The second annual Afro Con takes place this weekend at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA.
Afro Con evolved out of the Afrofuturism Lounge that took place outside of Comic-Con back in 2018. That was the year that "Black Panther" rousingly brought Afrofuturism to mainstream consciousness.
Afrofuturism is defined as a movement in literature, music, art, and film featuring futuristic or science fiction themes that incorporate elements of Black history and culture. Afro Con focuses on Afrofuturism and provides an educational, entertaining, and informative space for creative thinkers.
“People can expect to have fun. There'll be comic book and cultural artifacts, and fun things in the exhibit hall. Then they can engage in discourse around critical topics that are relevant to just improving society," Afro Con creator LaWana Richmond said. "Also they can expect to connect with industry opportunities in terms of meeting other people who have shared interests that they could potentially collaborate with and continue the process of creation.”
In addition to Cheryl Morrow as the keynote speaker, additional guests at this year's Afro Con include GTET Media developer Winston Shaw, musical artist Kahlil Nash, and concept artist, illustrator and music producer Tony Washington.
A panel featuring the Black Divers Scuba Snorkel Association will discuss the connection between genetic trauma from enslaved Africans forced to journey across the ocean through the Middle Passage and fear of swimming, and encourage people to get back in the water.
Other panels focus on mental wellness, divine femininity and business opportunities in art and creativity.
New this year to Afro Con will be fashion and a film. The film is the U.S. premiere of “Ojanoma” by Diemiruaye Deniran. It is a film that combines familiar elements of fairy tales like “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” with African mythology.
“It's something familiar, meaning there's nothing really new under the sun,” Deniran said. “It's just the way we mix up the ingredients. So there's magic in there. There's also music because I grew up loving musicals and I used to watch "The Sound of Music” as a boy. So I miss musicals, so I put a musical element into it as well.”
Deniran is doing some world building with the film and hopes to create a franchise that will make use of characters, creatures and Afrofuturist themes.
“One of the things is seeing ourselves in the future,” Deniran said. “Art shapes society and it has a very important place in society in the way we think. I use movies in a way to talk to people because we have all our prejudices, our beliefs, our traumas. But when we sit down and watch a movie, our minds are open and we can hear what someone is saying. So I use it to have conversations. I think Afrofuturism allows people to project themselves, especially for the young, to project themselves and see themselves in many different ways and be who they want to be.”
Making “Ojanoma” was challenge because Deniran essentially had to make it twice.
“I actually shot it before and completed it in Nigeria first and then I redid it,” Deniran explained. “I'm Nigerian. My family is Nigerian. I was born and raised in London. But in Nigeria I faced a lot of challenges because there was a sabotage delaying the project, thinking that if they delayed it, they can get some more money out of me. And so it caused me to shoot it in a way which was more guerrilla than the way I wanted to shoot it. So after I finished, it wasn't my vision and I said, I'm going to scrap it. I didn't know where I was going to be able to raise the money to do it again but three days later, I got a call from a good friend, and he asked me if I had any project that needed funding. So it happened. But I think if I settled for what I had, I don't think I would have got that call in three days.”
“Ojanoma” screens Saturday night at the UltraStar Hazard Center with the filmmaker on hand to answer questions.
Richmond is passionate about creating conversations about Afrofuturism in art and about Afrofuturist thinking.
“It's important because we live in a time where there's a lot of angst and consternation. People are looking back and shaking their head in disgust, and people are dealing with current events that are, I'll say, distasteful and all of that isn't going away,” Richmond said. “But I believe if we want something different, we have to start by actually being able to imagine something different. And I think that it's important in terms of creating neural pathways that support co-creation of better realities and engage people in understanding that they have agency in their life. And once they imagine something better, my hope is that then they'll take the steps to make that something better actually come into reality. I think just seeing ourselves outside of the standard stereotypes creates space for us to be a little bit more creative about what's possible and what the solutions are. And even beyond solutions, like what are the opportunities and how do we take the action today in order to make that future vision a reality.”
Richmond has a vision for the future of Afro Con.
“My vision is for it to grow into being a cultural space that's also social, economic, and continues to be entertaining,” Richmond said. “San Diego itself is emerging as a hub for Afrofuturism. One of the things that I didn't realize when I first started out were how many prominent creative people and critical thinkers live right here in San Diego and are making a difference on a global scale and being kind of quiet here about what they're doing.”
Afro Con kicks off with a party Friday night with the convention running Saturday and Sunday at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA (located at 151 YMCA Way). You can register for free tickets to the convention or purchase tickets to satellite events online here.
UPDATE: Maxx Moses had a scheduling conflict and will no longer be appearing as keynote speaker or hosting the Friday launch party at his studio as mentioned in the Midday Edition interview.