Sun Ra, the “godfather” of Afrofuturism in music and pioneer of the genre “free jazz,” is in a league of his own. His large body of creative work and personal style speaks directly to the souls of Black folks everywhere, seeking to use art as a platform for Black liberation. With the help of his Intergalactic Myth-Science Solar “Arkestra” (see: band), Sun Ra used free jazz, old Egyptian symbols, and “far out” ideologies concerning the state of Black identity in his 1974 film “Space Is The Place,” which is a total embodiment of what Afrofuturism is all about. Through his eccentric costumes, Afrocentric radical thought, and almost incompressible “transmolecular” sounds, Sun Ra takes his followers on a journey of “imagining possible futures through a Black cultural lens.” (Ytasha Womack)
In the film “Space Is The Place,” what first catches the eye of viewers is Sun Ra’s stand-out appearance. This alone speaks volumes for the energy this man brings through his artistry. By looking at him dressed as the Ancient Egyptian god Ra, you’re immediately taken back to a time when Black ruled the world. Sun Ra’s alternate universal appearance brings the past and possible futures to the present in an attempt to spark both memory and possibilities into the mind of Blacks here on Earth. The film begins with Sun Ra descending from space in spaceship which unifies with the yellow cape and Sun crown worn atop his head. At first glance this is both shocking and exciting for the viewer. His style, in my own words, can be best described as ancient Egyptian Pharaoh meets futuristic space alien. He is clearly not of this planet, as he won’t let us forget throughout the remainder of the film.
Sun Ra totally rejects Earth as his home. In an attempt to escape the rigidness of racist white supremacist societies and the many stereotypes forced upon him and his people, he takes the form of an intergalactic god. Bound by no definition or ideology that isn’t his own, he returns to Earth to square off with his arch nemesis “the overseer,” who is an amalgamation of Black archetypes, specifically the Black man as “pimp,” which were commonplace in most Blaxploitation films during the movie’s release. Sun Ra’s god portrayal was an alternative challenge to this archetype. He rejected racist white lens of his Black being and defined himself as “the altered destiny; the presence of the living myth.”
In addition to a bold, eccentric, style and an autonomous definition of self, Sun Ra’s main goal while on Earth was to free those “ghetto” Blacks who couldn’t escape the many labels they were caged by. He teleported into a recreational room filled with “good time” Black youth in an attempt to reach them by countering their accusations of him as “unreal” by confirming:
I am not real, just like you in this society. You don’t exist. If you did your people wouldn’t be seeing equal rights…You’re not real. If you were you would have some status among the nations of the world. So we’re both myth’s…I came from a dream that the Black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors.
In this message to his people, Sun Ra forces the youth to think critically about their place in society. He challenges their ease in the identities bestowed upon them by the white man and urges them to be the natural creators they were born to be. In a sense he is saying “you don’t matter here, on this planet, anyway, so why not be whatever you want to be.” This stream of afrofuturist thought is one of the most standout scenes in the film, for it is the crux of Sun Ra’s “job” there on Earth.
Sun Ra’s music, much like the language he uses throughout this film, is seemingly nonsensical. He continues the traditional use of coded language Blacks have used for centuries as a tool of communication and survival in order to confuse the listening ears of slavers and government agents looking to infiltrate any plans of liberation. One could describe the sounds of his free jazz genre as purely improvisation. He seems to make up notes and sounds and compilation of the two as he goes along to make the statement that as a free Black, not bound by Earth, he can do as he pleases and present himself in his own choice. Likening himself to the wind, viewers can better grasp the radical essence of Sun Ra’s artistry when he makes the powerful statement of “I, the wind, come and go as I choose, and none can stop me.”
With such powerful messages from both past and the future, one begs the question of where an artist like Sun Ra emerges from. From my viewpoint, he is afrofuturism in the flesh, in that he lives and breathes this “kingdom of darkness and Blackness [where] none can enter except those of the Black spirit.” A kingdom where “nothingness” and boundless sound waves reign supreme in a land, similar to Kemet, where Black is free to just be.
Watch the Brilliant film below to get a better understanding of the “other world” in which Sun Ra dwells: