Nubiamancy founder Asante Massawa (not at T by Daniel)
Asante was already in line when I walked into T by Daniel — a minimalist cafe in downtown Brampton (an oxymoron for those who know the area). Samba music played in the background as we greeted each other. I commented on the music and Asante asked me if I knew of the Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown (shamefully, I was surprised he did).
We walked to a small table pushed up against a wall to begin our conversation on Nubiamancy – a fantasy, sci-fi and horror media platform, and soon-to-be film production company. Since starting Nubiamancy in 2013, Asante has amassed approximately 80,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram respectively.
From our small table in this small city, we chatted about the growth of his big idea.
How did Nubiamancy begin?
Back in 2012 they announced the Black Panther movie was in development.
I just need to interrupt you and say: that trailer was the Blackest thing I had ever seen.
Yes! And that’s what I had envisioned in 2012. I got so excited and I had all this free time with my business at the time, so I made a Facebook fan page for the Black Panther character. Leading up to the film, I wanted to introduce people to the character so that when the film came out they’d have some background on it. Within a month I had about 6000 followers.
I decided to start another page for the Avengers, another page for Justice League, another page for Game
Cyborg by Venus Bambisa
of Thrones, and another page for X-Men, because I got addicted to having all these fan pages. But apart from Black Panther, all of the other stuff was just the same White superheroes or whatever. So I said to myself, I want to see more of that Black Panther-type imagery with Black people, robot guns, flying in the air as princes and Kings. So I went looking for these images and I found a whole gamut.
In 2013 I started Nubiamancy but at the time it was called Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Mythologies of Alkebulan. It was a long-ass name. A year later and I came up with the name Nubiamancy. Eventually I shut down the other pages and the Black Panther page was taken over by Marvel. Facebook had given it to Marvel because they owned the rights to the character. But, hey, I’m just glad the movie’s coming out — that’s what gave me the idea to start Nubiamancy. Once I started to find these Black sci-fi and fantasy images, I decided to focus on that because it would have a much greater impact. Now I have about 75,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook.
Yes, I noticed. But how?
Just by posting great content.
That’s it? No tricks?
That’s it. Since 2013 I’ve been posting regularly.
When I sold my lawn care business in 2014, I wanted to pursue something that I actually loved doing. So I said that I was going to pursue film. I didn’t know how I was going to get into film, I just knew that I wanted to do film. And as this page started to grow, I figured I could put the two together and do films based on what I post.
Have you always been interested in sci-fi and comics growing up?
Since day one. The oldest memory I have of watching anything fantasy or sci-fi is when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old in Jamaica. I was on my mom‘s lap and I remember Sleeping Beauty was playing. Remember the witch with the black horns and shit? As a baby I remember how scared I was of the imagery but I also I remember how fantastic it was. Then a few years later it was me and my mom watching Star Trek together. Later down the road it was my uncle watching RoboCop and Terminator and Total Recall.
What is it about sci-fi that grabs your attention?
It’s just that it’s different from the mundane. Life is generally boring. It’s just monotonous and boring and sci-fi is a very good industry to escape into. Just think of the possibilities of what could be. Science Fiction could become fact in a lot of ways. Star Trek paved the way for us having these kind of phones. Fantasy is different for the most part in that it’s completely make believe, but sci-fi is like predicting the future.
I think with Black Panther coming out it will change Black filmmaking. I knew the impact that it would have back in 2012 and now it’s almost here.
Why was it important for you to focus on an African aesthetic for Nubiamancy?
Umzingeli by Dananayi Muwanigwa
Because we don’t see it. When you watch a Hollywood movie that has an all Black cast, is it fantasy or sci-fi?
It’s comedy, it’s some Tyler Perry drama, it’s about a barbershop, it’s about basketball, it’s about gangsters who rap, it’s about Tupac. Oh, and slavery — that’s another one. “Slave porn” as some of my friends call it, where we have to rehash these images of us in chains, or as butlers in the Civil Rights era. And we see those kinds of movies because we are not the ones making the movies. We might be acting in them or even directing them, but who’s funding them? It’s not us.
