This is the twenty-first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 21 is called "Afrofuturism Week":
Afrofuturism is an exciting subgenre of science-fiction movies that has been gaining traction in the past few years with mainstream offerings such as the Black Panther and Spider-Verse films, as well as the TV show Lovecraft Country. Afrofuturism is all about centering and taking pride in the Black experience in alternate or imagined realities where Black people can define themselves, potentially without the influence of Western ideas or understandings. These stories can inspire people to build toward a better future and question the past and present social structures that create and maintain cultural and economic inequality between races. Common tropes include the use of African iconography, a rich color palette, and a focus on how technology and culture intersect.
This week, let’s escape the real world and venture forth into a world of new realities made possible by Afrofuturism with this list here.
From the examples I have seen, I think I had a mistaken sense of what made Afrofuturism. I'd seen the mainstream offerings, the Black Panther and Spider-Verse films and the TV show Lovecraft Country. If I'd looked at the suggested list more closely, I might have had a better feel for what Neptune Frost might be like. Touki Bouki ("unencumbered by the 'rules' of cinema"), Sankofa ("uses time travel to place a woman from modern times back into the horrors of the old South"), Fast Color ("a superhero movie, although a very low-key one that can be approached as just a mysterious fantasy"). The introduction above of Afrofuturism is a useful description of what happens in Neptune Frost: "centering and taking pride in the Black experience in alternate or imagined realities where Black people can define themselves, potentially without the influence of Western ideas or understandings" including "the use of African iconography, a rich color palette, and a focus on how technology and culture intersect."
That describes Neptune Frost, but in truth it's a film that defies ordinary description. Saul Williams and Anisia Useyman create a unique world, rooted in Burundi but taking place in a future connected intrinsically to technology. A community of young adults, dedicated to a different kind of world, use unexplained hacking skills to subvert the larger society while staying hidden (China and Russia are initially blamed for the hacks). The connection to "The Internet" eventually destroys them, or rather, the discovery of the community by the outside world allows the powers that be to destroy them. One person remains ... I don't know if this was meant as a positive ending, perhaps it's meant to be ambiguous.
Oh, and it's a musical.
Gender fluidity, colonialism, and yes, science-fiction ... it's a unique blend. Willliams and Useyman deserve praise for creating something new. Sometimes inscrutable, but always fascinating to look at ... I, at least, had never seen anything like it.