Why Black Millennials Are Dressing Like Comic Superheros | Style Out There | Refinery29

I’ve never seen anyone with these puff braids
before. They kinda look like pods to me. Like Afrofuturist, like something’s gonna
open out of it and like light’s gonna come shine out. Tiny little miniature aliens are gonna come
out of it. Let’s not think about that. Not that futuristic. I’m wandering the stacks of New York’s
Midtown Comics. Woah. This place is massive. Yup. Come on. Where I’m learning just how far superheroes have come since the age of burly white guys dressed in spandex onesies. Meet Delta Major. A comic book fan turned costume designer. A delta is like a meeting point and then a
major is just, when in doubt, be extra. I’m ever-changing my style, my look, my
hair. These comics have evolved, and so too have superheroes. These are some of the classics well known
from DC like Batman and then the Black Panther, of course, with his Vibranium suit. It was one of the biggest movies of last year. In 2018, Black Panther exploded into theaters
snagging more than a billion dollars in ticket sales. For so many, this was more than a movie. It was a resurrection of a decades old movement
called Afrofuturism. It’s what happens when a sci-fi imagination is applied to
African-American narratives across dozens of art forms, including comics. But for communities still reeling from tragedy,
how can fashion and fantasy help write a new storyline? Afrofuturism has made it such a mainstream
thing to just have black badass characters that are smart, scientific, and just very
powerful in their own right, while still being black. There’s a new Iron Person. Iron Man isn’t the only Iron- They’re not gendered anymore. It’s a sixteen year old girl named Riri
Williams. She is a genius. She went to MIT and she basically created
his whole suit over again. She still wears her afro and her natural curly
hair, and is very into like street style and hip-hop. When you talk about comic books, your whole
demeanor changes. You got so excited. You really light up. I do love comic books. My dad collected comic books. So it’s like nostalgia, part of my childhood
growing up. It’s just like a thing that my family does. There was even a year where half my family
literally went to Comic-Con. And we were just rolling deep as a family
through Comic-Con just nerding out together. Delta’s love of comics only grew when she discovered her secret power. She could sew. Here are some of my creations. I created this top, the pattern on the pants. I make art with fabric, that’s just my medium. This is awesome. Something I love to do in my pieces are the shoulder cap epaulettes. This is like your signature. Mmhmm, this is my signature. It’s like armor, but also like biomechanic. Just little wings. Just little, mmhmm. These are my bootyless chaps. Excuse me? Yes. Your wax cloth bootyless chaps. Talk about, like, culture jamming. West-African wax print but like Cowboy chaps. The cowboy chaps which is very queer, you
know, but then you have like the cargo pocket and like the hood which is very American, you know? And like street fashion, yeah? I love combining. It’s so good. That’s it. That’s the Delta thing. Pulling from all these sources. For years, African Americans like Delta have
been dreaming up an origin story. A source for their superpowers. Personally, do you know your ancestral history? Unfortunately, I do not. In America, we don’t know where we came
from. So we’re just trying to pull from whatever
connects us and gives us that sense of grounding and home. We are trying to, um… That’s not our fault but we are trying to
connect. We have to remember that when we were brought
here as slaves, we don’t know what our lineage is and where we came from. We’re trying to figure it out and through
the tool of dress, we’re able to link back to our culture in the best way
that we know how. Kimberly Jenkins is a professor of fashion
history at Parsons School of Design in New York, in the midst of curating an exhibition on fashion and race. What does race have to do with fashion? Oh gosh. We’re realizing quite a bit. The way we dress ourselves and adorn ourselves
is inextricably linked to how we see ourselves. From our hair, to how we wear our makeup,
we can think about how we can dress ourselves in a way that confronts a troubled past. It’s imperative to look to our past and
be able to acknowledge what our ancestors went through even just a few generations back. The labels that we’ve been given. Images from a Jim Crow past. With Afrofuturism, we can sort of reassess
history and take our ancestors into liberation with us through dressing how we want, and
propose a new resilient future for ourselves. On our own terms. I find George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic
a really interesting case study in black history because they had this sort of double bind
where they were black and marginalized, but they were also this group of like, and I say
this in the most lovingly term, of black weirdos at that time. So they just thought, okay, well if we’re
not gonna fit in anywhere we’re just gonna dress like aliens, these other worldly characters. It was a cosmic response to American racism and discrimination. Sun Ra’s music. Octavia Butler’s literature. It all worked to reclaim black identity. Their supersonic statements gave rise to what
would come to be called Afrofuturism. It seems to pull this ancient, tribal past
and then it’s fused with this super futuristic look that’s almost like space alien. From New York to Nigeria, the style is contradictory and yet perfectly matched. Tradition mixed with technology, lo-fi with sci-fi, what’s in our history mixed with
what’s in our imagination. Recent acolytes include Janelle Monae, Childish
Gambino, and yes, even Beyonce. The look deliberately lays out a wider vision. It turns a dystopian past of slavery and colonialism, into a utopian future where black people chart their own destiny. It’s exactly what Kimberly’s latest exhibition is about. Imagination and the black American experience. This is a way of turning the classroom inside out and just
letting the public get involved in the discourse. In this room, Afrofuturism looks like galactic
headgear, regal dresses, and lots of hair. For these designers, it’s a no rules fashion salute to their identity. Academically speaking, Afrofuturism is an
American concept. It was created by Americans and it reckons
with the African diaspora. Do you think Afrofuturism has a place in Africa? Afrofuturism definitely has a place in Africa. Although we have very different pasts, it
would be incredibly interesting to see how that’s being worked out through music, art,
and of course, fashion. So I’m gearing up for a trip to Africa’s biggest city. Lagos, Nigeria. Where the continent’s most ambitious, most talented designers go to get noticed. Lagos is a hustle. Lagos is a beautifully crazy city, but it
also has so much vibrance, there’s so much creativity going on here, there’s so much
innovation happening in Lagos. Home to more than 400 ethnic groups and 500 languages, Lagos is more than a melting pot. It’s an explosion of cultures. Tonight, the curtain is rising on Africa’s
biggest runway. Lagos Fashion Week. Four straight days of events showcasing the works of designers like Lisa Folawiyo, Orange Culture, and I.AM.ISIGO, with radical stylists
like Daniel Obasi. Then, there’s Falana, a singer with
a taste for statement pieces, closing out the show with a debut of her new album. I am a singer, musician, songwriter. I’m obsessed with fashion. As am I. My parents are Nigerian. I moved to Canada, and I grew up in Toronto. But I wasn’t removed culturally. My parents thought it was really important
for me to know where I was from and to have connection with my family. Falana grew up listening to both American and Nigerian musicians, and visiting Lagos to see family. So when she took up singing, the search for
her voice led her back here. All the reference points that I had growing
up, now they really fit in. All the kind of sounds that I hear in my head. It’s now starting to make sense and come
together in Lagos. When people listen to my music, I want them
to be able to hear where the old meets the new. Taking the vintage and marrying it with the
contemporary. So as someone who’s obsessed with fashion
and arts and culture, Lagos is really somewhere where I’ve found I connect with the heartbeat of what’s going
on. So this is Alara. This is amazing. Absolutely gorgeous. And it’s like a luxury store that reflects
our own culture as well. Elegant. It’s so classy. Taking traditional Nigerian adire prints and it just comes together really seamlessly, I think. Putting Nigerian context in a global kind of fashion. Yeah, exactly. Do you want to try this on? Yeah. Well, I’m not a hat person. Well, it’s not even a hat. It’s actually gele. But this is a reimagined one. With bangs? Look, you look great. There’s different ways to think about Afrofuturism,
right? I think Afrofuturism can embody how our roots and how our culture can inform our future
selves. Can inform what we as a culture will look
like, sound like, feel like in, let’s say, 2100. Falana used her community’s past to envision what it might look like as far out as the 22nd century. But Nigeria’s history has been marred by what you could call an alien invasion. British colonizers occupied the region in
