Reg Zehner on Neptune Frost

Reg Zehner, Learning & Public Practice Path fellow

Jul 26, 2022

Still from the film Neptune Frost

Neptune Frost screens exclusively at the Wex this Friday and Saturday. Below, Wex Learning & Public Practice Path fellow Reg Zehner offers a first look and a personal perspective on the Afrofuturist musical.

I was born in my 23rd year,
my first breath, just before the war
led to 22 years of what my Aunt called our “afterlife” and she thanked God everyday.
And me…I was a good boy. -Neptune

Neptune Frost is an Afrofuturist, experimental musical by Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman that levels a poetic narration of world being-ness and the spirit of Blackness inside of a digital, racial and capitalist world. The film is a pointed anticapilist and decolonial voice that asks what is the true value of technology in a world that built off of the systems of anti-Black violence and death?

The film follows the parallel stories of the main characters, Neptune and Matalusa, who are guided by dreams and journeys that eventually connect them. Thus, their power reshapes the world as they know it. The entire plot of Neptune Frost is carried by music, with all of the songs written by Williams himself. The songs are a mixture of drum and electronic production that deconstructs musical genres such as rap and techno.

In the beginning, the plot is sparked by death. Matalusa and his brother, Tekno, who are both miners, are digging up coltan, a mineral instrumental to cell phones, when Tekno is suddenly enchanted by a chunk of it. Holding up the rock, Tekno is killed suddenly by the butt of a solider’s gun. Held by grief, Matalusa carries Tekno’s body, while around him, his brother miners sing out, and in pain, Matalusa cries out, “My brother was kind.” After Tekno’s death, Matalusa is guided by dreams of “hacking” gender, slavery and the systems that bind them to coltan.

For Neptune, after their aunt is buried, they undergo a traumatic event with a local pastor and must run away from their Rwandan village. Undertaking a journey through many roads and seas, it is soon revealed that Neptune is an intersex hacker who travels between binaries of gender and bodies through “passages” of worlds.

Eventually, Matalusa and Neptune soon find themselves drawn to another dimension “outside of the world”, which they is Unanimous Goldmine. Inside of Unanimous Goldmine, characters such as Eholel, Memory—and eventually Matasula, his miner brothers and a traveler, Psychology—live. In the new dimension, the character question and critique against the oppressive systems that have caused harm in their prior world. They want to reshape the world from the current powers of exploitation, colonialist violence and the Authority, the totalitarian government in control. It is this “outside” dimension that enacts a freedom that most of the characters did not have in their lives before. And this freedom soon brings celebration through music and dance.

The film is a testament of imagination and spirit. Each character is adorned with materials that are usually inside of phones and other technology. Hacking and other forms of digital language are embedded into the world the characters are forced to live and die through. Throughout the film, I found myself rooting for the characters as they go through their highs and lows, as they fight for their ideologies to exist. My favorite aspect is musical numbers that pull the plot into the realms of mystery, science fiction, and Black loss and love. Some songs tell the the origins of certain characters; others are an Afropunk critique at the internet (such as Matalusa singing “Fuck Mr. Google” repeatedly).

And at the heart of the film is the continuous survival of Black people. Oftentimes the question What is mine? pops up as the characters build out their fight against the Authority and other oppressive powers. The question is so vital to a people that continues to be stripped of humanity, culture, dance, and music in pursuit of technology. And the film isn’t an answer to any liberatory devices. Again, it gives to the spirit of survival.

The landscapes, plot and dialogue of Neptune Frost invite you to partake in its worldbuilding. I was entranced by the cinematography as Neptune or Matalusa navigate their surroundings. Pulled between a celestial dreamworlds and a digital war, Neptune Frost is a story you will want to sit with. And most importantly, you will embody the songs it carries.

Top of page: Neptune Frost, image courtesy of Kino Lorber

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