FROM THE SLAVE SHIP TO THE SPACESHIP: THE AFROFUTURISTIC IMAGINATION IN SUN RA, ISHMAEL REED AND OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
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Centering on Sun Ra’s foundational role in the philosophy behind Afrofuturism, this thesis analyzes Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place (1974), the movie adaptation of his album Space Is the Place (1973), together with Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979), as literary examples of Afrofuturism. Introduced in the early 1990s by the cultural critic Mark Dery, Afrofuturism can be traced back to at least half a century earlier. It is African American artists’ response to the Atomic Age and the Space Age, incorporating historical elements, such as African roots, slave trade routes, Harlem Renaissance and Swing, with the Space Age technology that they were excluded from. Driven also by the civil rights struggles, from its nonviolent phase to its radicalization, African American artists projected themselves to the future as initiators of change, innovators of musical, artistic and literary modes. They were no longer “invisible” and passive victims, but active and creative agents in history. Sun Ra was among the first African American artists to adopt the conceptual possibilities of the Space Age. He embraced the idea of space and used it as a metaphor with which to claim a totally different world order. On the literary side, Ishmael Reed offered his vision of a better world “swinging” with “Jes Grew,” and Octavia E. Butler explored the complex structure of time with a female protagonist who was coerced into time travel to secure her presence in the present. This thesis aims at identifying and analyzing the Afrofuturistic imagination as seen in these texts, and suggests that Afrofuturism is in tune with contemporary popular culture as well as protest movements.