1885. They exploited the land’s palm oil and forced people to convert to Christianity. When Nigeria gained independence in 1960, the British left behind a torn country to save itself. Yet despite all that was taken from them,
Nigeria’s people endured. They found their way back to traditions
that refuse to be eradicated. For many artists here, moving Nigeria forward
means looking back. Adire. It literally means tie and dye. It was created and popularized by Yoruba women and passed down through generations. This is the dyeing pits. This is where everything happens. This is where everything happens? The final stage. Hold onto it, it’s clean. This is amazing. Of course it’s amazing. Alright, this is what I call freehand. Okay. You understand? This is called batik. That’s where the beauty is. Across town, one far out visionary is
pushing traditions like adire even further. What does Afrofuturist fashion look like for
you? I think for me the message really is that
anything is possible. I’m such a firm believer in alternative
realities when talking about art. Within afrofuturism, there is no limit to
what you can do. So you can literally explore as much as you
want to. Daniel is the styling genius behind some of
Nigeria’s edgiest photoshoots and fashion videos. His aesthetic is Afro space travel. Like something that would fit in both at the Met and on Mars. Today, he’s styling Falana for fashion week. I definitely like this as a dress on its own. Okay, let me try it on. Afrofuturism just offers that platform where
you can explore. Where you can mix so much together and still
not lose your heritage. Yeah, I love it. Ta-da. As a musician, what I wear also plays an influence
into how my music is perceived, and I love to be able to collaborate with designers in
a way that helps to bring my music to life. On the runway, this heritage is palpable. But the collections also feel decidedly new. Yes, there are local references but they’re
in a global spotlight and they’re beaming. Yoruba geles and adire prints walk side by
side with sheer paneled dresses and androgynous silhouettes. I could believe these clothes were designed
a hundred years ago or sent back from a hundred years in the future. That’s the thing about Afrofuturism. It’s fluid. It’s what you dream it to be. I think understanding your past gives you
context to be able to innovate in the future. And I think if you do not have a rooted and grounded
identity, you’ll be lost in the world. Falana’s performance is an apt finale to
Lagos fashion week, and as I watch her sing, I can’t help but think of Delta. Unlike Falana, Delta can’t reconnect with her roots. She doesn’t know them. Pinpointing her Africanness to a specific space and time is difficult. Her vision of self can shift with the change of an outfit. Some people see how a lot of African Americans
are picking and choosing pieces from all over Africa. It’d be like, the equivalent of someone
wearing a cowboy hat, like board shorts, and then an I Love New York
t-shirt. It’s not anchored in anything. You’re correct, it’s not authentic
and that’s not our fault. You can pull from all over and still be African
American and of Africa and of the diaspora. I find like whatever you’re drawn to, your spirit’s
drawn to it for a reason so I probably connect to it in some sort of way in my history. Tonight Delta is doing what she does best. Using her imagination to fuel her alter-ego. So right now, I’m just drawing some tribal
makeup on to go with this Afro deity that I created. I would love to know what part of Africa,
what country, what tribe I’m from. Looking at my features, I find I mimic Sudanese
people with the high cheek bones and like the way my nose flares. I look at the Maasai tribes and they’re
so tall and lanky, and I’m like I might be part Maasai. What would you say to a black woman growing
up in the United States who might not have the privilege of being so close to their heritage, who might be feeling lost and is looking to Afrofuturism as a way to heal and to look forward? Wow, that’s a very heavy question because
it’s not just an intellectual thing, it’s an emotional thing, it’s a psychological
experience. What would I say to them? I think they should obey their spirit. That’s the thing that has really guided
me. Obey the spirit. Why is it important to know what your history
is? The past influences your future, and a lot of black people do not know
that in America. That we came from these rich heritage and
cultural tribes. Afrofuturism is a tangible, visual representation
of all the infinite possibilities that could be. Afrofuturism is seeing black people in a brighter
light. In a country that has long denied black people
their humanity, Afrofuturism recasts them as superhuman. In fashion, in sci-fi, there are no rules. In Afrofuturism, there’s only one. Obey your spirit.

