Space is the Place

dir. Coney

Opens Fri Sept 12

Mississippi Records Parking Lot

As a member of the Afrofuturist movement, which counts artists like Nalo Hopkinson, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), and Kodwo Eshun as its prominent figures, I can safely say that Space is the Place is our cinematic bible. Despite its very low budget and frequent slips into incoherence, the movie gets to the heart of what science fiction means to black Americans, which is significantly not what it means to white Americans. The fact of this can be understood when Space is the Place (which was made in 1974) is compared to Star Wars (1977). Though both films imagine a final utopia on a green planet, the planet in Space is the Place is inhabited solely by blacks, whereas the one in Star Wars is inhabited solely by whites. (Agreed, the follow up to Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, made adjustments to its future world by adding a black character, Lando Calrissian.)

Set in Oakland, Space is the Place is about Sun Ra, an astronaut/jazz pianist who takes a spaceship to Earth with his orchestra (or Arkestra, as he called it). Upon their arrival, they find black people who are spiritually ready to make the galactic trip to a distant planet, where blacks are happy and free. Bright with futurized Ancient Egyptian costumes and cosmic colors, the movie is best understood as a visualization of Sun Ra's music which, since the '50s, had gone further and further away from traditional jazz themes and sounds. By the '70s, it was no longer on Earth--it was pure space music.

Don't watch this film because it's wacky, even though the afros, attire, and black slang of the times are really something else. Watch it with all seriousness. Sun Ra, the great jazz musician, is trying to articulate a whole new possibility for the black youth, trying to show them a new way out of black dead ends like alcoholism, prostitution (both literal and figural--selling out to the man), and inner city economic oppression. As all Afrofuturists now know, space is the motherfucking place.