The Nigerian-American writer never saw an African future in the sci-fi literature she read, so she started creating one.
“In postapocalyptic and apocalyptic narratives when they show the whole world freaking out about something that is happening to the Earth, they never show Africa,” says Nnedi Okorafor, the author of 11 books of science fiction and fantasy, among them the award-winning Zahra the Windseeker,The Book of Phoenix and Who Fears Death. “I wasn’t seeing it, so I started writing it.”
Okorafor is talking about science fiction-fantasy writing, a genre that, within a publishing industry known for its lack of diversity, is especially lacking people of color. Indeed, a recent spate of examples gives credence to this: the outcry against casting a black Stormtrooper in Star Wars; the outcry, again, over the casting of a black Hermione Granger in the new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; and the outcry against the black character Rue in The Hunger Games. “I was pumped about The Hunger Games,” said Twitter user John Knox IV. “Until I learned a black girl was playing Rue.” And on and on and on.
This resistance to the portrayal of black characters makes no sense. The entirety of the science fiction-fantasy genre is based upon the overarching experience of the global African Diaspora. Enslaved peoples, colonization and genocide—with the women of the oppressed group at specific risk for being targets of sexual violence—are the usual narratives of the sci-fi-fantasy genre. These are all experiences that people of the global African diaspora have lived—and live—every day. So why is it that the public imagination has such a hard time envisioning people of color in science fiction and fantasy worlds?