Kirsten Strayer July 27 2017

Imagining the Future in the Global South


This Labocine Spotlight highlights ten recent science fiction films from Latin America and Africa speculating about the world’s potential futures.

These films mark a new era in global science fiction; while there’s no scarcity of Latin American sci-fi films from the twentieth century, they were primarily alien invasion stories or contemporary space journeys.

For instance, the campy wrestler El Santo found himself seduced by gorgeous lady aliens in Santo vs la invasión de los marcianos (1967), while Mexican astronauts go to the moon (Los astronautas) in 1964. During the 20th century, few films from these regions speculated what human life may be like 10, 100, or 1000 years from now. Lack of special effects budgets, consistent emphasis on cinematic realism, and sci-fi’s beloved status as camp kept science fiction to monster flicks and B-pictures studios.

Invading aliens from el santo

Yet, over the past twenty years, filmmakers across the globe have waded into the traditional Western genre of speculative fiction. Moreover, they are conceiving how the dynamic perspectives of the majority world can explicitly change the genre.

The filmmaker Alex Rivera notes, for example, that the future world of the Global South may not be the technological splendor of flying cars and digitized entertainment of Hollywood films but of continued exploitation of the South by the developed world. The dystopias of Africa and Latin America, in other words, may not be a break from Western civilization but a natural outgrowth of the violent colonization and the continued imperialism of the 20th century.

More broadly, as futurist technologies clash with ethnic conflicts and environmental changes, filmmakers from Africa, Latin America, and Asia are claiming the future as their own. They are focusing on the potential issues that disproportionally affect the global south, including climate change, effects of centuries of colonialism, population increases, despotic regimes, and the growth in authoritarian capitalism.

Each of these film discussed is uniquely able to speak to the concerns of the Global South, emerging from the perspectives of those who live there and changing the ways that science fiction operates forever.  

Asha dreams of the surface

The Future and Eco-criticism

At a time in which the ravages of climate change have already led to severe drought and increased temperatures in equatorial areas, African speculative films have already theorized the effects of climate change on human freedom. Wanuri Kahiu’s short film Pumzi (Kenya, 2009) links Kenyan cultural traditions with eco-criticism.

After WWIII (the water war), humans hunker below ground, scrounging for water and avoiding the arid surface. A low-level bureaucrat named Asha finds soil that may contain life, but draconian officials try to keep her from seeking more answers.  The film’s Afro-futuristic sensibilities and recurring matriarchal themes situate ecological care as radical African politics.

Similarly, Emiliano Casto Vizcarra’s 2042 (Mexico, 2010) imagines the future as a culmination of ecological and political disasters. 2042 follows a man who gives a baby to the army, which keeps children isolated from the battles and toxins of the outside world. Like Pumzi, the film’s apex moment of physical beauty is revealed through living flora; in a world where everything is desiccated and toxic, a living, growing plant is the only hope for the future. Both 2042 and Pumzi, however, cast doubt on the ability of authoritarian regimes to be able to grow a verdant new world.

Conversely, Miguel Llansó’s Crumbs (Ethiopia, 2015), the world is still lush but humans are essentially barren. In combining a surrealist, hero’s journey with a love story, Llanso’s film renders the detritus of 20th-century capitalism—plastic toys and pop music records—absurd against the backdrop of the apocalypse. 

Glimpses of forbidden manuscripts

The Politics of Today

Other films more unequivocally challenge the world order. In Africa paradis (Sylvestre Amoussou, Benin, 2006), human migration has reversed, with desperate Europeans attempting to cross borders into Africa, highlighting the cruelty of contemporary refugee policies. Monsoons Over the Moon (Kenya, Dan Muchina, 2015) creates a state that outlaws reading and manuscripts, linking current concerns over the press to rising authoritarian governments.

Similarly, in the Egyptian film 2026 (Maha Maamoun, 2010) a man describes a future in which technology has heightened exploitation and suffering. A future history that describes an Egyptian revolution, the film explicitly references the torture scenes from Chris Marker’s La Jetée2026 becomes a cycle of revolutionary images, linking Marker’s critique of the Algerian decolonization to the Arab Spring to future political upheavals

La Voz performs

Memories of the Future

La antena (Argentina, Esteban Sapir, 2007) reaches back to the past to construct future dystopias. The Argentinian film confronts the nation’s own history of military coups and fallouts from imperial intervention. The citizen’s of Sapir’s dystopian metropolis have all lost their voices, expect for a woman called La Voz (the voice of the authoritarian regime) and a small boy, whose voice is being kept a secret.

The characters’ quest to find their voices mirror Argentina’s recent history of communal silence in the face of violence. The citizens’ shared reticence draws attention to Argentina’s implicit consent to despotic totalitarianism.

Fernando Spiner’s La sonámbula (Argentina, 1998) likewise allegorizes oral and visual memories in order consider the violence of the country’s 20th-century coup d’état. The film’s 2010 setting posits another dystopian regime, but, in this future, large swaths of citizens have lost their memories, and the government has come in to rebuild their memories.

The victims fear that the rebuilt memories may not be truthful, however, referencing the 1970s military government’s attempt to rewrite history. Both La sonámbula and La antena explicitly use black and white photography to place their dystopian cities in both the future and the past, exploring the ways that knowledge of past upheavals could predict future political catastrophes.

The attack on disparate architecture

Aesthetics and technology

While Fede Alverez’s Ataque de pánico (Uruguay, 2009) and the animated Uma História de Amor y Fúria (Brazil, Luiz Bolognesi and Jean Cullen De Moura, 2013) aren’t necessarily as concerned with defining a concrete future, they both speak to how local aesthetic histories can profoundly influence science fiction imagery. Ataque de pánico, in particular, juxtaposes a robot/alien invasion against a myriad of different Latin American styles of architecture, including colonial and modernist. The strange concurrence of robots and Uruguayan art history references the Latin American Baroque and its confluence of different European and traditional historical moments.  

About Author

Kirsten Strayer is a writer, curator, and film scholar who has published in academic journals, anthologies, and pop culture magazines. Her recent anthology, Transnational Horror Across Visual Media: Fragmented Bodies, was published in 2014 by Routledge Press.

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