With ‘Neptune Frost,’ How to Make an Afrofuturist Sci-Fi Musical

6/7/2022 1:45:00 AM

What does technological progress look like to those exploited to achieve it? The co-directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman discuss their unusual film.

Saul Williams: 'The spirit of protest in the film comes from what was happening while we were writing it. We wanted to incorporate these things and to connect dots between these disparate ideas and show how they were all part of the same timeline.'

What does technological progress look like to those exploited to achieve it? The co-directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman discuss their unusual film.

June 6, 2022, 2:44 p.Each story has a beginning, just as each has many interpretations, like dreams.Aaron Guzikowski -created drama was met by lukewarm reviews for its first season, critics praised the sophomore release, notching an 86% on RottenTomatoes and an 84 on Metacritic.The first trailer for Strange World , the next animated feature from Disney, looks like a pulp paperback novel cover brought to life.

m.ET The unconventional sci-fi musical “Neptune Frost” (in theaters), from the co-directors and partners Saul Williams, a seasoned musician and actor from New York, and Anisia Uzeyman, a Rwandan actress and filmmaker; interrogates the notion of technological progress from the vantage point of those living in the places exploited to achieve it.More specifically, the death of Neptune’s grandmother.Set in the mountains of the African nation of Burundi, their Afrofuturist vision, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, follows a former miner and an intersex hacker as they lead an uprising against oppressive forces.Despite the second season turnaround – and an excruciating cliffhanger – that HBO Max will not pursue a third season.The realm they inhabit is one where reality and a digital interface, imbued with a magic realism, intersect in tactile ways.” From here, it’s into the cobalt mines we go, where colonialism takes new form as workers extract cobalt and other precious materials — the same ones that power the electronic devices you’re reading this article on right now — mostly for richer Western countries without the benefits being felt at home.Speaking via video call from their home in Los Angeles, the duo elucidated some of their one-of-a-kind film’s key concepts.In the meantime, if the trailer didn’t give you enough pulp sci-fi vibes, check out the poster below.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.One of them is murdered simply for taking a rest.“I’m asking for action.“Neptune Frost” was originally envisioned for the stage until producers persuaded you to turn the concept into a film.How did the medium of cinema reshape the project? SAUL WILLIAMS: It allowed us to imagine what it would be like to shoot on location.A way to turn the electronic tools of oppression into the tools of liberation.We had written the story to take place in Burundi but knew that we wouldn’t be able to shoot there because of political unrest.” “ So let’s give it a shot.But in the neighboring country of Rwanda, where Anisia is from, the doors were open.An idea can turn into a community that can turn into a movement that can turn into genuine change.

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 excited about showing a place and faces that people haven’t really seen onscreen.Neptune Frost is dense, a film and musical like few others.That was a joke.Image Anisia Uzeyman, left, with Saul Williams on the set of the film.Credit.For artists and directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, the “film” of Neptune Frost is just part of a multimedia project encompassing the music and graphic novel, first brought to realization with the MartyrLoserKing successful Kickstarter campaign in 2018..

.It’s a story of this intersex runaway finding a community that rejects the capitalist system run by “The Authority” to live collectively, using the land and the minerals once stolen from them to enrich themselves.Chris Schwagga ANISIA UZEYMAN: We wanted to share the existing beauty of Rwanda that I was intimate with, as well as the language.We have an ancestral tradition of poetry.It’s also a love story, just one where the fight to be free is deeply intertwined into the dynamics of the relationship between Neptune and coltan miner Matalusa.WILLIAMS: After writing the script, working with those poets and writers from Rwanda and Burundi to translate the text into Kinyarwanda and Kirundi was an extraordinary experience.The film allowed us to share way more than the stage would have.“Energy comes from his work in the coltan mine, the precious metal used to distribute power in our technology.

