The concept of Afrofuturism was still relatively embryonic when John Akomfrah and Edward George, co-founders of the Black Audio Film Collective, made The Last Angel of History in 1996. The 45-minute film is part documentary, with talking heads and cleverly collaged sound, and part visionary sci-fi tale centred around the character of the time-travelling “Data Thief,” who’s come from the future to find meaning in the “techno fossils” of our era.
Starting at the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul, the film posits a deep connection between Black art and futuristic technology. From African drums—a technology that could “communicate both across the African diaspora and across time”—to Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Mothership connection,” through Sun Ra, Lee Perry and the man-machine visions of Detroit techno, the Data Thief discovers a long-running affinity with science fiction, cyborgs and space travel.
As well as insights from the likes of George Clinton, Juan Atkins, Goldie and Derrick May (who at one point gets hilariously catty about A Guy Called Gerald), Akomfrah speaks to Black astronaut Bernard Harris, sci-fi writers Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany, novelist Ishmael Reed and a young Kodwo Eshun, who at the time was working on More Brilliant Than The Sun, his extraordinary and definitive book on Afrofuturism. Considering it was made at the height of critical interest in cyber- and techno-culture, The Last Angel of History feels barely dated at all, and it’s an illuminating companion to Akomfrah’s other installations and films, including 2013’s The Stuart Hall Project.