An Afrofuturistic story enclosed within an old-timey radio show, Adventures in New America focuses on two characters in New America: IA Winter, a black man “who can’t get arrested to save his life (literally)” and Simon Carr (voiced by Paige Gilbert), a black lesbian who decides to help him and herself survive New New York. Taking place a few years in the future, IA and Simon go on a bunch of heists and missions to pay for IA’s treatment and encounter dangers capitalistic, colonialist and supernatural along the way. There’s horror and comedy, usually at the same time; musical numbers; and trap-door situations where you think you’re safe but soon you drop down into something much deeper and darker than expected.
Adventures in New America is produced by the creators of Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead, which stars Jasika Nicole as a black lesbian who goes on a cross-country supernatural adventure after learning her wife isn’t dead as she had previously believed. In a similar vein, Night Vale Presents’ namesake podcast features a gay radio personality who covers supernatural community news in his quaint home of Night Vale. A few episodes in, I remember being surprised and elated that one of the heroes was a black girl — and they used a black woman to voice her! This was back in 2013, and that still rarely happens!
With the advent of works like of Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer (and her previous albums), Black Panther, Black Lightning, Eve L. Ewing’s Electric Arches, and Sorry To Bother You, Afrofuturistic stories the community has always been telling are finally getting their spotlight.
To me, what loosely defines Afrofuturism is:
- We’re not in the past
- There’s some kind of new technology/society present
- We’re not in the present, or it’s an alternate universe
- We, the main characters, are black
Adventures in New America checks all those boxes, but I’m still a little wary. This is the science fiction black people rarely get to star in (Terrorist Tetchy Vampires From Outer Space?? BLACK PEOPLE NEVER GET TO DO THIS). The story will also maybe feature the greatest heist/crime pulled off in the history of New America. Oh, and Simon Carr will have a love interest this season. All three of these things have me very excited — but the first episode punctured holes in me.
I’m a big fan and believer of Cesar A. Cruz when he says, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” The first episode of Adventures of New America is hit or miss in that regard, but still has potential in the coming episodes.
Speaking as a black nonbinary girl, (I’m nonbinary but above all I still claim black girl), this is not going to be easy listening for a lot of us. There’s a scene less than ten minutes in with a very detailed performance of a black woman being told how worthless she is and then being eaten (“When we eat you, we’ll do the world a favor”). There’s a constant feeling of helplessness for most of the community (“By day, the horrors of the dark are replaced, swept away by the more ordinary nightmares of our day to day lives.”) and I worry — especially with how the narration leans more towards telling than showing through action — that the feeling of helplessness is going to go doubly for the black lesbian. Though both of the main characters are black, the woman seems to play up her blackness whereas IA is simply described as black when it’s relevant.
I’m wary because when I asked Winter and Cowen why they chose this story specifically, they just said, “[We] write what [we] know.” I’m not worried about their knowledge of space aliens and capitalism and afrofuturism, but after mentioning that they don’t think of Simon as a black lesbian but more of a “sociopathic grifter who has learned to mimic empathetic interpersonal transactions as a way to survive while simultaneously struggling with her own sense of longing and isolation and her inability to form connections that intrinsically mean something from her own perspective,” I’m worried they don’t know black lesbians and that we’ll get lost in the story.
Still, there’s a lot to love right out of the gate. Interspersed within the main story are commercials by Kleeko Metal Retrieval (“It just makes good cents!” — sinister in a way that’s similar to the WorryFree commercials in Sorry To Bother You). They’re a way to look back as if through a TV screen on events that are happening in both present and past, parallel stories of monsters so subtle they fly under the audience’s radar and monsters so obvious they are the radar and several narrators attacking the story from so many perspectives, it can leave you dizzy. Even in the overwhelm, I’m happy to see that Winter and Cowen are intent on reminding us that though “evil can be sumptuous and tempting… evil is [also] everyday stuff,” helping ground listeners even as they face the unknown.
In each of Night Vale Presents’ podcasts, marginalized characters are front and center, telling stories about themselves that no one else could do justice, and I’m waiting for all of us to take up fictional podcast-ing so we can overthrow the capitalistic hellscape of white cisheteronormativity and finally live in peace.
Because Adventures in New America‘s universe is overflowing with potential, and because black people are the main characters, and because one of Simon Carr’s lines is “anything I put my mind to, I can achieve,” I’m still holding out hope that after reminding us of the hell we are going through, there’s gonna be a bulletproof superhero black lesbian or something that’s gonna appear and help us save ourselves when we need it most.
Adventures in New America kicked off on September 28th. New episodes land every other Friday for a twelve-episode season. Get the current episodes through their website, and listen to the podcast wherever you listen to podcasts right now (I recommend Podcast Addict).