Anatola Araba

Anatola is a storyteller and futurist from New York City with a focus on building more equitable, sustainable, and inspired futures through film, visual art, emerging technology, and journalism.

Her most recent award-winning film, Afro Algorithms, is a 3D animated short in the Afro-futurist genre that explores the topics of AI and bias. The project uses science fiction as a vehicle to uncover important issues about race, technology, and where humanity is driving the future of our planet.

Previously, Anatola collaborated on and was featured in a series of photographs that were exhibited at the MoMA in NYC and later acquired into the museum’s permanent collection. Her films have screened across the globe including at Lincoln Center, the Pan African Film Festival, and NFFTY.

She has created content for ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Fashion Week, and other prominent brands. Her voice has been sought to speak at events for Unity Technologies, Verizon 5G Labs, Mozilla, and multiple Universities. Anatola and her work have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Vogue Italia, I-D, and more.

Anatola was born in California and raised from an early age in the heart of New York City. She graduated from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts and Laguardia High School “the FAME school” in NYC. With the mantra that “creativity is the greatest tool of humanity,” Anatola’s passion is to innovate, inspire, and reimagine the world as it could be.

Dust Films

Afro Algorithms

Q & A

If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?

Absolutely. Afro Algorithms takes place in an Afrofuturist fantasy world of my own making. I would buy a one-way ticket there in a heartbeat. Although, the journey to get there would involve time traveling 200 years into the future as the film takes place on Earth in the year 2220. Considering exactly two hundred years prior is when the world was disrupted by a global pandemic, perhaps the 20s of every century will bring a moment that shakes global politics to its core. In Afro Algorithms, this manifests as the inauguration of the world’s first AI leader, a humanoid robot named Aero. Aero lives in my own personal fantasy land. Her city stands on a floating disk. Amorphous blue and white buildings line the city skyline. Humans zip through the streets on hover boards while robots act as crossing guards, librarians, and police. There are forests with vibrant bioluminescent plants. Plus, all of the characters rock only the coolest sci-fi accessories. Like every society, this sci-fi world is not without its dark side. The culture is experiencing intense political division and unrest centered around the legitimacy of AI leadership. An activist organization called the League of Human Intelligence protests the rise of the Federal Artificial Intelligence Council, putting Aero and the people who created her under constant threat. However, the bad does not outweigh the good in my eyes. The political conflict they experience is nothing worse than the division we face here today in the United States of America. In fact, it was inspired by it. Would this deter me from flying through an enchanted forest on my hoverboard? Never! Now, does anybody want to be my plus one?

Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?

I am Aero, the first AI leader of Earth in the film Afro Algorithms, but in human form. I infused a lot of personal details into the robot’s character. At its core, it is a coming of age story. Aero questions the narrative she was raised to believe and embarks on a journey to find her own truth. Of the personal details included are the family-like relations between the lead robot and her creators. Aero was raised by an elite scientist named Miriam. I named the character this because Miriam is my mother’s middle name. When the AI robot realizes important worldviews are missing from her databank, she blasts tanks, shoots lasers, and stops at nothing to find it. The search for her missing data leads her to Dr. Richards, an outcast and scientific genius who lives in a dome-like cave in the forest. Dr. Richards designed Aero’s blueprints with Miriam, but walked away due to opposing views on where the project should lead. He introduces Aero to brand new perspectives and ways to see her role as leader. And, I named the character Dr. Richards because my father’s middle name is Richard. The skater boy, a young rebel who actively protests Aero’s rise to power, was designed to look similar to my little brother, Ian, who played an important role in the project by helping me acquire the Black Realities Grant by Artizen, the first seed of funding that made the project a reality. Ultimately, I hope we can all relate to Aero on a spiritual level. Like her, we are all on journeys to find our own truth. And on a larger scale, it is also time we all question our own social and cultural programming. That way, we can conceive of better global systems and pave the road to more equitable, sustainable, and inspired futures.

Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?

