Black Speculative Tech – Uses of Technology in Black Science Fiction, Part 2

While history books would have us believe that scientific and technological advancement suddenly sprang forth during the Age of Enlightenment in late-17th century Western Europe, a deeper dig into the matter reveals that the institution of African enslavement has an inextricable connection to the development of the Western scientific establishment. Scientific experimentation and studies on enslaved Black bodies became the justification for continued enslavement. In her book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet A. Washington provides a history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, presenting the first full account of the gross mistreatment of Black people as forced subjects of experimentation.

Because of institutional racism and our positions as mere subjects of science, Black people have typically been excluded from the mainstream scientific establishment as actors, practitioners, researchers and policymakers. Black scientific and technological innovation and achievement have gone virtually unrecognized, save for the handful of Black scientists and engineers who get their acknowledgments during Black History Month. Contrary to perceptions of Blackness as divorced from tech and science, we have a long and well-documented history, present and anticipated future of technological development behind and ahead of us. In this series, we continue to explore the expansive realm of Black speculative technologies in music, art and literature.

Artist Turns to Video Games as the Canvas for His Sci-Fi Universe Creations

Scifi Illustrations by Pascal Blanche

Pascal Blanche, the senior art director at Ubisoft Montreal, is using the unlimited possibilities of video games to create sci-fi universes that bring his wildest imaginations to life.

Blanche is certainly aware of just how far video games have allowed artists to push their imaginations and expand beyond the limits that exist for artwork on paper or through other mediums.

Ubisoft Montreal is the game studio behind some of today’s more popular video game titles like Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs.

Spending so much time working with the gaming powerhouse has only further fueled his passion to create his own worlds inside that limitless digital space.

He explained that his inspiration came from a blockbuster that fueled many sci-fi lovers’ dreams – Star Wars.

The now-iconic science fiction film sparked Blanche’s fascination with space and science, he told The Verge.

He was also largely inspired by the works of sci-fi illustrator Chris Foss, who is best known for his black-and-white illustrations for the original editions of The Joy of Sex, and illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, the designer behind the original Battlestar Galactica TV series and the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Just one look at Blanche’s portfolio makes it obvious just how much he has picked up from the two sci-fi illustrating greats.

While the works do share much resemblance to the works of Blanche’s role models, they also introduce spectators to a new galactic universe that has been coming to fruition in Blanche’s mind for years.

Originally, Blanche planned to bring that universe to life through animation but discovered that the world of video games was where he truly belonged.

He told The Verge that after he discovered computers the decision was simple.

According to Blanche, video games gave him the ability to “create more living worlds.”

Today, Blanche is continuing to build on his passion of creating sci-fi universes through his project Stardust.

There aren’t many details about the project just yet, but Blanche told The Verge that the idea for the project has been in the back of his mind for ages.

For now, the project just exists as a digital portfolio of stunning galactic landscapes.

All the pieces, linked through the design aesthetics and the futuristic machines making their way through the dark void of space, are clearly different pieces of the same universe.

According to Blanche, the goal was also to just have the ability to create new worlds. The title of being an artist just came along as an additional perk.

“I never really wanted to be an artist,” he told The Verge. “I just wanted to create worlds of my own.”


Today in History: David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. – The Heating Pioneer


David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 27, 1898. His interest in mechanics led him to Purdue University, where he studied mechanical engineering. After graduation, he took a job with the C.A. Dunham Co. conducting innovative research. There, he designed the heat system for New York City’s Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. On Oct. 16, 1934, he patented his invention. Crosthwait held 119 patents — 39 in the U.S. and 80 internationally — all in relation to heating, cooling and temperature-regulating technology.

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In Upcoming Season, Changes in Store for ‘Archer’ Fans

The entire cast of Adam Reed’s Archer came together at New York Comic Con to discuss the major changes fans can expect from the FX show’s new season.

Less cocaine, less country, more Barry, new parents and the same twisted comedy.

While that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what the new season will hold, it certainly brings up some serious points of interest.

As the animated series prepares to dive into its sixth season, the cast members opened up about what fans should expect.

Perhaps the biggest new change will be the fact that the new season will be largely focusing on Archer and Lana as new parents.

The pair will be raising their daughter Abijean the best way they can, but that still seems to fall well below the standards of most parents.

The cast hinted that all the inappropriate jokes will still remain in the show with many of them happening in front of the newborn baby.

There will also be a change of scenery for the animated characters. The team will be moving back to their old office after spending an entire season in Cheryl’s mansion.

The office will boast a new name, however, after Reed decided to drop the name ISIS for very good reason.

In the show, ISIS stood for International Secret Intelligence Service. It was the name given to the underground, non-government approved spy organization based in New York.

In the real world, however, ISIS is the acronym used by an active Islamic militant group.

