Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, contacted me about her senior project: a film about steampunk, steamfunk, and the role of African Diaspora in these subcultures. The final result is her animated short “Steamfunk & Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy” which I’m happy to share here. Also featuring the wonderful Balogun Ojetade speaking about steamfunk!
The inspiration for Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy derived from an event inspiration board that I came across online. The board, which featured an intriguing medley of metals, vintage artifacts, and African jewelry, was entitled “Afro-Steampunk,” and its description read, “If Erykah Badu and Sherlock Holmes had a wedding.” The visual juxtaposition of these unexpected sources of inspiration led me to delve into more research on the concept of Afro-Steampunk to see if this striking aesthetic could be found elsewhere. My search exposed me not only to more fascinating representations of Black and African aesthetics coalescing with the steampunk genre, but also to a unique set of politics and critiques associated with them.
Closing Credits Music produced by Briaan L. Barron
Okay, for those who know me, I’m very into non-western steampunk. And I enjoy kung fu comedies. A good steampunk film isn’t just pretty-looking with quirky tech, but addresses shifting social and cultural values in light of early industrialization and urbanization. A good kung fu flick has me cheering at the melodrama, holding my breath (or my abs or my head) in sympathy to whatever punches kicks or wall-breaking tumbles the characters go through. At New York Comic Con this past weekend, I attended the screening of Tai Chi Zero, which promised the best of both.
[Read "Finally a Chinese Steampunk Movie that Unquestionably Is Exactly That: Tai Chi Zero" on Tor.com]
It has been a question that I’ve seen resurface since Justin Beiber’s holiday movie tie-in single, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” went steampunk for their music video: Why does steampunk still matter?
The movement has been around for decades, and in recent years steampunk has become a fascination for mainstream culture. Literature remains a driving force behind its popularity. From books and graphic novels, and the colorful characters created within them, makers of both fabric and fabrication backgrounds bring to life this 19th century that never happened. Musicians such as The Men Who Will Be Blamed for Nothing, Abney Park, Paul Shapera, and even Rush are also finding inspiration from steampunk.
There is one creative arena where steampunk remains not only undiscovered country, but exciting country to explore: steampunk in film. There are many projects in production, some of which are reaching to the community for help in doing it right, but filmmaking—particularly for steampunk—offers incredible challenges. Challenges that, when conquered, can be quite rewarding.
[Read "The Three Ps of Steampunk Filmmaking" on Tor.com]
Friend of the blog, Miriam Rocek, aka Steampunk Emma Goldman recently was interviewed by a local New York Times correspondent for a documentary about America’s most famous anarchist and her old haunts in the East Village. I’m thrilled to see how steampunk is gaining some well-deserved recognition for its political potential. Watch the video below and read the accompanying article.
Note from Ay-leen: On the blog, I reviewed Professor Lameman’s one-shot comic The West Was Lost. It’s a pleasure to have her speak here about her newest Native steampunk work, The Path Without End. This short film will be screened at the upcoming art festivals: imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 19-23, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario and the Skábmagovat Film Festival, January 26-29, 2012, in Finland.
The Path Without End is a retelling of Anishinaabe stories of Moon People who traveled here from the stars by canoe. The title is a direct reference to Basil Johnston’s retelling. In this telling, I recreate the Human and Moon lovers as they travel, propagate, and face the unending chase of colonization.
I have been largely inspired by my mother, Grace L. Dillon, whose scholarship is in what she refers to as Indigenousfuturism
. She advocates for Indigenous writers of science fiction. In fact, Indigenous peoples have been telling science fiction stories from the beginning. In a sense, in The Path, the planets are both the cosmos themselves but also spiritual planes and representations of the landmasses on earth. There is no single reading of the story.
Filed under Essays, History
What does a futurist, a cultural historian, and one of the world’s leading tech companies have to do with steampunk? Perhaps, well, a lot more than you think. The Tomorrow Project by Intel is a series of conversations with leading scientists, engineers, thinkers, historians, and science fiction writers about how today’s most imaginative minds can construct new ways of seeing the future. One of their documentaries, Vintage Tomorrows, filmed by Byrd McDonald of Porter Panther Productions and produced by Brian David Johnson, proposes that steampunk is one method people are using in order to understand the impact of technology today. A highlight of my weekend at New York Comic Con was watching a rough-cut version of this film, where the question of steampunk, technology, and social change comes into play.