Gabriel Teodros, an emcee from Seattle, was doing some writing for a sci-fi anthology and he said that it’s really important that Black people envision themselves in the future because we don’t really do that and we don’t see enough of that.
We love remembering the past. We love remembering Black Wall Street, and even getting on the slave ship. We keep looking back but never forward because we’ve been conditioned to do that.
What sort of responses have you been getting from people?
Mostly positive, but with some criticisms. There are the hardcore spiritualists that follow Voodoo and Ifá, who don’t like us taking those images and using them for entertainment because they feel they’re sacred. And I understand that, but at the same time, if we’re using the images to inspire creativity and to get us to look toward the future, I don’t think that messes with the sacredness of it. It spreads awareness because a lot of Black people don’t even know what what Ifá is. So when they see a robot called Orisa people will make connections and do the research. If we don’t use it in that way then a lot of Black people who would never know anything about traditional African spirituality won’t have many avenues to it. That’s one way that my detractors should look at it. We’re not using this only to entertain, but to also educate.
Other criticisms I’ve gotten… When I post horror images and I say that we should do more horror based on stories that are told in the Caribbean and Africa about people who shape shift and turn into snakes, people who just disappear in the middle of the night, some Black people say we go through enough horror in our everyday life, we don’t need anymore. That’s such a defeatist mindset. It’s an outlet of entertainment, that will make us a little scared probably, but at the same time it’s also an educational tool.
Let me tell you — I love a duppy story. I love when my mother gets together with her siblings and they talk about who saw what back in the day.
I love it. When people claim to have seen a duppy I want to hear their story.
And like you said, it’s an interesting thread to learning about stuff. I remember, after having a horrible nightmare in a bed that had been positioned directly in front of the stairs, my mother had me sleep with a red blanket. She believed that red would ward off evil spirits. She also made a comment about how she should not have had me sleeping directly in line with the stairs. And then I learned that in Haitian tradition, when someone close to you dies, you’re supposed to wear red undergarments because it keeps the spirits away. Otherwise the spirit will come back to be with you. While in Ghana, I learned funeral clothes are red and black. So many commonalities. My question to you with regard to the educational aspect is, did you know this stuff beforehand or did you also go through a process of educating yourself?
I was always researching. Even when I was in the church as a minister I was always reading. The head of the church encouraged us to read, he used to say leaders are readers. So I followed his advice and I read myself right out of the church. [Laughing]
So yeah, I’ve done research on a bunch of things. Learning about African spirituality was a natural progression. Nubiamancy accelerated it because I was finding images of Oya, Baron Samedi, and so on. I would find the images and read the name and then ask, what is a Baron Samedi? What does Erzulie mean? So as I was finding and posting these images I was also educating myself. And I have a host of information that I could take with me into filmmaking once I make the transition.
Tell me about the fundraising campaign.
I wanted to raise $100,000 to make five short films. Usually for a short film, it’s $10,000 – $20,000. So I figured for $100,000 I could make five short films that would show people 1) the kind of films that we want to make and 2) the kind of quality of films we want to make.
Eventually, if we have enough backing, we could move into feature-length films. So that’s the plan that’s on the table right now with me and a production studio in Cape Town. The plan right now — it may change — is I raise $50,000 and they raise 50,000 and we make the films together.
What sort of relationship do you have with the artists whose work you share? Are they receptive?
Yeah. Especially the Black artists who draw the fantasy images — they didn’t know there was an audience for it. When you Google “Black art” you’re not going to find a lot of fantasy. You find a lot of Black women holding babies, couples hugging and maybe some African scenes. But you’re not going to find the stuff that I post because Black art is not really known to have that kind of aesthetic. Some of these Black artists have no other avenue for their art to be exposed, so when they see a social media page with 70,000 followers and their work gets posted there and they have thousands of people commenting and liking it and even asking them for work, they appreciate it. A lot of them have thanked me, some have told me that when I’m ready to make films they are on board.
With the White artists, a lot of them already have work. And a lot of the ones that I post already work in film or in the comic book industry. So the publicity to them is no big deal. But for the Black artist, it is essential. And I’m glad I got a chance to create a space where their weird Black art has an audience.