Reed decided he didn’t want any association to be formed with the group and he made the decision to have the name dropped completely.

The premiere episode will even show movers rolling a large circular blue sign out of the office, suggesting that they are doing away with the ISIS signage for good.

In addition to a big name change, there will also be a surprising career change in the new season as well.

Cast members hinted that Cheryl might be walking away from her country career in the upcoming season.

The good news is that many fan favorites will be making their way back to the show.

Crave Online reported that Pam will ditch the cocaine in the new season and go back to being “her old self.”

Meanwhile, Ron Cadillac and Archer’s rival Cyborg Barry will also be returning to the show.

The sixth season premiere episode will forever leave a special mark in Archer history as the first premiere episode to show Ray Gillette out of his wheelchair.

Of course, the cast also made it clear that there are even more surprises in store that they didn’t even begin to touch on.

Season 6 of Archer will air on FX in January.


Neil deGrasse Tyson Helps Bring Science and Art Together in Stunning Fashion Film

Neil deGrasse Tyson may not be the first person to pop into your mind when it comes to fashion, but the famed astrophysicist has turned out to have quite the artistic side.

Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna Couture set out to create a one-of-a-kind fashion film to play in the background for its Fall/Winter 2015 fashion show.

In order to pull off the complex project, they called on the help of the Cosmos host himself.

The short film is only 11 minutes long and goes back and forth between intriguing shots of outer space and the bustling images of major cities like New York, Shanghai and Milan.

So how did Tyson help bring the fashion film together?

Tyson teamed up with Ermenegildo Zegna Couture creative director Stefano Pilati and Florida International University astronomy professor Fiorella Terenzi to help plan “the film’s precise, earthbound astral journey,” according to Wallpaper.

In other words, the film remains scientifically accurate as it takes you on your journey through space.

The short video serves as a stunning reminder that art and science can mesh together, and they often come together quite beautifully.

Just look at Tyson’s wardrobe.

Back in May he told the New York Post that he has roughly 100 custom-made ties and vests that were all inspired by celestial images.

Meanwhile, the video will be on display for much longer than just one fashion show. The galactic journey can also be witnessed over and over again at Harrods, a famous department store in London.

The store will have the video displayed as a special window project up until Oct. 19.


Bringing Unseen Worlds to Light: Interview with Fine Artist Fabiola Jean-Louis

Fabiola Jean-Louis is a fine artist and photographer currently based out of Brooklyn, N.Y., whose imagery seamlessly blends magic with the mundane and reality with the speculative to bring unseen worlds out of hiding. Jean-Louis renders her portraits in such a way that it is often difficult to tell whether you are looking at something she dreamed up in her mind’s eye, or whether she was able to actually capture a glitch in the matrix, or if it is some ethereal piece of nature that let its guard down and unfolded before her. Although she has only been working at her craft since last November, she is already making waves as a visionary who can manifest diverse patterns of space-time, sci-fi, costume design and surrealism within the worlds of her art. We asked Jean-Louis about her inspirations, her creative process, her use of technology and her upcoming projects.

How would you describe your visual work? Is there a particular category, label or genre that you would affix to the images you create?

I would describe my visual work as mythical, dreamy, astrological and astronomical, ethereal, surreal. Many times, all these characteristics resonate in one piece. I tend to stay away from categorizing or labeling my work. However, my goal is always to tell a story through surrealism.

How do you define technology and how do you use it to enhance your work?

I’m a tech geek. When I think of science and all the possibilities it opens the world to – I become excited, imaginative and giddy like a little girl on a playground. At the same time, I am very aware of the astronomical damage it has caused our world … Technology comes at a heavy cost because it forces us to move forward regardless of time …

I can’t speak for every artist, but I can say that my art is a type of technology. The practical application of science to our everyday lives, seems to emphasize the distinction between the past, present and future. I use technology to do just that — emphasize the distinction between those spaces in time and, simultaneously, merge those facets together to create an art piece. Technology definitely plays a role in my creative process … From the use of my camera, to post-editing in Photoshop, and the symbols/elements found in the finished product.

A New Wave of Black Filmmaking: Experimental and Black Speculative Indie Films

In recent years, it has become relatively easier to produce your own short films, TV shows, commercials and music videos. Increased access to technology and platforms on which to display films, such as smartphones, YouTube and Vimeo, and alternative resources for funding to create these films, such as crowdfunding and small artists grants, have ushered in a new era of filmmaking for Black creators. Increased access to the tools and technology for producing films has also given independent filmmakers space to experiment in their work. A brief survey of the contemporary Black independent film scene yields a long and ever-growing list of experimental and Black speculative (including horror, Afrofuturism, sci-fi, fantasy, fan fiction) short cinema, film trailers, music videos and other projects. There are enough Black experimental and speculative films out there to warrant their own festivals and screening series.

