Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

Black People Don’t Like Steampunk, Fantasy and Science Fiction!

Black People Don’t Like Steampunk, Fantasy and Science Fiction!

BalogunAt this year’s Dragon*Con, an author and Steampunk scholar I know posed the question: “How come black people don’t like the fantasy / sci fi genre? I mean, there are no sci fi / fantasy films directed, produced, or starring African Americans, so why aren’t they getting behind you and supporting Rite of Passage, a film written by, directed by, produced by and starring Black people?”

First, let me say that while a few people from all ethnic backgrounds have supported the making of Rite of Passage with in-kind donations or donations, the majority of that few has been of African descent. As far as why more Black people have not supported us, or why the majority of us don’t support independent, Black-created science fiction and fantasy films in general – because we do, indeed, support big-budget Hollywood science fiction films with our hard-earned dollars – I believe there are several factors at work.

In discussing this issue with co-creator of the Rite of Passage world, author, publisher and Executive Producer of Rite of Passage, Milton Davis, his opinion is that “Most Black people want reality. Many of us struggle to make ends meet; we’re living check to check; we’re facing getting our light turned off, so we don’t have time to delve into make believe.”

Dont Like 1In regard to those Black people to whom Milton is referring, I believe a good dose of quality Science Fiction and Fantasy is exactly what they need. Science fiction and fantasy peek into the realm of possibility and an escape from the harshness and cruelty of the “real world”.  Science Fiction and Fantasy stories deal with our real-world issues, but cover them in a veneer of the improbable and maybe even the impossible, thus making the bitter pill of life easier to swallow.

In traditional African cultures, it is through the telling of stories of heroism, bravery, the overcoming of overwhelming odds, magic, fearsome creatures, powerful artifacts and amazing technology that we instill good character in youth and encourage good character in everyone. My research tells me that the same is true of all cultures. Every culture on earth has its myths, fairytales and folklore and in most societies, djeli – bards, or griots who tell stories about a culture’s heroes, villains and history – are held in the highest regard.

Black DieselpunkAnother reason why many Black people have not supported Rite of Passage is because in their minds, ultimately, they are not supposed to.

Why? Because Rite of Passage is Science Fantasy; it is Steamfunk, thus it is not “real enough” to the Black experience.

We often feel Science Fiction, Science Fantasy and Steamfunk are not “real enough” because most authors and filmmakers within those genres have not made room for an epic telling of a Black Fantasy and Science Fiction tale. We – the creators of Rite of Passage weren’t supposed to do this so, to many, the possibility of a group of Black people making an epic Science Fiction Film that is not only well-done, but is hotter than fish-grease, seems far-fetched.

SteamfunkA third reason – the reason why, surprisingly, most of our support has not come from the many fellow Black creators of science fiction and fantasy who know of Milton Davis’ and my work –  is that there is a perception among many people that if a Black person makes a Science Fiction film – particularly Milton and I, who create stories for and about Black people – that story will have more to do with pushing some “Black agenda”, overcoming some great racial injustice, or other political issue than with telling a great story. While Rite of Passage is set in the time of Reconstruction; while it does deal with the issues of sexism and racism; it is first and foremost a great story, told in a dynamic, exciting and entertaining way.

Rite of Passage deals with universal issues that intrigue, encourage and plague us all.

After I gave my answer the Author / Steampunk Scholar had one more question: “Where can I donate to the making of Rite of Passage?”

My response? Go here!

*We accept monetary and in-kind donations.

Here is a list of people who have already donated. We thank them so much!

And we thank you – in advance – for joining their ranks!

Elizabeth Watasin

Tade Thompson

Mark Cantwell

Chris Ahrendt

Becky Kyle

Cynthia Ward

Talitha McEachin

XPJ Seven

Jamal Narcisse

Tananarive Due

Anonymous

Barbara Murray

Kenisha Luby

Keith Gaston

Louise Howard

Steven J.Workman

Danny Rodriguez

Lynn Emery

Gerald Boney

Ron Hall

Karen Marie Mason

23 responses

  1. i suppose this could be considered a fine enough argument if you accept the premise…which i don’t.

    i also don’t accept the notion that a unilateral assessment of how a multifaceted community relates to 3 separate subcultures can be made based on one specific project (i.e., if folx don’t relate to a specific project, it is because they have issues with its entire genre reach). the premise is not rooted in current trends and social contexts, given the burgeoning popularity of afrofuturism and Afropunk as expressed, for example in the embrace of Octavia Butler and other artists of Afrikan heritage as griots for envisioning social change (e.g.,http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/09/octavias_brood.html) .

    but, whatever. all that only matters if one agrees that their sense of reality is not the only one that exists in the universe.

    September 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    • Thanks, so much, for your feedback.

      September 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm

  2. Ronald T. Jones

    I believe that there is also a perception among some blacks that there are no black people participating in spec fiction, either as consumers or producers. This is where the internet comes in. A simple search online for blacks in science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, black cosplay, black superheroes, bleeks, blerds, etc will yield copious information concerning blacks in these areas. The fact that there are conventions organized around black participation in spec fiction more than suggests the existence of a strong, solid, growing movement.

    September 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    • I concur Ronald!
      I was told, by a reliable source who works in administration at fan conventions around the country, that Black people are the fastest growing demographic at Cons.

      September 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    • As someone of color who is relatively new to the Steampunk genre, I immersed myself in the culture like most newbies to a new-found interest would do; with gusto and perseverance. In speaking to my friends of all colors about my new ‘hobby’ I was not met with resistance as much as the constant question ‘what is steampunk’? I happily do my best to explain the genre but I am best at explaining why I am interested in the the genre in the first place: I love the costume play. I love re-imaging a past that I can rewrite what my role could be if I were empowered with devices that my slave ancestors would not have had the luxury to possess. I can take the best of what a period offered, transcend and/or illuminate the worst and create my world. In reality, the Steampunk genre is very, very new to literature (less than 50 years old if you do not count H.G. Wells or Verne) and film. The majority of people have no idea what it means outside of a few television shows that flirted with the genre. As with anything, exposure and education will pull in more fans of the genre.
      So to conclude, I hope people read Balogun’s article here, donate if you can (no matter how small or large) to ‘the cause’- more steampuink/funk stories made, more juice to the genre!

      September 12, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      • Well said, A.L.!
        And thank you, so much, for your feedback and for your kind donation!

        September 13, 2013 at 8:21 am

  3. I am so glad to hear that! It’s that type of information that some blacks are unaware of, which leads them to assume a supposed lack of black interest in things spec fiction related.

    September 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    • Thank you, so much!
      I am working hard to disprove that assumption. :)

      September 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  4. Though I personally am not an avid fan of Steam Fantasy (punk or funk), a compelling if not rousing fantasy story is worth it’s weight in gold! Especially when you’d like to forget for a while the concerns of everyday life. For many years I dealt with the condescension of both black and whites at the prospect of my being a fan of fantasy and sci-fi because ‘Black people don’t get into that stuff.’ Yet, as time went on I found people of color in general ‘coming out’ as it were with their avid (if not rabid) enthusiasm for such material when away from the ‘herd’. Now, with cosplay, gaming, comics and animation taking such a prominent role as entertainment those voices saying, ‘that’s just for kids or white folks’ are growing silent. One thing is certain, the next big wave of creators and entertainers will come from so-called minorities as it has been an immensely untapped and neglected market. Whomever is able to successfully ‘land’ this massive and eager demographic first will break the back of the traditional market.

    September 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    • Well said, Master Wolf!

      September 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm

  5. I have always had a problem with most_______ people statements. I am black, I enjoy SF but I have never heard of this project. I think it might simply be a matter of getting the message out.

    I have found that people will support, even if it is not something they are into, if they believe it is helping other minorities break into an industry or area underrepresented by that demographic whether female /male or ethnicity. For instance at one point I was heavily into motorsports (NASCAR and INDY), when I would tell other black people about it more than a few had not attended a race or felt it was a racist sport, but when I told them about black or female drives who were trying to break in I found the people I spoke to became interested and wanted to learn more or about a way to support.

    Good Luck! I hope you succeed and find a way to connect with all your potential audiences.

    September 12, 2013 at 8:40 am

    • Thanks you so much!
      And thanks, for your feedback!

      September 12, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    • great points!

      September 17, 2013 at 10:23 am

      • Thanks, I know it was kinda long lol.

        September 18, 2013 at 10:37 am

  6. As a consumer and an avid reader my concern is access and knowing where to find what I’m looking for. When I go to book store and see two dedicated shelves to all that is African American and what you see there is limited and then if you go over to sci-fi or fantasy sections you’re still stumped with finding us. Having worked in a bookstore as a side gig having persons on staff who were knowledgeable of the literary genre contributed greatly to the diversity of what was purchased and housed in the store and when people knew you had something they’d know where to go or where to find it.

    September 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm

  7. D. Gabay

    Believe it or not we DO support and encourage black SF and fantasy. The fact is that even if we do find these communities on-line its not always as easy to access them or get involved either because of distance, or because we get the information after the fact. It IS however a growing community and the more we put it our there and inform and link each other to these communities the more we will see a higher rise in Afro support for these projects.

    It all starts somewhere but no matter how small it can grow. With me, it has always been about reading rather than participating – not for lack of enthusiasm but I was never able to find these communities readily available where i am from. Its been slow but with searching and reaching out I have found lots of communities, on-line sites and blogs that I am a regularly a part of – if not in body then in my own methods of support.

    September 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

  8. “Black People Don’t…”

    Jesus H. Christ! I am SOOOOOOO tired of that premise. Who are the doyens of “Blackness” who get to decide what “Black People” Do or Don’t…Whatever? Because when I find them, I’m turning in my “Black Card!”

    As a Content Producer of Color, my interest is making work that is inclusive of people whose presence is generally absent from mainstream popular culture. I’ve been reading fantasy/sci-fi my whole life and outside of Samuel Delany, there have been exceedingly few authors who share my cultural perspective (sorry, Octavia fans, but I like a masculine POV.) I want to see strong people of color, male and female and alien?, characters, with emotional depth, nuance, psychic complexity, in situations, and worlds that allow for their heroic qualities to shine through.

