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With ‘Neptune Frost,’ The right way to Make an Afrofuturist Sci-Fi Musical


The unconventional sci-fi musical “Neptune Frost” (in theaters), from the co-directors and partners Saul Williams, a seasoned musician and actor from Recent York, and Anisia Uzeyman, a Rwandan actress and filmmaker; interrogates the notion of technological progress from the vantage point of those living within the places exploited to realize it.

Set within the mountains of the African nation of Burundi, their Afrofuturist vision, which premiered on the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, follows a former miner and an intersex hacker as they lead an rebellion against oppressive forces. The realm they inhabit is one where reality and a digital interface, imbued with a magic realism, intersect in tactile ways.

Speaking via video call from their home in Los Angeles, the duo elucidated a few of their one-of-a-kind film’s key concepts. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

“Neptune Frost” was originally envisioned for the stage until producers persuaded you to show the concept right into a film. How did the medium of cinema reshape the project?

SAUL WILLIAMS: It allowed us to assume what it could be wish to shoot on location. We had written the story to happen in Burundi but knew that we wouldn’t have the option to shoot there due to political unrest. But within the neighboring country of Rwanda, where Anisia is from, the doors were open. We arrived there in 2016 to shoot a sizzle reel and discovered a slew of Burundian refugees in Kigali who were students, artists and activists. We got enthusiastic about showing a spot and faces that individuals haven’t really seen onscreen.

ANISIA UZEYMAN: We desired to share the prevailing great thing about Rwanda that I used to be intimate with, in addition to the language. We’ve got an ancestral tradition of poetry.

WILLIAMS: After writing the script, working with those poets and writers from Rwanda and Burundi to translate the text into Kinyarwanda and Kirundi was a rare experience. The film allowed us to share way greater than the stage would have.

In creating this intricate narrative, were you drawing from specific historical events pertinent to Burundi or larger ideas about neocolonialism in Africa?

WILLIAMS: Once we first began conceptualizing the project in 2011, the Arab Spring, Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks were occurring. On the continent, there have been American evangelists arriving in countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda offering money to pass anti-L.G.B.T. laws. We were also learning about e-waste camps [in Africa], places where our tech goes to die, village-size camps with piles of motherboards, keyboards and towers. We learned of their close connection to the mining industry and the irony that digital technology is rooted so heavily in analog exploitation.

That is connected to what has been happening on that continent for hundreds of years. We get up every morning and say, “I can’t start my day without my coffee,” with no sense of where that coffee comes from, where the rubber out of your tires come from, where the stuff that makes your computer work comes from. The spirit of protest within the film comes from what was happening while we were writing it. We wanted to include this stuff and to attach dots between these disparate ideas and show how they were all a part of the identical timeline.

Provided that the music represents an integral storytelling aspect here, are you able to explain the thought process behind its composition?

WILLIAMS: The music got here first. I grew up on musicals and certainly one of the goals was to make one which corresponds with the musical interests which were an element of my exploration as an artist. I used to be inquisitive about polyrhythm because we made the connection between drum rhythms and coding because drums themselves have been used for wireless communication. We were fidgeting with the thought of drum coding when it comes to computer programming, and the exploration of what’s beyond the binary within the query of gender.

UZEYMAN: Music was also an amazing means to speak with the actors who’re all singers and musicians. They’ve that very privileged relationship to rhythm. It was a way of working toward their very own understanding of the characters that they were playing and the way their voices evolve over the arch of the story.

There’s a striking visual quality to the costumes and set decorations that’s each otherworldly and recognizable, how were these designed?

UZEYMAN: We met Cedric Mizero, the young designer behind those costumes and the décor, in 2016 in Rwanda. After hearing the story that we desired to tell, he got here back the following morning with sandals manufactured from motherboards. Cedric’s work also inspired the writing of the film because he already was working with people within the village recycling and reworking materials which might be seen as waste into art installations and zero-waste fashion.

WILLIAMS: For instance, making backpacks out of water containers or using African picket sculptures because the guns that we utilized in the film.

How does Afrofuturist art, which contains folklore and culture into futurist tropes, permits you to address today’s issues from a decolonized lens?

WILLIAMS: There’s something experienced and understood concerning the fluidity of things in Indigenous cultures that transcends Western projection. This stuff have been an element of reality and storytelling in Africa and other places for a very long time, however the rigidity of the Western lack of imagination has closed the doors on those ancient myths and mythologies. It’s crucial for us to not take part in poverty porn or the expectations white people have of Africa.

UZEYMAN: From the angle of artists on the continent, what’s essential is the potential for telling whatever story we would like to inform, not the story that you simply are waiting for us to inform or that you simply’re willing to finance. We would like to inform all tales from our perspective — science fiction or historical dramas — free of the Western framing.

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