The BlackStar Film Festival, for example, is an annual, Philly-based film festival focused on work by and about people of African descent, featuring films that are often overlooked from directors, writers and producers working in narrative, documentary, experimental and music video filmmaking. This past year, BlackStar screened The Next Movement: Experimental Shorts, featuring, among others, Afronauts directed by Frances Bodomo, moonrising directed by Terrance Nance, and Negus: Lee “Scratch” Perry directed by Invernomuto. The Future Weird, a Brooklyn-based short film screening series curated by Derica Shields and Megan Eardley, features sci-fi, experimental, speculative and weird short films by directors from Africa and the Global South envisioning the future. The Future Weird screens films along several themed tracks, including Remote Control, Non-Resident Aliens, Visions of Excess, and In Search of a Black Atlantis; with each screening drawing on a range of materials: commercials, music videos, newsreels, and colonial archives, and frame films. Black Radical Imagination is a traveling short film series that focuses on futuristic, surreal, sci-fi, and experimental narratives that provide visions and commentary on post-modern society through the state of current Black culture. Curated by Erin Christovale and Amir George, Black Radical Imagination has themed installments that feature shorts by Jacolby Satterwhite, Cauleen Smith, Jabari Zuberi, and others.

If you aren’t within reach of a film festival and if an Afrofuturist film series isn’t traveling soon to a location near you, you are still in luck — many experimental, Black speculative short films are available online for free. Pumzi, a post-apocalyptic short sci-fi film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu, can be found on Youtube. Noise Gate by Donovan Vim Crony, an experimental sci-fi short film about a dimensional traveling scientist who is in search of the ultimate reality, can be screened online at Vimeo. Danger Word, directed by Luchina Fisher and adapted for the screen by award-winning writers Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due (My Soul to Keep), is a short horror film about a 13-year-old girl and her grandfather who have survived the zombie plague in his wooded cabin – and how her birthday goes badly awry. The film is available on Youtube and some cable channels. is a web series of short sci-fi films written and directed by veteran and emerging indie filmmakers, many of whom are people of color. The films explore possible futures through the prism of today’s global realities. Because these films are free and accessible, you can host your own mini-Black speculative film festival at your local library or community center, or gather up a few of your friends and have a Black speculative-themed movie night right in your own home.

If you enjoy these indie short films, you may be excited to know that there are several independent film projects in the works that could use your support. Nicole Sconiers, author of speculative novel Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage, has launched Lavender Pinnochio, a production company that produces digital content (short stories, trailers, short films) to inspire an international dialogue about the issues Black women face and create complex, entertaining, challenging but rewarding roles for Black actresses. Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire by poet, dramatist and guerrilla filmmaker Dennis Leroy Kangalee, is a non-traditional vampire film currently in development about a 150-year old Black vampire struggling with the enduring legacy of colonization. Actress Reagan Gomez is crowdfunding to develop a sci-fi Web series called Surviving the Dead about a nurse named Shayla whose city is overtaken by a deadly virus, with her father and the government somehow involved. On her Indiegogo page, Gomez says that her motivation in creating the show is because, although people of color love sci-fi movies and shows, we are rarely represented in them. “The running joke is, if there’s a Black guy in the movie, he dies first. And Black women, well … we aren’t considered at all. We’re never the hero. We never survive till the end. We’re never the stars. It’s time for that to change,” says Gomez.

That change has already begun, and if it isn’t already, Black speculative film is well on its way to becoming one facet of a new/renewed Black Arts Movement. I have highlighted only a small sample of the Black creators who are out here developing, financing, producing, writing and starring in our own films. These films are helping to decentralize the stereotypical, stale narratives and representations of the Black image that Hollywood and mainstream media have forged. The question is, will Black people support these multi-faceted representations of ourselves and our culture? Will we put our resources and attention back into our own communities so that we can continue to create and be the heroes and stars we wish to see?

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

From Rapper to Superhero: Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels Launches Comic Book Line

From Beats to the Rhyme to beating up crime, Run-DMC rapper Darryl McDaniels is gearing up to take down bad guys in his new line of comics.

The new comic will hit stores Oct. 29 and will feature McDaniels himself as a crime-fighting superhero, complete with DMC brass knuckles, his classic Fedora and a pair of Adidas sneakers.

The new comic company, Darryl Makes Comics, hopes to create an entire ’80s universe of superheroes over time.

“It’s not going to be 2,000 issues of my boring ass,” McDaniels joked with the Daily News. “We wanted to build a foundation for a whole universe from [this first book.]”

He also explained that the comic will tackle some serious issues that don’t usually make debuts in the comic world.

“We’ll be introducing other superheroes and supervillains and deal with a lot of issues: racism, homophobia, AIDS – subjects other comics really don’t talk about,” he added.

One panel of the comic that’s already been released revealed that fans can also expect some clever Run-DMC references as well.

