I grabbed books, graphic novels and other swag bag items from the conference, but the testimony I heard from black women authors of speculative fiction are what really made my trip from D.C. to Atlanta worthwhile. I listened to a panel discussion about the joys and difficulties the authors faced in the sci-fi community, and came away with the realization that black women don’t have to be outliers in fantasy, horror, and sci-fi; they can be the nucleus of the genre.
Months later, I’m still processing that panel discussion. And as I revel in the awesomeness that is Ava DuVernay directing Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, I’m even more convinced that the women on that panel were right. There are three glaringly fundamental things we can do to help them break through to broader audiences.
We can start out by acknowledging their existence.
I’m being serious. Octavia Butler is a household name, which is wonderful, but there are now enough black women writing, directing and producing works of speculative fiction to fill thousands of households. Most of the novels I’ve read have either been suggested by word of mouth, handed to me personally by a friend or shared with me on social media. Sharing an author’s work on social media is an effort made easier with the author’s participation, of course. I found Nnedi Okorafor on Twitter because she engages her audience there, which encourages them to share her work. Nicole G. Kurtz sold me her book at SOBSFCON and retweeted me when I mentioned her on Twitter. If Nijla Mu’min’s film Deluge hadn’t been a part of ASTRONOMMO last year, a film festival I found through Graveyard Shift Sisters, I’d be completely unaware of the young, black filmmaker’s work. In short, if you want to support the subverts, you’ll have to follow them directly or follow curators of their genre. Naturally, both efforts require an acknowledgement of their existence.Photo: Binti via blackgirlnerdproblems.com.
Once we’ve seen or read their work, we need to review it.
Black reviews matter.
What would help me out more when I’m trying to track down page-turners on my own are more reviews. We take to Twitter in droves to drag people, music, films and ideas that are crap, but Twitter is also the digital megaphone we should use to forward more work from authors and filmmakers of color. If I read something from a budding author and it’s good, I review it on the author’s page, Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Reviews on these platforms are a major key for authors because they have an algorithm that pushes selections to the top of their Suggested list according to number of reviews. Similarly, IMDB reviews play a role in an indie film’s success on their platform. Ultimately, reviews make the works of authors and filmmakers more visible, which usually leads to more clout and more sales.
Then, we can help black women creators of speculative and science fiction become influencers in the genre.
Black women have been the keepers of folklore and oral histories rich with magic realism and fantasy for centuries. It makes sense that black women writers, directors and filmmakers should be a welcome addition to the bleakly pale, overtly male genre. Luckily, instead of allowing themselves to be drowned out, black women are creating spaces and opportunities through alternate mediums such as film festivals, YouTube series, and other venues to spearhead their own stories. This is important in a genre where black women are still cast as a love interests or sidekicks in major films. But by reading and popularizing our own narrative, we create opportunities for more of those stories to become films, and for more of those films to make an impact by finally allowing viewers to see black women as we see ourselves.Oshun’s "Protect Yourself" video brought us a woke sci-fi theme complete with laser gun action. Photo: Oshun
Audiences need only review, share and be inspired by Black Girl Magic on the page and the silver screen.