Pumzi is a fascinating science fiction film created and directed by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and was screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. I really like what Wanuri had to say here in this talk about her film, especially about the notion of science fiction being “new” to Africa:
I challenge that 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 fictitiously science or speculative fiction within a story, then we’ve always used it. Because, we’ve used botany, we’ve used entomology, the idea of the study of animals to tell stories, or the idea of insects to tell stories, or the idea of natural sciences and using trees…that’s 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, storytellers told their stories to villages and it never got past that, then stories would 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 out of Africa. I don’t think that the stories are new. I don’t think that science fiction is a new genre just like I don’t think fantasy is a new genre in Africa. It’s always existed, it’s how we’ve told stories to our children, it’s how we communicated morality and tradition, a code of conduct and how to behave and how to be part of your society.
I also like what she mentioned regarding how her work being described as afrofuturism (which it also is) is then typed that way solely to divide it from science fiction (which she classifies it as). And we already know what science fiction in the mainstream looks like. White. So then her work’s Blackness is not celebrated but used as a way to classify the work away from the mainstream.
This reminds me of…well everything. All media that people of African descent creates is “Black media” where Blackness is not recognized as the rich source of power, creativity and culture it entails but as a”subcategory” away from work it’s equal and superior to in the “colourblind” mainstream, which clearly centers Whiteness as ‘universal” and anything else as a deviation.
It was nice to see a film that incorporates dystopian themes without erasing Blackness (or making its appearance one-dimensional or a trope) or culture and centering Whiteness as the “oppressed” and the only complex humans worth a futuristic story. I wish her the best with her future work (this interview video is an older clip) and hope to see more work like this from people of African descent all over the diaspora. I think work like hers is really awesome.
(H/T newsouthnegress where I first saw this video)
I did a presentation on her for my Representing Africa in Film class. She is amazing and her TedxTalk is also something worth watching