Exploring Afrofuturism in St. Louis with David Kirkman’s sci-fi epic ‘Underneath’
St. Louis filmmaker David Kirkman’s first feature film, “Underneath: Children of the Sun” is a genre-bending ride that tells the story of an enslaved person in antebellum Missouri who is propelled into an intergalactic conflict. The film is both historical and futuristic, and it contains elements of both sci-fi and fantasy.
“It’s a unique melting pot of a movie,” Kirkman told St. Louis on the Air.
Kirkman said he was inspired by a desire to see Black people in imaginary, fantastical spaces. “Why can’t we have a ‘Star Wars’ or a ‘Dune’ for us?” he said. “How this film really came about was really just the desire to see us in these imaginative spaces without any limits.”
That longing is at the heart of the contemporary Afrofuturist movement, said the film’s executive producer, Reynaldo Anderson, who is an associate professor of Africology and African American studies at Temple University and executive director of the Black Speculative Arts Movement. Afrofuturism, Anderson said, provides people of African descent the opportunity to locate themselves in time and space with agency while bringing together multiple perspectives in one story.
“One thing I appreciate about David's work in this, when we're talking Afrofuturism, we're talking about how the past, present and future can exist together simultaneously, and how he uses the different timelines to weave that story together,” Anderson said.
“When I see ‘Underneath,’” he added, “I think of the local Missouri history of the great anti-slavery leader, Father Dixon, who lived in west county. I think of the African American pioneer of Black speculative thought, Martin Delany, who writes this series on the eve of the Civil War called [“The Huts of America”], which talks about the need for enslaved Africans to get their own nation together.”
Anderson said that the Afrofuturist movement came into public awareness in 2018, the year Marvel’s “Black Panther” popularized its own version of Afrofuturism, and that it’s since become a worldwide phenomenon that continues to grow. But Anderson says the mega-hit superhero film isn’t the only factor behind the recent interest in Afrofuturism.
“The recent driving force of it emerged in the wake of the Ferguson rebellion,” he said. “That's where you saw a different level of energy and interest around the agency of people of African descent and innovation, and technology and culture.”
For Dacia Polk, a multidisciplinary creative who works with the Black Speculative Arts Movement, St. Louis is a perfect place for Afrofuturist innovation and creativity to blossom.
“You can look around and see the redevelopment happening in St. Louis, and you can't think for a moment that there isn't some sort of diversity inclusion that has some people that look like me working behind the scenes,” Polk said. “There are definitely some major key players that are involved in a lot of what's happening in the city, development-wise, and to me, that absolutely speaks to the mission behind Afrofuturism — to be a part of moving forward everything.
“Because at the end of the day,” she added, “a lot of what we do as Black creatives, African people — we influence everything.”
What: “Underneath: Children of the Sun”
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19
Where: Westport Playhouse (635 W Port Plaza Drive, St. Louis, MO 63146)
What: WordUp! Open Mic, hosted by Dacia Polk
When: Every Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Where: Legacy Bar & Grill (5249 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63113)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.