    Personally, the more content producers of color can produce and get out into the world, the better chance we have, collectively, of creating alternatives to the hegemonic blizzard of whiteness and its toxic, spirit-killing nihilism. Black consumers will seek out representations of themselves, if they are so inclined…and generally, many are…if it is available in the marketplace. Our jobs as content producers is to give them that choice.

    September 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    • This was not an article about ALL Black people…it was not about those who have always enjoyed Science Fiction and Fantasy. There is an untapped demographic for creators of speculative fiction, artwork and film to seek out and to reach; a demographic that will love what we create once they realize it is something they can relate to; something not corny or wack; something in which THEY are the heroes. With this article, I seek to inform that demographic and to encourage them to become a part of what we love so much.

      The title is a quote by the person who posed the question I mentioned at the beginning of the article; it is not an emphatic statement by anyone.

      September 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      • Thanks for the comment. I understand your point. I’m speaking more to your questioner and those like him who always show just how limited they are in spirit by suggesting that “Black people don’t____.” It is a deprivation of feeling and experience as to the great potentialities that exist in our world which are open to all beings if they just reach out a willing hand and have an open mind. Sadly, too many of our folk have been beat down so long that something so basic as “hope” is beyond their comprehension. Our science fiction and fantasy can give us some hope that we in fact will have a future that we can be the agents of determination for.

        September 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm

  9. “We often feel Science Fiction, Science Fantasy and Steamfunk are not “real enough” because most authors and filmmakers within those genres have not made room for an epic telling of a Black Fantasy and Science Fiction tale. We – the creators of Rite of Passage weren’t supposed to do this so, to many, the possibility of a group of Black people making an epic Science Fiction Film that is not only well-done, but is hotter than fish-grease, seems far-fetched.”

    Also, I will add, that when it IS hotter than fish grease, the very narrow-minded views on fantasy (hysterical, right, seeing as how it’s FANTASY) will have many NOT showing up because they assume the film done BY Blackfolks is FOR Blackfolks although many in Hollywood would be sitting in their offices w/the utmost of quizzical looks if Blackfolks applied the same logic to movies made BY whitefolks. I know many a Black person who saw Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and the myriad of Marvel and DC Comic Book movies w/barely a person of color in sight – BARELY.

    As to this point: “…is that there is a perception among many people that if a Black person makes a Science Fiction film – particularly Milton and I, who create stories for and about Black people – that story will have more to do with pushing some “Black agenda”, overcoming some great racial injustice, or other political issue than with telling a great story.” I say, so what if it does? I mean, it sucks that that’s the automatic assumption, like we sit around writing a treatise on the injustices we go through in this country and around the world. How ridiculous is that when, if you had half-a-brain you could watch the news and see it all there.

    But what if WE did? When THEY do, does it stop people from seeing the previous movies I mentioned? No. Has it stopped Hollywood from making, producing, and released more WWII/Holocaust related movies? No. Do we get it: Nazis bad. Yes. But on the flip side were there WWII movies about how Blacks were treated just to fight for their country? Were there movies about fellow Americans telling French women Black GIs had tails? Were there movies about Nazis, you know “bad”, being treated better in America as prisoners of war than the Black GIs going to Europe to fight Hitler? And what about those cozy American concentration camps they shoveled the citizens of America in, who happened to be of Japanese extract – where was Hollywood’s big budget film on that? But we still know, through their own “agenda” Nazis bad. Must always fight Nazis and Blackfolks are worried about some agenda filled dissertation in a movie? I say it’s bogus, lazy, and a continuation of a much greater problem that we have as a community.

    September 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    • Thanks, so much for your feedback, SR Torris. As always, very well said!

      September 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm

  10. I was at Dragon Con and wanted to make it to your panel but couldnt coordinate it with my schedule and the schedules of my friends. I am very glad to know there was a panel discussion about blacks or any minority group for that matter in reference to science ficiton, fantasy, steam punk or otherwise.

    My understanding (limited as it may be) is that we are very much interested in these genres. We dont see many representations because some of us simply dont know where to look. Although to be fair I must also say that disinterest in a particular project doesnt indicate a general disdain for an entire genre. While I really like the premise of Rites of Passage and the warrior-heroine depiction of Harriet Tubman, I am certain quite a few might find it ‘blasphemous’ for lack of a better word. We tend to assign these God/Jesus-like personalities to our black heroes (Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman) and some people don’t really want that tampered with. We have these ideas about the people we see as black heroes/heroines and we want to box them neatly and tie them off with a bow of purity that likely could not possibly have been the case in the context of the time and conditions in which these heroes/heroines lived. That being said with the growing number of black sci-fi authors and directors I am confident our exposure and inclusion in the genres mentioned will continue to grow and our perceptions will give way to new ideas of black champions beyond what has been presented in the past.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

    • VERY well said!
      And I hope to see you at a Con soon! :)
      Thank, so much, for your feedback!

      September 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm

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