Artwork including ships carrying enslaved Africans

Units October 2, 2023

Afrofuturism Then and Now

Lesson Summary: Students learn and write about Black history and culture through the lens of Afrofuturism, which creatively illuminates past and present realities, and imagines liberated Black futures. Links: Unit resources

This unit was created by Team NZINGA as part of the 2022 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately seventeen lessons.


Students will be able to...

  • Understand the motivations for Black people to create stories, art, and music and engage in political advocacy.
  • Explain how Afrofuturistic work can inform us about racial struggles and achievements in the United States.
  • Contextualize Afrofuturistic popular culture within its socioeconomic and historical framework, beginning in the U.S. and extending into the Caribbean and Africa.
  • Communicate reading and research effectively through oral presentations and discussion.

Unit Overview:

Afrofuturism is a cultural movement that incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism into art, literature, and other forms of media, with a particular focus on the experiences and perspectives of African Americans. It often explores the intersection of technology and the African diaspora, and incorporates themes of resistance and empowerment.

Afrofuturism often challenges traditional narratives and stereotypes about Black people, and it offers alternative visions of the future that are inclusive and empowering. It can also be seen as a way of reclaiming and reimagining African cultural traditions and spirituality in a modern context.

Greg Tate said, “Black people live the estrangement that science fiction writers imagine.” In this unit, we will explore how Afrofuturism combines elements of African mythology, science fiction, African Diaspora history, magic, realism, and political fantasy in Black expressive texts across multimedia and artistic forms. Considering a diverse array of practitioners, this unit analyzes how African diaspora cultural producers—writers, visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers—use Afrofuturism to critique racial asymmetries in the present (or past) and to imagine as yet unrealized free Black futures.

By incorporating Afrofuturism into the study of Black History, we hope to promote diversity and inclusion. By exposing students to a wide range of perspectives and experiences, Afrofuturism can help to broaden their understanding of the world and to challenge traditional narratives and stereotypes. This can create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, and it can help to foster a greater sense of empathy and understanding among students.

Another potential outcome is the promotion of critical thinking and creativity. Afrofuturist themes and imagery often challenge conventional ways of thinking and can inspire students to imagine alternative futures and possibilities. This can promote higher-level thinking skills and can encourage students to be innovative and imaginative in their thinking and problem-solving.

Performance Task:

Essay Prompt: Afrofuturism is currently present in a variety of contexts, including music videos, academic texts, and museums. Martine Syms, a visual artist and writer, positions her 2015 Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto as a critical analysis, urging Black artists and activists to reshape, redefine, and recreate the dominant norms of Afrofuturism. Syms proposes an Afrofuturist perspective that downplays space adventures and otherworldly technological phenomena. Instead, she modifies Afrofuturism to include the more "mundane" advancements Black people are making on Earth in order to envision a more equitable space for future Black livelihood.

Responding to Syms’ call, write a 1-2 page argumentative paper explaining why a writer, activist, and/or other individual of your choice from the 18th and 19th centuries should be considered a proto-Afrofuturist. In your paper, describe how your chosen individual incorporates both the mundane and fantastical aspects of Afrofuturism into their life and/or body of work.


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