[Read the Rest on Tor.com]
For Steampunk Week, we’ve featured a variety of perspectives on what steampunk is and what the community is becoming. One thing that fascinates me most is what the frak makes us so appealing to people outsideof the steampunk community.
Obviously, steampunk’s become a buzzword and has been getting media coverage up to wazoo; acting as a news sniffer for all things steam for Tor.com has kept me aware of the best and the worst of what people think. Sure, we’ve got the shiny, but what else makes the community so attractive? Is the general trend of geek chic just expanding to include everything brassy and classy? Are we just a quirky niche that fits neatly into a five minute evening news segment? Most interestingly, though, is why steampunk now? And what does that say about greater shifts in geek & pop cultures? (Yes, I’m in academia, these questions intrigue me.)
Everyone’s looking for an answer. Besides the plenty of news sources in ourown community, I’ve run into mainstream reporters and indie filmmakers recording their own stories about steam for the non-initiated. To wrap-up this theme week, then, I had a roundtable discussion with two documentary-makers, Don Spiro and Martha Swetzoff, who took some time off from interviewing others to let me ask them about some bigger questions about what they’ve experienced in steampunk.
[Read the Rest on Tor.com's Steampunk Week]
Note: While I’m enjoying Wiscon this weekend (con report forthcoming), check out my latest review over at Tor.com. Delayed updates to Con Extravaganza & Asian Identities, Crossing Borders will be posted later this week.
During the Tribeca Film Festival, I managed to catch a showing of Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Watching the preview, this film promised big set pieces, lots of fiery explosions, and awesome martial arts action. A film that has Chinese alternate history and features a detective worthy of Sherlock, a black market underground beneath the Forbidden City, and a plot involving the mechanics of building a 800-foot tall Buddha—it all sounds pretty steampunk-esque. When a post about it went up on Tor.com Steampunk, people scratched their heads about whether it would qualify, or if, yet again, a fad word had been plopped in by marketing.
I think it’s steampunk in the way James Ng’s art is, the way Shweta Narayan’s “Eyes of the Craven Emerald” is, the way that Yakoub Islam plans to write a Muslim steampunk story set in the twelfth century, and the way that Aether Age plays with the concept of highly industrialized ancient civilizations. So for any nay-sayers who are not calling this steampunk, then I suppose these don’t qualify either. But examining how technology can—and has—developed independently from Western influence is an idea that shouldn’t mark something as not being steampunk.
But enough squabbling about labels, because in the end, this is one kick-ass entertaining film in its own right.
Read the rest over at Tor.com.
Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.
Released in 2009 (though with a fair share of controversy over the admittedly tasteless title, “Barbarian Princess”), with limited run last year and a DVD release in September, Princess Kaiulani is a gorgeously-shot tale of an unjustly forgotten figure in American history. Though the writing isn’t as nuanced as it could be, and there are many holes in the tale which require further reading after viewing the tale, for a movie which sheds light on a dark, yet fascinating period not often told outside of Hawaiian history, Princess Kaiulani is an excellent addition to the library of any history buff and period film aficionado. The film follows Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn (to give her full name) from shortly before her mother’s death to her own premature death at the age of 23. In between that regrettably short time span, we are shown the tenuous state of Hawaii’s royal family and its inhabitants.
One quick update: Amidst the rush in preparing for Nova Albion this weekend, I want to mention that the BBC America segment about steampunk had aired on Tuesday night as part of the BBC World News Hour. Readers may recall the Steampunk Stylin’ event I organized in connection with this; I worked with the lovely gent Andy Gallacher on this story to get him in touch with maker Dr. Grymm as well as letting him meet the awesome NYC steampunk community at The Way Station in Brooklyn.
This story, I think, really captures the fun, beauty, and positive vibes that I’ve encountered during my years being involved in the steampunk community, especially with the crews I run with both in New York and in New England. I’m especially proud that many of these wonderful people had a chance to come together for a night and show BBC how awesome American steampunks can be.