speculative fictions, littoral (be)longings
What would I give if I could live
Out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day
Warm on the sand?
Millennials (and parents of millennials) will remember these lines as the amphibian aspirations sung by Ariel in Disney’s
A Little Mermaid, about her longing to become human and ‘Part of Your World’. The story follows a familiar sanitised
Disneyfication of a pre-existing narrative: a beautiful young woman falls in love with someone unattainable, and the plot
gambols on until they are united. In the case of A Little Mermaid, it is a tricky case of evolutionary (cf. race, class)
difference that wrecks their chances at the outset – where he has feet, she has fins.
Tides lap at the beach, the longing of water to reach land. Or is the land that longs to become part of the sea; dissolving
at its edges in sievefuls of sand? The haunting rhythm of black waves in Reinhaid Hölker’s Unhide (2015) seem to erode the
painted ‘whiteface’ of the lone black man as he rubs at his disguised features. The short, powerful film acts as an elemental
elegy to the political refugees lost at sea. But can there be potential in the water, too? In Afrofuturist legend, it is the
ocean that becomes a ‘Black Atlantis’; the revolutionary and life-giving landscape for future generations. Afrofuturist
theorist Kodwo Eshun describes an underwater kingdom called Drexciya, populated by the children of slaves thrown overboard
during the Middle Passage. In this speculative fiction, the female slaves who were thrown over did not die, but gave birth
to children who could breathe underwater. He says the narrative:
‘focuses on someone who is at odds with the apparatus of power in society and whose profound experience in one of cultural
dislocation, alienation and estrangement.’
The legend of the Drexciya, and the many ways in which contemporary filmmakers are using a fluid approach to manipulating
and re-imagining political histories, evidence the power of speculative fictions to disrupt and destabilise the established
narrative course; becoming vessels of alternative presents and futures, and point to new lands ahead.