100 thoughts on “Why Black Millennials Are Dressing Like Comic Superheros | Style Out There | Refinery29

  1. How do you feel about using Afro-Futurism as a way to connect to the past? Share your thoughts with us below!

  2. Sorry but what tragedy are they still dealing from? Don't get the wrong idea I think this is pretty dam cool.

  3. As an adopted child which no idea what her background is, I totally understand reaching out trying to find something that you can connect to. When she cried it hit me right in the gut.


  5. I found this really interesting, I love fashion and it's lovely how you can express such topics through it xx

  6. It's good to see sisters and bro.s working as one unit.to inspire others . Artists like queen Latifah back in a day were pushing for this fashion statement. It was so beautiful .

  7. I mean, loving the creative expression, but what always seems weird to me is how black people from the US seem to think Africa is just one big country/culture or something. There's so many different cultures on the (giant) continent, so why put them all into one mold? Sure, you want to know where you came from, but isn't that just the US? Why be so adamant about identifying as an African when you have no idea of all the different cultures and countries?

  8. Chaps aren't queer they come from cowBOYs. CowBOYs originally were Black Men. Stop writing over history.

  9. "🤩This is amazing" "😏of course it is amazing"

    I would have liked for them to give Delta all those DNA tests it might have given her a few answers

  10. We love our black American brothers and sisters, Africa is always here with open as for u

  11. On an unrelated note, finding octavia Butler books is incredibly hard for some reason. Like i would love to read more of her books, but it's hard to buy them without buying online.

  12. let culturalism thrive and nationalism die. the world needs more of this beautiful art and ideology.

  13. I dont understand why women are soo obsessed with their lineage, ancestry, or where their genes originated from. Does knowing that information change anything????

    I mean go back far enough and we all share a same common ancestor.

  14. Except, afro-futurism isn't fucking real. It was just black people getting their way after crying about not being the focus.

  15. Are you serious with this question? REPRESENTATION! We now have someone to look like and express as! About fucking time too! There's nowhere to go but all the way out now that we GET to…

  16. Delta, if you are part Masaai you are part Kenyan. As a Kenyan, please, Come home and connect with your roots for some time. Ps: you do look east African.

  17. Meanwhile, you have characters like Jesse Lee Peterson running around. SMFH.

  18. Ironically, black characters in marvel are not as black as they used to be wouldn't even know that some of them were black if you didn't know before hand.

  19. When she started talking about connecting I started crying too. As an African-American, sometimes I feel lost and envious of others who do know their cultural background. Though we can building our own culture here in USA I don't think it's the same.

  20. There's being impartial and then there's complete emotional vacancy, this reporter was the worst match to deliver this story – no sensitivity for the African American woman – and saying the Nigerian woman's hair looks like it will breed aliens? Girl no.

  21. I love this but I disagree when they said that they didn’t know there roots. That’s easy to find. A DNA test from websites like 23andme.com, ancestry.com and myheritage.com can solve that. Afrofuturism is so cool. I want to look more into this out of curiosity.

  22. I often jealous of how beautiful people of color look in bright colors of clothing, makeup and hair, in different styles of clothing and head wraps with elaborate patterns, and elaborate hair. They don't look over the top, they just look good.

  23. narrator you are talking nonsense. stop with the victim mentality. nothing was taken from nigeria that is not there today. the British also built lots of infrastructure which the africans left to rot away after the Britons left. Africa's biggest problems today are from Africans and their leaders. The British also colonized Hong Kong and lots of asian countries. I don't see you playing the victim since you look asian yourself. why then must you carry on the victim torch for africans? what's the agenda? .to keep them in a victim state of mind for perpetuity when they have enormous potential to look beyond mediocrity, rise up and better themselves? Nigerians know their problems and the British is a very minor part of that. A visitor can only follow your lead on how clean or dirty you keep your house. Integrity begets respect and respect, honor and pride. Africans should stop acting like babies and should fend and fight for their collective interests as opposed to their leaders selling out whole countries for freaking peanuts!

  24. This journalist is my fave. Every time I see her I know I am gonna get some positive unbiased reporting with a lovely smile along the way.

  25. How have the troubles of slavery and Jim Crow NOT been addressed?? There are mountains of literature, film and media that have crtically analysed it! It has not been forgotten!

