Perhaps I have perchance mentioned that Adventures From the Bedrooms of African Women is now an award winning podcast ? Yes? Just checking to make sure that you knew. Anyways, Nana and I were just recently privileged to be in conversation with noted writer, filmmaker and storyteller, Wanuri Kahiu. If her name sounds familiar, it may be because of the cultural and political storm that made global headlines around the Kenyan government’s banning of her 2018 film, Rafiki, a queer love story set in the east African country. Wanuri filed a lawsuit against the Film Classification Board in response to the ban, saying: “It's not a government's right to say what you can imagine and what you cannot imagine.” Such a badass!
Our conversation was supposed to center on the anatomy of a sex scene in film, but you know your girl (meaning me) was here to derail the entire agenda. In preparation for this conversation, our amazing producer, Freddie Boswell, put together a research packet to guide our interview which included a link to Wanuri’s presentation at the Design Indaba in Cape Town in 2020. Here, she talks about our African myths, fables and legends and in doing so, introduced me to a whole new (or ancient) world of possibilities for the African imagination and how that imagination has the power to influence - if not improve - our current realities.
Anyone who knows me is well aware that I love magic, myths and fantasy of all stripes, so to say that this 30 minute talk had me hooked is an understatement. I wanted to hear more from Wanuri on her perspective on African magic, but in order to respect the time of everyone involved I demonstrated some decorum and resisted the urge to weigh anchor and take the canoe too far out to sea. Still, as many of our interviews continue to do, our chat inspired my curiosity about a new aspect of Black and African pleasure.
What does falling in love look like?
When it comes to the optics - and acceptance - of love, Wanuri made an interesting observation from the perspective of a filmmaker: the act of falling in love is almost universally white and Eurocentric. When we see two white people meet and sparks fly between them, that’s falling in love. Think Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle. That’s romance. When you add a Black person into that matrix, then the conversation becomes more political. It’s no longer just two people falling in love. Black love is edgy and queer love is forbidden and/or taboo. In making this statement, it reminded me why depictions of Black love - Black anything, really - are often framed as radical. I get it, but categorizing these acts that people perform every day as marginal and extraordinary contributes to a narrative that seeks to other us and denies our right to our basic humanity.
Black joy is radical.
Black excellence is exceptional.
Black love just hits different.
And while filmmakers and storytellers have made great inroads into bringing Black stories to the center with representation on screen and in literature, there is still much work that has to be done to re-ignite the African imagination today. I’m talking specifically about Africanfuturism.
What is Africanfuturism?
First coined by Nnedi Okorafor in 2019, she defines Africanfuturism as “the aesthetic practice of producing worlds created by Africans that center (rather than marginalize) Africa and Africans; where Africans are represented as the historical agents who produce their own futures (rather than historical subjects assigned to a "traditional" past); and where technology, science, and philosophy are recognized as indigenous to Africa (rather than imported).”
Myths and legends are an important tool for explaining origin stories in every human culture. One is allowed to take great pride in their knowledge of Norse mythology, even without consciously recognizing how it influences and features in our lives daily. The day of the week “Thursday” was named for the Norse god, Thor, for example. European immortal beings are complex entities in whom humans can look to for reflections of their own humanity or gain an understanding of. This is very unlike African gods and deities, who were boxed under the category of “demonic” by invading colonial forces. We became ashamed of our divine avatars then and became ashamed of our reflected selves. This is why people were absolutely apoplectic when Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Because though the two are aquatic dwelling beings, a white mermaid can be portrayed as curious and helpful, but Maame Watta is always deceitful and ignoble. Wanuri’s talk at the Design Indaba breaks down those limiting perceptions.
I was astounded to learn that on the continent, and far preceding the arrival of Europeans, we had our own versions of fire breathing dragons; that our merfolk, called ‘Jenga’, were beings that formed alliances with people whom they identified as friends of nature; that African men would adorn themselves with extravagant clothing and make up in all male beauty pageants where the prize was a night of pleasure spent with a female judge. These myths and legends outside of the imposed Eurocentric ideas of the demonic and/or angelic demonstrate a great capacity for imaginative thinking our forebears had, and how expansive their notions of the pleasurable world was and could be. I can’t speak authoritatively of every African man when it comes to sex, however anecdotally, the average Ghanaian man has convinced himself that what constitutes providing pleasure is pounding the punani like fufu. *eye roll*.
While I am in awe of these little known elements of our ancient mythical worlds, ideologies and their influences on our forebears' identities, I am by no means suggesting that we need to return to those specific imaginations in order to reclaim our version and visions for humanity. What I am more interested in is giving ourselves, as Africans, the freedom to expand our inventiveness of self. Imagine the implications of expanding our definitions of gender expression and identity; of not being fearful of exploring the depths of ecstasy beyond the physical and apparent; to celebrate curiosity, rather than beating it out of our population before they are of voting age. What would that do for us as Africans and pleasure beings?