Space Is the Place is an 85-minute Afrofuturist science fiction film made in 1972 and released in 1974. It was directed by John Coney, written by Sun Ra and Joshua Smith, and features Sun Ra and his Arkestra. A soundtrack was released on Evidence Records.
During the late-1960s and early-1970s, Sun Ra and his ensemble made several forays to California. In 1971, Sun Ra taught a course, “The Black Man in the Cosmos”, at University of California, Berkeley. Over the course of these California visits, Sun Ra came to the attention of Jim Newman, who produced the film Space Is the Place starring Sun Ra and his Arkestra, and based, in part, on Sun Ra’s Berkeley lectures.
Sun Ra, who has been reported lost since his European tour in June 1969, lands on a new planet in outer space with his crew, known as “the Arkestra”, and decides to settle African Americans on this planet. The medium of transportation he chooses for this resettlement is music. He travels back in time and returns to the Chicago strip club where he used to play piano with the name “Sonny Ray” in 1943, where he confronts the Overseer (Ray Johnson), a pimp-overlord, and they agree on a game of cards for the fate of the Black race.
In present time (the early 1970s), Ra disembarks from his spaceship in Oakland and tries to spread word of his plans. He meets with young African Americans at an Oakland youth centre and opens an “Outer Space Employment Agency” to recruit people eager to move to the planet. He also agrees with Jimmy Fey (Christopher Brooks) — an employee of the Overseer — to arrange radio interviews, a record album, and eventually a concert that will help him dictate his message.
As the card game between Ra and the Overseer is played, and it becomes clear that the Overseer is winning, Ra’s plans to recruit local black youth for his new utopian space colony suffer setbacks. Many of them are suspicious of Ra, accusing him of faking his outer-spatial origin as a gimmick to boost his record sales. He is kidnapped by a team of white NASA scientists who threaten him with violence, desperate to learn the secrets to his space-travel technology. As Ra’s concert rapidly approaches, he is saved by three local teenagers, who escort him to the music hall just in time.
At the concert, as the Arkestra play their signature free jazz, the NASA scientists appear and attempt to assassinate Ra with a pistol. One of the teenagers jumps in front of the bullet, saving Ra’s life, and as he is bleeding out on the stage, Sun Ra waves his hand and the teenager, his friends, and Ra himself all disappear from the music hall. One by one, black people across Oakland vanish into thin air and reappear on Ra’s spaceship.
Jimmy Fey resists leaving Earth on Ra’s spaceship, but Ra doesn’t let Fey leave; Ra takes Fey’s “black parts” with him onto the spaceship, leaving his “white parts” behind on Earth. Fey, now acting white, leaves the Overseer, who loses the duel. As Ra’s spaceship launches off into the cosmos and music begins playing, a montage implies that Earth is destroyed in its wake.