    And next thing you know the Asian reporter will try to get more Asian 'respresentation' in comics … in spite of the existence of manga (eyeroll).

  26. Looks cool for a women and maybe certain styles for men but Being a BLACK MAN in America I try not to be notice cuz when I am I always end up accuse of something I have no clue what there talking about on the on ground or guns in my face then the find no evidence sometimes after getting a lawyer and I'm free to go it really sucks in America being black you can't go no where near white areas but if you don't you can't a job or a nice area to live your just stuck in limbo

  27. As a African American woman and artist, I really wish to meet Delta so we can create a comic book series together. Also, I used DNA ancestry (though I would highly recommend AfricanAncestry.com because its black owned AND it will show you what African tribe you came from and locations. But after my heavy research to find my family (who lives in from Nigeria). I felt happy and overwhelmed with mixed emotions that I've found my origins…to be proud of being part of a Igbo, Fulani and Yoruba tribe. Now I know how precious African identity can be.

  28. Afrofuturism has been a thing for at least 60years, and probably longer. It took off in the 50's. As a Black child of the 60's, back when my love for it was seen as being 'weird' , I find it a bit funny that now that it has jumped to mainstream culture, it's looked at as something new, edgy and empowering, especially since for myself and others it was just a way of life.

  29. Wow to see a runway with all dark skin tones is amazing, what a rarity to see and to be a part of, beautiful.

  30. I love the idea of liberating our ancestors and taking them with us to the future

  31. I'm from South Africa and we were colonised twice and the our government of the time decided to divide people of colour by renaming us according to our skin-tone, so if you were lighter you'd be called coloured. We also don't know what tribes we came form or even if we came from the Malaysian slaves, so this was beautiful to watch. It's like she's creating her own identity but still honouring the motherland.

  32. Excellent documentary. I really enjoyed it. It fueled so much in me as a creative person. Thank you

  33. The "home" that many of us are missing is really just feeling hurt from our childhood. It's our parent's responsibility to make us feel like we are home wherever we are and to make us feel safe and love. Home is where the heart is. Unfortunately, many parents end up hurting, abusing, and/or neglecting their children and they end up hurt, confused, and lost as an adult, constantly searching for the source of the emptiness they feel. No fashion or place is ever going to fill it. However, just from a fashion standpoint, I love this style and I love seeing black Americans embracing African culture. It's beautiful and it's something to be proud of.

  34. I'm so glad you all changed the title from "How Black Panther Brought Back This Fashion Subculture" because no.

  35. amazingly beautiful and super interesting. i love Style Out There, it's always so well done.

  36. I invite you all to Nigeria and look at our fashion, hair styles, food you will be surprised. Come to Abuja the Capital of Nigeria you will not regret it. If you are in Abuja just say hi will gladly show you around.

  37. It’s funny how they always find the people to interview that still don’t know who they are.

  38. It’s funny how they always find the people to interview that still don’t know who they are.

  39. Are all of refinery29 videos about race? I'm mexican and just saw the video about japanese girls dressing as chicanas and this host tryna make people triggered… which backfired cuz we cool with what americans call "american appropriation"… now seeing this video I'm like……….? Is race all americans talk about these days? No wonder you are al divided. I won't be surprised if the US splits.

  40. This is such a well done interview. I am loving Connie Wang after watching her follow the dancehall queens. Her tone is not accusatory or condescending. As an African, it's important that I say not all of us know where exactly we come from because we had free borders and there are some who would move and assimilate due to tribal wars or nomadic lifestyle and so do not feel so badly. Obey the spirit is a very POWERFUL statement. My spirit started nagging me to the point that I had to do one of those ancestry.com DNA kits. It showed me general areas but I was also surprised to see some parts I wouldn't even have imagined – then I remembered how we were free so long ago and it still shows up in our DNA. Scramble for Africa was the devil and still is. Do not cry Delta Major, keep listening to your spirit and gravitating where it wanders to. Much love

  41. Wow I never even heard of this term but this was beautiful. I will def do some more digging into this gorgeous genre of fashion 💕💕

  42. Imagine the Jewish version of this… jewfuturism? I'd like to see it
    This was a very powerful message too that's why I'm curious since Jewish culture/fashion isn't represented so much especially for women who have also been through genocide and thousands of years of slavery..