In creating this intricate narrative, were you drawing from specific historical events pertinent to Burundi or larger ideas about neocolonialism in Africa? WILLIAMS: When we first started conceptualizing the project in 2011, the Arab Spring, Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks were going on.On the continent, there were American evangelists arriving in countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda offering money to pass anti-L.We are proposing this universe, but between things, a lot of what we experience is made by your mind and your own persona and your own poetry and your own ability to be a part of that world.G.B.“The project was initially conceived around 2011, and at that time it was conceived to be exactly what it is now: a musical and the graphic novel, with the distinction being that the musical was for the stage,” explained Williams.T.

laws.’” The cost-prohibitive realities of a stage production led to the story moving from stage to screen.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.The film and its music were primarily informed by the disparities laid bare by the 2008 financial crash as well as the weaponization of the internet by both the grassroots masses and the all-seeing, war-mongering eyes of government, issues that have only grown more pertinent in the following years.This is connected to what has been happening on that continent for centuries.We wake 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 from your tires come from, where the stuff that makes your computer work comes from.“You had the various anti-gay laws on the continent, you had WikiLeaks, you had the Arab Spring, Chelsea Manning.

The spirit of protest in the film comes from what was happening while we were writing it.We wanted to incorporate these things and to connect dots between these disparate ideas and show how they were all part of the same timeline.The subject matter became more prevalent because of Trayvon Martin, then Trump gets elected, all these different things.Given that the music represents an integral storytelling aspect here, can you explain the thought process behind its composition? WILLIAMS: The music came first.I grew up on musicals and one of the goals was to make one that corresponds with the musical interests that have been a part of my exploration as an artist.When we arrived to shoot the initial sizzle reel for the film in Rwanda and Kigali in 2016, we ended up meeting a great part of our cast who were actually refugees from Burundi who fled because of the political upheaval that happened there in 2015.I was interested in polyrhythm because we made the connection between drum rhythms and coding because drums themselves have been used for wireless communication.

We were playing with the idea of drum coding in terms of computer programming, and the exploration of what is beyond the binary in the question of gender.It was all coalescing.UZEYMAN: Music was also a great means to communicate with the actors who are all singers and musicians.They have that very privileged relationship to rhythm.QAnon has showcased the web’s power at shaping and distorting our reality.It was a way of working toward their own understanding of the characters that they were playing and how their voices evolve over the arc of the story.Image Cheryl Isheja, left, with Bertrand “Kaya Free” Nintereste in “Neptune Frost.Of course, this assumes that technology is merely a device like a phone, divorced from our interactions and input.

” Credit..As Neptune runs from their home to find a place that allows them to live as themselves, they reach the off-the-grid hacktivist village that soon becomes home..Kino Lorber There’s a striking visual quality to the costumes and set decorations that’s both otherworldly and recognizable, how were these designed? UZEYMAN: Cedric Mizero , the young designer behind those costumes and the décor, in 2016 in Rwanda.After all, this home and its residents are infused with it, with discarded computer motherboards now repurposed as shelter or as a way to connect with the outside world, while items once thought of as trash find new meaning within their collective existence.After hearing the story that we wanted to tell, he came back the next morning with sandals made of motherboards.

Cedric’s work also inspired the writing of the film because he already was working with people in the village recycling and transforming materials that are seen as waste into art installations and zero-waste fashion.Even the ways in which the people of the village such as Neptune take on new names to assume control over their identities serves this idea.WILLIAMS: For example, making backpacks out of water containers or using African wooden sculptures as the guns that we used in the film.How does Afrofuturist art, which incorporates folklore and culture into futurist tropes, allows you to address today’s issues from a decolonized lens? WILLIAMS: There’s something experienced and understood about the fluidity of things in Indigenous cultures that transcends Western projection.In turn, the film is challenging us to frame our debates around the power of these devices and the internet in this same liberating light.These things have been a part of reality and storytelling in Africa and other places for a long time, but 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 participate in poverty porn or the expectations white people have of Africa.This is what allows the music of Neptune Frost to come alive.

UZEYMAN: From the perspective of artists on the continent, what’s important is the possibility of telling whatever story we want to tell, not the story that you are waiting for us to tell or that you’re willing to finance.We want to tell all tales from our perspective — science fiction or historical dramas — freed from the Western framing.The music is the heartbeat of the characters as much as it is the beat of the film, the rhythm of their lives, dreamily inserted while still striking at the film’s thematic core.Advertisement.

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Saul Williams: 'The spirit of protest in the film comes from whatever the f**k was happening while we were writing it. We wanted to incorporate these things and to connect dots between these disparate ideas and show how they were all part of the same timeline.'

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