Africa & science fiction: Wanuri Kahiu’s “Pumzi”, 2009 | Interview


so I didn’t choose science fiction I was
writing a story and the story is about a girl in the
future and because the stories is about a girl in
the future it became a science fiction film I didn’t even know it was a science fiction film it was later on when I was just about to
start shooting and I was talking to my producer and he said: you know this genre is
science fiction right and he asked me to make a choice
because there was some elements of fantasy in the in the
original draft of the script so he said you have to decide whether or
not you want to go more science fiction or more fantasy; so I made a decision at that point to go more science fiction
than fantasy but it wasn’t an active choice that I’m gonna
make a science fiction film to deal with issues I was just writing a story about
something that I felt strongly about and I wasn’t, I didn’t know that
it would be interpreted as anything else other than just a story that I was
writing I think there’s more people writing
science fiction now, yes I think that has to do with a one: the ability to create, its easier to
create than it was before two: we are more exposed as a continent to
whatever different things are happening so our
imagination has grown leaps and bounds to be able to accommodate the ideas of different genres into the work that
we’re doing but I challenge at question that we’ve
just started I don’t think we’ve just started I think that science fiction has been a genre in Africa that has been used a lot for a
long period of time, way before I was even born and if we think about science fiction as
the use of science or something that is
fictitious science or speculative fiction within a story then we’ll always used it, because we’ve
used botany we’ve used entomology, the idea of the
study of animals to tell stories or the ideas of insects to tell stories or
the idea of Natural Sciences and using trees that’ all science fiction; maybe it
wasn’t as widely spread before because there wasn’t the internet
or there wasn’t the access to festivals or whatever, or oral
storytellers told their stories to villagers and they never got passed that and
then stories have been be repeated down but never went to a wider audience. I
think the difference now is that people have more access to
Africa and are better able to hear more stories
coming from Africa. I don’t think the stories are new. I don’t think that science
fiction is a new genre just I like I don’t think fantasy
is a new genre in Africa It has always existed. It’s how we have told stories to our children it’s how we have communicated morality
and tradition and a code of conduct and how to behave and how to be part of the society. The use of futurism and the use of
speculative fiction is, it may seem like it’s becoming a
trend but I still, I’m curious about that because i think in every culture that I’ve heard of
there’ve always been people in all parts of Africa that have either
look to space or have have had people who are seers, who could see into the
future and who could disseminate the future and
tell people what is going to happen so we’ve always been able to draw from things that are outside of this world to be able to make
sense of what is inside of the world so I still think that there is a trend definitely,
there is an Afrofuturist trend but some that Afrofuturist
trend back dates itself so the idea that now since Afrofuturism was coined in say the late 90’s or early 2000’s now it’s going back and looking at other
people’s work like George Clinton and says that George
Clinton was an Afrofuturist musician and saying well Sun Ra was an Afrofuturist musician and
saying pieces of John Coltrane’s work was Afrofuturist. So not only is it becoming a trend but I think it’s
involving work that was that existed before the term
was coined and including in it so it’s a lot broader then it would originally be if it
hadn’t drawn from the past but I do agree with you that there is a
trend ok Afrofuturist work coming out and I
worry about trends I worry about if people are making that
because they want to be part of the popular trend or if that’s really their way being
able to tell a story I think we should be conscious creators especially and I do mean especially people of African descent or
people from an African Diaspora or people who are on the continent or
who live outside the continent, we should be very clear about the images are we putting out of ourself because black people, in general, have had a very slanted image for a long
time we’ve always been portrayed as a violent,
we’ve always been portrayed as victims. Women have been portrayed
either as mothers or as prostitutes a there’s been a very strong emphasis on what the other sees us as and I think that for that reason and
because we have children that we are bearing and because there are people already here
now who exist my daughter exists now, that we are telling
stories to we need to be very clear about the
messages that we’re putting out very clear about messages we’re putting out, because especially coming from Africa where all the images that have come out
have been about starvation or children with flies in their eyes or war or destruction or poverty or hunger or famine they’ve been so many negative images
coming out of Africa that if we don’t actively combat those
images we’re doing ourselves a disservice and not
only for ourselves but for future generations and for that reason we have to be very
careful about being part of a trend for the sake
of being part of a trend or being part of a trend that is
actually saying something if your story is saying something
continue with that story and I’m not saying there is no reason to
be frivolous. There’s every reason to have pop culture and we do have a pop culture and is
every reason to be naive but you have to know
that in everything that you make you’re making a statement that people will perceive of it as a
black person unfortunately we don’t have the luxury
of saying things and people not perceiving it as a black
person or from a place that you are we don’t have that luxury if I was
European I wouldn’t be specifically targeted they wouldn’t specifically
target the place that I am to be able to define what kind of work
going but that’s different for us especially
as people of african descents people will target it and they’ll label it
and will put it in a little box and say well that’s black art or that
African art very specific my work is being called after Afrofuturist, it is not being called science fiction it’s been called Afrofuturist to put it
in a box where it’s understandable to people that it
comes from a black person or it comes from an African person or
person of African descent I think the use of technology is
different I think that we’re already adapting
technology and and we have a really innovative ways of using technology now
and that’s more interesting to me I think that if there’s more space for the uses of technology and the way
that we’re re using technology to be given a voice and to be pushed
to the forefront and to be made a trend then I think that
would that is more likely to a encourage more people to study science and there’s a lot of things that are
happening there’s many gadgets that are being made by different parts of Africa that are in response to their immediate
needs are and technologies been using in the most astounding mind opening ways and that’s really very
exciting for me to see I went to the MakerFaire in Nairobi and
I was completely stunned by the things that people were doing and there was this gadgets that the people
did on a phone, they were able to use their mobile phone to turn on their cattle, to turn on the
hot water in the house, to turn on the security system and these were all creation that were
coming out of Nairobi I think they should be a trend, a MakerFaire trend that encourages more
people to use science to solve everyday problems

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