  43. Afro futurism is stunning!
    The first young lady interviewed
    is sooo beautiful. I love her face and color. Her designs are off the chart. Since she seems sad that she didn't know her ancestry maybe she should try getting a DNA test to find her roots. I did and I feel like a completely different person now. Nigerian being the strongest of the blood line.

  44. Thank you for this story!!! It's inspiring, thoughtful, gorgeous, and so many other great things!

  45. When the African sister said to obey your spirit i burst into tears. Thanks guys beautiful work, well done.

  46. i really wish ya'll would have been atleast somewhat as thoughtful in coming up with a title as you were in gathering this information. The title suggests that you "found" some "answer" to something that is both a living and ever-expanding concept and practice for many of us in the african diaspora that expands far beyond the time-space of "black millenials". AND in so choosing such a title, you close down both Blackness & afro futurism (priming the viewer) before one can even get into the video -which does an OK job of leaving it open-ended.

  47. You put together these stunning pieces of film – pretty incredible. I LOVE those African fashion outfits – Amazing!!!

  48. Love Connie Wang.. You REPORT. Reality of history and all your reportings are without judgement or taking sides.. Keep it 💯💖💖

  49. So-called African Americans are not from Africa. They are Israelites whom fled into Africa in 70 A.D. fleeing Roman persecution. Read KJV 1611, Deuteronomy 28:68 and Exodus 20:2.

  50. You may not know where your from in Africa, but I will say this. Once you do find out you'll see that your heritage has been in you all along. Based on the way you do things. How you dress, certain colors your drawn too. Even the type of foods you enjoy or the type of art work you love etc…

  51. Omg delta where have you been all my life I thought I was the only one out here vibing like this. Omg magic!

  52. A lot of non black people ask us that simple question "What are your roots?" etc, and our answer is a true mystery because of what transpired in history with us.

  53. I LOVE THIS!!!! How come I never heard about this? I've been living under a rock apparently

  54. Why do black people try to steal everything we create.
    Get your own shit; you all sound pathetic.

  55. -"This is amazing!"

    I love my people!

  56. As an Indian, it blows my mind to see Nigeria's history, and how it even looks familiar to me! Being colonized… it's crazy, no? But these designers and creative people and even just normal people who don't consciously plan things out, they make something so beautiful out of digesting all of it… it makes me feel more proud to be human.

  57. Uhmm.. You know where you're from: America. Born & raised there? So that's that! 3 generations of American is more than most ppl know of their heritage. Why are black Americans so obsessed with African style?
    Most of them werent born in Africa, nor have ever traveled there. And they even dress in tribe clothing that those specific tribes in Africa most likely wont appreciate if you're not from there/have no Connection to their tribe (that is culutral appropriation).
    And since all humans derive from Africa, we could all wear typical african tribe clothes. But then black americans are always like 'CULTURAL APPROPRIATION' while wearing european-hair wigs…smh
    Even saying braids are black (they r not, they exist since the beginning of time) and so on makes me somewhat wonder if those black ppl are smart sometimes

  58. i wish to be as passionate as them when it comes to fashion and expressing myself

  59. Im from indonesia, and we have batik too 💕 and wow those fabric are insanely beautiful

  60. Traditional fashion from ALL cultures go unnoticed and un represented in designer fashion— we need more!!

  61. I love😍 this documentary Delta clothes are straight dope. She needs a clothing line I love individuals that have their own identity. Afrofuturism is nothing new 😆 just more are paying attention to it. Lagos is so beautiful and the fashion is jaw dropping❤❤.

  62. I’m so impressed by the history that is spotlighted and put towards the forefront!!!Bravo it’s like you watch it and get a history lesson as well!! This is brilliance!!

  63. I LOVE EVERYTHING about this$ I definitely connect with Afrofurturism. I'm so glad to see it being celebrated.

    I'll definitely be listening to Falana and would love to know whether or not Falana sells her pieces.

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