Soweto, 2066. This once deprived suburb of Johannesburg is transformed into a high-tech city in one of the animated films of the Kizazi Moto series (“Fire Generation”, in Swahili), that Disney+ has been broadcasting since Wednesday, July 5. Aboard a levitating racing car, a young teenager, who has trouble reconciling his Zulu and extraterrestrial origins, challenges a lord who also comes from another planet, who threatens to destroy his neighborhood.
Presented at the last Annecy Animation Film Festival, this collection of ten short anticipation films is riding the wave launched after the planetary triumph of Black Panther (1.2 billion dollars in revenue in 2018). This story of a black superhero defending his kingdom, Wakanda, brought “Afrofuturism” to the fore.
A portmanteau word that seems less obvious to define than it looks, as it designates a moving concept. “This is a futuristic projection that specifically concerns Africa,” summarizes Blaise Mao, editor-in-chief of the magazine Usbek & Rica, which devoted its penultimate issue to it. “Created in 1988 by an American journalist, Afrofuturism has its roots in the United States of the 1960s. by the struggle for civil rights and offers futuristic Afro-centric universes.
Afrofuturism cannot therefore be reduced to science fiction… nor to Africa! The label also annoys the Zimbabwean co-producer of Kizazi Moto, Tendayi Nyeke: “Of course, the directors are African and the films take place in Africa, but science fiction comes from everywhere and we would not want Afrofuturism in becomes a subgenre. It is true, notes Blaise Mao, that we do not speak of Eurofuturism for a work of European anticipation.
“From an American point of view, it’s very different,” points out Peter Ramsey, American co-producer of Kizazi Moto. Afrofuturism is a way for African-Americans, descendants of African populations, to connect to Africa through science fiction, and to have a positive perception of their future, a cool and beautiful vision of a future where Africans are at the forefront of technology.”
Produced by studios in English-speaking Africa, the films in the Disney series all convey an optimistic message. Not surprising on the part of the studio with big ears which seeks above all to entertain, even if it is not incompatible with Afrofuturism, “based on the idea of finding elsewhere to express oneself without necessarily finding solutions here and now, notes Blaise Mao. This dimension of openness does not always necessarily lead to happy utopias. Black Panther’s Wakanda, alternate history of an African nation if it had not been plundered, is a threatened kingdom”.
What is even more surprising is the very local content of the subjects covered: mining in Kenya, climate change in South Africa or the misdeeds of colonization in Zimbabwe. All in sets and costumes rooted in indigenous civilizations, ancient temples and sharp-edged masks. “Afrofuturism has always had a folkloric and political dimension,” analyzes the editor-in-chief of Usbek & Rica. The techno group Drexciya, from the Detroit art scene of the 1990s, had imagined that one of their songs was sung by female slaves who became mermaids after drowning in the Atlantic. »
This movement also exploits an “African mythology, unknown in the West, which is a formidable breeding ground for stories, believes Mohamed Zoghlami, specialist in creative industries in Africa. The young African generation wants to reclaim its culture, get out of the complex of colonial domination and project itself into the future”.
While waiting for this new creative breath from Africa, the platforms are sharpening their weapons to attract viewers in the countries of the black continent where they are present. Netflix is due to release Mama K’s Team 4, featuring Zambia and South Africa, on July 20. And Disney is currently producing an animated adaptation of a sci-fi comic book published by a Ugandan-Nigerian company. It is called Iwaju, which means “future” in Yoruba.