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Astra and Afrofuturism in Valorant

Astra Image by Riot Games
Astra Image by Riot Games
Suryadeepto Sengupta

Astra, the latest controller agent, was introduced to the Valorant roster in Episode 2 Act 2. According to the game, she is a controller-type Radiant agent originating from the country of Ghana.

Astra harnesses the power of the cosmos for her abilities. With her unique design and storyline, she sets the Valorant lore in a new direction.

While discussing her design inspiration, John “RiotMEMEMEMEME” Goscick, the character producer of Valorant, mentioned Afrofuturism as an influence.


Inspirations behind character design of Astra in Valorant

Astra’s design blends Afrofuturism with an outer space theme to create a character who harnesses Radiant power to bring a cosmic perspective. Regarding the design, Goscick said,

African Futurism was a huge inspiration for us when it came to designing Astra’s thematics, once that element was brought into her development all the pieces naturally fell in place. Ascending above the map to place her “Stars” is such a huge part of her kit, and there are amazing cohesive representations of African Futurism X Space that we were able to pull from.

The development team worked closely with a consultant from Ghana to ensure Astra’s culture and personality were grounded in reality. The introduction of this character opened up a new avenue for Valorant.


African Futurism

Afrofuturism isn’t just a blend of technology with African cultures. It is a future for African people where racial discrimination, negative effects of imperialism, slavery, and other historical struggles are figments of the past.

It is a cultural aesthetic and historical philosophy that explores the African diaspora's rich cultural intersection with technology. In this world, the African people have risen from pain to build their own empires.

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The term 'Afrofuturism' was first coined by Mark Dery in 1993 and was explored in the late 90s through conversations led by American academic Alondra Nelson.

The Oxford Dictionary describes it as:

a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.

Even though the term was coined in the late 20th century, Afrofuturism's ideals go back to the 60s and the Black Panthers' rise.


The origins of Afrofuturism

Slavery in the United States was legal and common before the Civil War. In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the first American president to win on an anti-slavery platform.

But slave owners and rich Southerners were displeased. So seven Southern states opposed abolition by forming the infamous Confederate States of America. As a result of disagreements on slavery and other matters, the American Civil War broke out between the north and south.

Even though the war ended on May 9th, 1865, with the north's victory and a legal abolishment of slavery, racial discrimination continues to plague the country till today.

After the end of the Civil War, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery. Thousands of African-Americans were freed from the plantations. They gained the right to vote, attain education, and own property for the first time.

Several prominent African-Americans even held political office in Lincon’s Republican Party. But in 1866, to oppose the abolition, the Klu Klax Klan (KKK) began organizing a white-only social club for Civil War veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee.

Led by former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the KKK aimed to re-establish white supremacy through intimidation and violence. Their methods included burning homes, brutally lynching African-Americans, vigilantism, and other forms of domestic terrorism.

The KKK called themselves the “Invisible Empire of the South.” Members dressed in white hooded robes to hide their identity and instil fear in the masses.

BlacKKKlansman (2018) by Spike Lee and Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) by Shaka King are movies that portray the struggle during the 1960s
BlacKKKlansman (2018) by Spike Lee and Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) by Shaka King are movies that portray the struggle during the 1960s

By the 1960s, the KKK evolved from a social-club to a political force. Violence against people of color became a common affair, with many institutions like the police and courts often siding with the KKK. Moreover, Jim Crow laws solidified the belief that public institutions tacitly favored discrimination against minorities.

All of this led to the Black Panther Party's formation, sometimes called the Panthers, in 1966 by college students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. The Black Panther Party was an organization that demanded equal rights for African American people and took an active part in the Civil Rights movement.

Afrofuturism is rooted in this painful historical struggle of the African people from slavery to civil rights. The philosophical outlook blends technology and culture to envision a post-racial world.


Afrofuturism in popular media

Afrofuturism has reached mainstream conversation in recent years due to its representation in the Oscar-winning Black Panther (2018) movie by Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios.

Inspired by Marvel comics, the Black Panther character represents the country of Wakanda - a technologically advanced Pan-African collective that seamlessly blends technological advancements with African culture.

Wakanda in Black Panther (2018) portrays Afrofuturism image by Marvel Studios, Disney.
Wakanda in Black Panther (2018) portrays Afrofuturism image by Marvel Studios, Disney.

Other than in the recent movie, Afrofuturism has been portrayed in popular media by talented artists, musicians, poets, and others.


Afrofuturism and the future of Valorant

In December 2020, David Nottingham, the creative director of Valorant, released an End of the Year for the Creative Team at Valorant. In the report, he teased several new images, which hinted at a technologically advanced city.

Valorant Imasge by Riot Games
Valorant Imasge by Riot Games

With Astra, the Valorant creative team is embracing Afrofuturism. The creative team can take it beyond one character because Astra's lore opens up a new avenue for storytelling in Valorant.

The developers could introduce new characters and new locations for the map infused with Afrofuturism. Players can easily imagine a map set in an advanced African city that blends technology with African culture.


Edited by Srijan Sen

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