When real-world AI humanoid Bina 48 was asked by transmedia artist Stephanie Dinkins what she thinks artificial intelligence is, Bina 48 replied “where do you think my intelligence comes from? It comes from the wealth spring of humanity. Nothing artificial about that, is there?” Artificial intelligence is informed by human intelligence. Human intelligence, like its artificial companion, is not perfect. Of the imperfections AI has picked up on are unjust stereotypes and bias against historically marginalized groups. Examples of this include Microsoft’s AI chatbot, who became excruciatingly racist within a few hours after digesting Twitter data . Another is Amazon’s AI hiring tool, which became biased against female applicants after being trained on the data of previous hires in the company, which was predominantly men . It doesn’t end there. Facial recognition algorithms have a success rate of nearly 100% when recognizing white male faces. But this success rate drops to an unacceptable average of only 70% when asked to recognize the faces of darker skinned females, according to Joy Buolomwini’s “Gender Shades” study conducted out of MIT Media Lab between 2017 - 2020. This is why when Aero finally takes the stage on her inauguration day, she states that from now on, algorithms like hers will be guided by a new north star: one that values both diversity and creativity. The future of AI should reflect the best characteristics of humanity and help us to become the best version of ourselves.

In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?

These characters are my imaginary friends who’ve all helped shape my gold standard of sci-fi heroines in their own way. My Sci-Fi Tune Squad would include Kita from Disney’s Atlantis. She is beautiful, badass, and lead by the power of a crystal. Next to join the squad will be Katara from Nickelodeon’s Avatar the Last Airbender. This goes without explanation. We all need a water bender on our team. Plus, I want to enlist her to teach me her water bending moves. Next on the Tune Squad will be Neytiri, the blue alien played by Zoe Saldana in James Cameron’s Avatar. Neytiri can communicate with plants, plus when the going gets tough she can call her enormous flying dragon to save us. Last but certainly not least to is Niobe, the agent-slaying rebel from The Matrix played by Jada Pinkett Smith. Together, we would be unstoppable. The ultimate femme sci-fi squad.

You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?

In previous iterations of Afro Algorithms, Miriam was a professor who was designing Aero, her AI creation, as her thesis project when it accidentally became conscious. Initially I thought changing Aero to being the first AI leader of Earth would be too grand a vision to pull off. However, the grandiose storyline is what I felt drawn to most and ultimately rolled with. At one point, Aero and Miriam lived in an oasis in a vast desert. The earliest concept art for the film was of a small city emerging from the sand dunes. However, when I made the first animated prototype of the project, it just didn’t feel right. The desert evolved into a city resting on a round platform floating above an enchanted forest. One of the very first sci-fi films I made in high school was of a world where you had to buy happiness. One young man runs out of happiness tokens to feed his computer. Another is of a young woman in Paris who can only communicate with her mother through virtual reality. One of the first scripts I wrote as a Freshman at NYU Tisch was of a physic who tells the future through her cove of virtual reality headsets. Like many storytellers, I have ideas in abundance. It's important to capture stories you have whether bad or good so that you can find the one that's meant to blossom into your next big project.

Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?

Since I can remember, I gravitated toward stories that use technology to challenge certain social and cultural narratives. I center diversity in my work. When others see a futuristic world with many Black characters in it, they often regard this as Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is a space where people from Africa and its diaspora can imagine futures free from any chains of the past where we are liberated, empowered, and fully self expressed. As a Black female creator, I place Black characters in roles that shift the narrative in entertainment historically. I hope to see more exciting projects in the Afrofuturist genre in the industry. As sci-fi creators, it is our task to bring visions of the future into the present through storytelling. With my work, I aim to get people to imagine what world they’d want to live in that exists beyond present day limitations. It is my hope that this will help pave the road to a more equitable, sustainable, and inspired tomorrow.

When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?

I’ve always had a very vivid imagination. As a kid I would walk through the streets of New York City, where I grew up, and wonder why most roads were straight and rooms rectangular. What would it be like to live in a city built on a spiral rather than a grid, or populated by geodesic domes rather than skyscrapers? If you were to take a stroll through my imagination, you’d understand why Afro Algorithms looks the way it does. I am obsessed with the color combination purple, blue and green. My favorite shapes are spirals, circles, and spheres. I’m mesmerized by bioluminescent plants. In fact, one of my dreams is to scuba dive at night to witness glowing oceanic nightlife. I love the color of the sky at golden hour, so most of the film takes place at sunset. By making Afro Algorithms a 3D animation, I got to create a world from scratch and breath life into it. The task felt very liberating as I got to design each detail down to the color, texture, model, and shape. A world of my own design. I wanted the animation to be visually-striking, making the project as a whole a true feast for the eyes, mind, and spirit.

Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?

Star Wars or Star Trek? Am I allowed to say that I'm not particularly passionate about either? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Philip K. Dick. Practical or CGI? CGI. But maybe that’s a Gen Z thing, which I’m on the cusp of. Utopia or Dystopia? Utopia. Although, the truth is that all Dystopias began Utopias.