically as a genre of cultural production concerned with technologically advanced futures. This dissertation contributes to the ongoing discussions of Afrofuturism, reframing it as a method of cultural production that actively engages the past, present, and future to expand historical and contemporary understandings of race, sexuality, gender, and class in the post-civil rights American present and future. I examine creative representations of the future in pop culture texts that reimagine prominent moments and symbols in black American cultural history. Specifically, I analyze late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century science fiction and children's literature, music album covers and art, and an oral history from my grandmother. I see these pop culture texts shaping the basis of an Afrofuturist artistic canon. Through my analysis of these works I theorize Afrofuturism as the conceptual framework for cultural production—engaging in cultural memory and what I term, cultural prospect—that facilitates the reimagination of the histories of race, sexuality, class, and gender in present and future worlds. I begin my dissertation with my grandmother's oral history, detailing her journey from East Beckely, West Virginia to Harlem, New York in 1950, and the influence of Harlem's black popular culture on her decision to relocate. My grandmother's oral history helps to illuminate the transgenerational aspects and everyday ways Afrofuturism can surface in daily life as well as in popular cultural production. Her narrative prefigures Afrofuturism as a concept, yet is engaged in the same gestures of imagining and shaping better futures through the incorporation of black cultural phenomena. I then consider Virginia Hamilton's children's book, Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales (1995) and the connections between black oral and literary traditions and black female storytelling practices using history to envision and build better futures. I follow with a reading of Octavia Butler's postapocalyptic science fiction novels Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998), analyzing her protagonist Lauren Olamina as a black feminist leader who offers an instructional adult version of Hamilton's histories for the future. From there I continue to explore the themes Butler raises—race, gender, class, and leadership in postapocalyptic future—in visual and aural form in the album art, music, and performances of Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part One (2008). Employing interdisciplinary methods of analysis and drawing on the fields of cultural memory, ethnography, literary, visual, performance and feminist rhetorical studies, I bring a critical examination of sexuality, class, and gender to the study of race in the future and seek to expand the framework of Afrofuturist studies. Additionally, as I integrate race, class, sexuality and gender in my analysis, I disrupt conventionally segregated linear and popular histories of advancement such as racial, gender, or queer uplift, shifting the focus from a prescriptive and linear vision of progress and inexorable advancement to explore capacious imaginings of race, class, sexuality and gender in possible futures.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Charles, Alexis R
|Stanford University, Program in Modern Thought and Literature.
|Lunsford, Andrea A, 1942-
|Lunsford, Andrea A, 1942-
|Statement of responsibility
|Alexis R. Charles.
|Submitted to the Program in Modern Thought and Literature.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2016.
- © 2016 by Alexis Roberts Charles
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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