SF Urban Film Fest
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SF Urban Film Fest

Here, Now and Beyond: Cities of the Afrofuture

“There is a future with Black people, in San Francisco, in Oakland, in the Bay Area.”

Written by Reanna Tong

Filmmaker and Panelist Afatasi the Artist speaks with an audience member after the group discussion.

In the middle of a large festive tent, that sat in the middle of the African American Art and Culture Complex (AAACC) Open Air Gallery, which sits in the heart of the Fillmore Western Addition, SFUFF Executive Director, Fay Darmawi, asked the audience, “How many people here know what Redevelopment Agencies are?” About 10 of the 80 people in the tent raised their hands. People sat on the very ground where the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency displaced masses of Black households in the 1970’s, yet few knew about the full history. This would be important as the night’s discussion would touch upon the past and present in order to see a future.

Hosted at AAACC, who extended the red carpet laying out heaters and cozy fire pits, and catered by Boug Cali on March 10th, attendees immersed in Bay Area and global Black excellence. Here, Now and Beyond: Cities of the Afrofuture was about the past just as much as it was about the present and future–more specifically, Afrofuturism. It was a night exploring the meaning of Afrofuturism. To one audience member, Afrofuturism is, “a cultural expression from African Americans reconnecting with their African American roots in a restorative way in hopes of creating a more equitable future.”

Audiences enjoy the atmosphere and programming at the African American Arts & Culture Complex. Bottom Left: SF Urban Film Fest Humanities Advisor and Founder Executive Director Darmawi introduce the program.

All four films of the evening were directed by Black women. The first film, Black Space, by Afatasi the Artist, juxtaposed San Francisco’s public spaces dedicated to key historical Black figures against public spaces dedicated to European settlers and colonizers. The differences are stark in size and visibility.

The second film by Annetta Laufer, Afro Punk Girl, follows a girl through a bleek and resource-depleted Britain with an old dandy. In a somewhat similar, futuristic and post-apocalyptic world, the third film, Pumzi by Wanuri Kahiu follows the journey of one scientist researching soil samples in a zero-waste underground society. She escapes this world and embarks on a solo trip above ground to find soil-rich land.

Top left: Black Space, Afatasi the Artist, 2020, courtesy the artist. Top right: Afro Punk Girl, Annetta Laufer of Roman Candle Productions, 2016, courtesy the artist. Bottom left: Pumzi, Wanuri Kahiu, 2010, courtesy Swank Motion Pictures. Bottom right: A Galaxy Sits in the Cracks, Amber Love, 2020

The last movie of the night, A Galaxy Sits in the Cracks, by Amber Love, diverges from sci-fi to talk about the past, present, and future of Black communities in Chicago, Detroit, and Durham. In this film, Afrofuturism is thinking about a different future for Black people. Afrofuturism is individual dust particles coming together, forming nebulous masses, and becoming bright stars. And the film’s parting words on Afrofuturism: “For a person who was enslaved to dream to be free, that’s Afrofuturist.”

Following the screenings, Celia C. Peters, a filmmaker, curator, and educator moderated the panel discussion with three Black natives of the Bay Area: Afatasi the Artist, Derick Brown, and Niema Jordan. The common thread of their pasts was a line of loved ones who had left their homes, laid new foundations in San Francisco, and built thriving lives in the city. The common thread of their present was observing changes to the Bay Area cities that they grew up knowing and loving. And the common thread for their futures is the Afrofuture.

Left: Niema Jordan on the mic during the live panel discussion. Right: Panelists Derick Brown, Niema Jordan, and Afatasi the Artist in conversation with Curator and Moderator Celia C. Peters

Afrofuture means something different to each panelist. To Derick, a future for African Americans; a bright and joyous future. His first time realizing this was with the Black Panther movement, where African Americans were filled with pride, love, and culture. To Niema, Afrofuturism existed before the term was even coined, from Black sci-fi movies, to Octavia Butler’s books, to Parliament-Funkadelic music. For her, all of these become “the way that we think about a better, more equitable, holistic, thriving, fulfilling, joyful future.” And for Afatasi, Afrofuturism is whatever the creator and anyone of Afro descent wants it to be. Simply showing up in an anti-Black world is a futurist act. Her first introduction to Afrofuturism was seeing Leontyne Price, a Black opera singer, on PBS–something that seemed old, yet so new.

Afrofuturism is whatever the creator and anyone of Afro descent wants it to be. Simply showing up in an anti-Black world is a futurist act.

Celia then asked panelists to share about their connections to San Francisco and the Bay Area, relative to both their unique and common experiences. Derick grew up across the street from AAACC. He described growing up in the Western Addition like a Jolly Rancher: hard, but sweet. Derick’s family came from the south and established themselves in the neighborhood, but no longer live in the city. Redevelopment Agencies were responsible for their displacement. Despite the traumatic history and losing many friends and family in the neighborhood, the Western Addition continues to be home to Derick and a place he loves.

In a similar vein, Niema’s family also used to live in San Francisco. Her family moved to Oakland when she was just 4, but whenever Niema visits the city, she is always engaged in memory. Niema thinks about how the city used to be and how people talk about how it used to be, almost as if the Black community is no longer present. One day, while Niema was living in New York, her mom said to her, “Come back to Oakland soon, because you may soon feel how I feel whenever I go to San Francisco.”

Afatasi grew up in Lakeview. Her dad came from the south having experienced unspeakable mob violence. Her mom came from Western Samoa, which until recently had been colonized. Afatasi grew up in San Francisco during the War on Drugs and watched classmates being arrested right outside of school. Both her parents had escaped trauma and sought out new futures, only to build a life in a city parading itself as a metropolitan. “San Francisco throws rocks, then hides its hand,” said Afatasi. It continues to be a segregated city.

In the face of constant change for the Bay Area’s Black community, some aspects have remained unchanged. Afrofuturism is here to stay. The histories, experiences, and memories of each panelist point to the importance of Afrofuturism. If Afrofuturism is seeing and believing in a bright and joyful future for Black people, even in the face and sitting on the very land of past and current traumas, then that is exactly what the audience saw on this night.

Panelists Derick Brown, Niema Jordan, and Afatasi the Artist pose with Curator and Moderator Celia C. Peters

Watch the panel discussion:

This event took place on March 10, 2022 and was curated by guest curator Celia C. Peters. For more information about the SF Urban Film Fest, visit our website.

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SF Urban Film Fest gathers a diverse, engaged audience and uses the power of storytelling to spark discussion and civic engagement around urban issues. We focus on what it means to live together in a city and make urban planning more equitable and inclusive.

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