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Wakanda meets Ann Arbor

Jamie Sherman Blinder

Hannah Beachler

ANN ARBOR—When what two people have in common is that they have each worked with Beyoncé, chances are that their conversation will unfold in a pretty fascinating way.

On Thursday, Feb. 9 as part of the University of Michigan’s Humanities Afrofutures, Academy Award-winning production designer Hannah Beachler, and cultural historian and U-M assistant professor of Afroamerican and African Studies Scott Poulson-Bryant will sit down to have that conversation, Wondering Wakanda, for all to hear.

From the Black Panther franchise to Oscar-winning film Moonlight, and Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, Beachler has worked on some of the most influential pop culture moments of the last decade.

Poulson-Bryant co-founded VIBE Magazine in the early 1990s and has profiled iconic artists like Janet Jackson, Will Smith, Prince, Eminem and Beyoncé, to name just a few.

Harkening back to his days at as a journalist, Poulson-Bryant aims to learn more about Beachler’s process, her views on worldbuilding, and the influence these pop culture works can have on communities.

“I went into planning for this conversation with the same philosophy I use to teach my classes. I want my students to walk away with two things: to feel inspired to think critically about the world around them, and to have gained a vocabulary that allows them to talk about race in meaningful ways,” he said. “I want them to be inspired to make art, and inspired to think about Blackness as an intrinsic part of this nation’s history, present, and future.”

Presented by the Institute for the Humanities, Humanities Afrofutures is a month-long series of events at U-M bringing together scholars, artists and activists to reexamine the past, explore critical issues in the present, and create a space for imagining possible futures.

Shaunda Bunton, assistant director of public programming and engagement at the Institute, hopes to see a long line of engaged and interested students queued up to ask questions at the end of the conversation. “I’m hoping this conversation will spark a feeling in students that they can see, feel and touch an artist who has made an indelible mark on things that are very familiar to them,” she said.

Bunton also facilitated the crowdsourcing of a soundtrack for the event series. The community is encouraged to add songs to the playlist in themes of Afrofuturism, American History and African American History (just keep it clean!).

In one way or another, it all comes back around to Mrs. Knowles-Carter (yes, she is already featured on the aforementioned playlist five times).

Mr. Poulson-Bryant teaches a creative non-fiction writing class called Flawless/Formation/Freedom: Writing About Race, Gender and Popular Culture, named for three popular Beyoncé songs. “Beyoncé is the perfect text in very many ways for thinking about race, gender and popular culture all together, and because the students write personal essays in the class, I thought combining those three analytics would free them to think copaciously about race, and about these identities we all carry and wear.”

Above all, what can his students learn from Beyoncé? Joy.

“She has always expressed joy in her performance, her music, her perspective and point of view; even on records like Lemonade where she is discussing dark, heavy stuff, she never loses this sort of joy and pleasure of Blackness, and being a Black woman, and her offerings to the world.”

Wondering Wakanda is free and open to the public and will take place 5:30-7 p.m. at Rackham Auditorium on Feb. 9.

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