The panels show the masked superhero asking what durable material his suit is made out of.

When he asks if it’s leather, another man cleverly responds, “Nah man. Tougher than leather.”

Tougher Than Leather is the name of Run-DMC’s 1988 album.

It’s only natural that McDaniels would incorporate his hip-hop history in the comic considering his love of comics is part of what fueled many of his legendary lyrics.

“I was a shy kid, so when DJ Run (aka Joseph Simmons) was first putting me on these records, I went back to my comic books for confidence,” he told the Daily News. “I would hear a beat and go ‘OK, what would the Hulk do to this?’ It was all imagination to me.”

Another look at some of the hip-hop icon’s verses confirms that superheroes inspired many of his lyrics.

“That’s why, if you hear my delivery, ‘Crash through walls/Come through floors/ Bust through ceilings’ – all the dominant punching lines came from [channeling] the Hulk,” he added.

Now McDaniels can continue smashing through walls, floors and ceilings in the name of justice.

As he prepares to embark on a new business endeavor, McDaniels admitted that it will be challenging to really enter a market that is being dominated by DC and Marvel.

“We’ve been hitting the Comic Cons for a year and a half, and there are times when we’ve been swarmed by fans, and there are other times we’re sitting at a table and there are crickets,” said Darryl Makes Comics editor in chief Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. “But one of the things we have that other small publications don’t have is that we’re literally walking around the floor with the actual superhero, the actual icon.”

DMC will make its official debut next month during the New York Comic Con.


Blerd Bookstore Struggle: Science Fiction vs. African-American Literature

Visiting a bookstore can sometimes be a struggle for a Black nerd, simply because of the way books are categorized. Whenever I step inside of a bookstore, my first stop is always the science fiction section. Routinely, I’ll do a scan for my favorite Black science fiction authors, and nine times out of 10, Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Samuel Delany and other popular Black science fiction authors have been placed on the African-American literature shelves. This seems to send a very clear message to readers: Black authors who write science fiction are somehow “other.” These stories are not considered traditional science fiction or aren’t really science fiction at all; it belongs, instead in the special interest, ethnic, or diversity categories of the bookstore. The categories that usually take up the least amount of space in the room, as if we have fewer stories to tell.

On the one hand, it makes sense to put Black science fiction beside other Black literature because it is Black literature and it caters to people who identify themselves culturally or racially as Black. It can also function as a powerful message to others who may not be aware that yes, we, Black people, do in fact write science fiction. For a person of color who might otherwise not bother to stroll over to the sci-fi section, thinking that there would be nothing relevant to him or her, a sci-fi novel shelved with other Black novels could easily dispel that notion.

On the other hand, this sort of categorization and marketing scheme allows for devaluation of Blackness as “otherness,” and in its otherness, less than, in both value and quality, the normal pool of science-fiction novels. For that nerdy Black kid who may be browsing the sci-fi shelves, not seeing a Black face on any of the covers of the novels feeds the belief that we do not belong in future worlds. That lack of reflection on the shelves does a disservice to their imaginative potentials, and it somehow diminishes the infinite possibilities that have been bestowed upon them as a birthright.

I have a vision that when I walk into a bookstore in future times, I am no longer going through the Black nerd struggle. In these future bookstores, no one is forced to make a choice between illusory duality of Blackness and science fiction, because there is no conflict between the two. Ideally in this future world, perhaps Black sci-fi is shelved with other sci-fi, or perhaps there is a section exclusively for Black sci-fi. The genre will have evolved in such a way that all of the artists and authors currently creating sci-fi will have found a place in the global market and on mainstream commercial bookshelves.

Then again, with the current surge in the popularity of e-books, bookshelves themselves may become obsolete. In that future world, then, a search term for a sci-fi novel will turn up Black authors with the same frequency as any other author of sci-fi, without even having to enter the term Black. But if you in this future world choose to search the e-book database specifically for Black sci-fi for an experience you can identify with, you can do so, just as easily. Until that future vision manifests, below are 10 anthologies of Black speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and Afrofuturism.

13 Amazing Books That Will Spark The Mind Of Your Young Black Child

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“Papa, Do You Love Me?” by Barbara M. Joosee

Papa Do You Love Me? is the follow up to the best-selling Mama, Do You Love Me?. Set in Africa and featuring the Maasai culture, the book captures the universal love between a father and child.

Grades K – 3

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“Through My Eyes” Ruby Bridges

On November 14, 1960, a tiny six-year-old black child, surrounded by federal marshals, walked through a mob of screaming segregationists and into her school. From where she sat in the school’s office, Ruby Bridges could see parents marching through the halls and taking their children out of classrooms. The next day, Ruby courageously walked through the angry mob once again and into a school where, this time, she saw no other students.This is the story of a pivotal event in history told as Ruby Bridges saw it unfold around her.