Rebirth of the Nation

Question: What inspired your film Rebirth of a Nation?

DJ\r\n Spooky: \r\nMy film "Rebirth of a Nation," amusingly enough, was a component of a \r\nshow\r\nI had at Paula Cooper Gallery and one of the things that really goes\r\ninto my mind when I think about contemporary art and music is how\r\nweirdly divided they are.  The art world likes music sort of, but when\r\nthey do they usually go for sort of I call white bread art rock.  They\r\ndon’t get…  You’ll never see hip hop in normal Whitney Biennial or\r\nwhatever.  I mean they don’t…  The art world has problems with rhythm. \r\nNow at the same time you have really interesting electronic music and\r\nmulticultural, specifically multicultural, takes on contemporary art. \r\nMy film "Rebirth of a Nation" was a critique of the way Bush had gotten\r\ninto office playing off of racial politics and the fears that whites\r\nhave of being… becoming a minority. And I think the code words for the\r\nBush Administration and people like Karl Rove was that State’s rights\r\nand devolution of federal powers would make these kind of white…  Now\r\nall the sudden you notice with the Obama Administration they’re having\r\na rise of all these white militias and stuff like that.  Yeah, I mean\r\nwhite Americans feel anxiety about some of the issues and I think that\r\nthat needs to be addressed. 

"Birth of a Nation," the film by\r\nD.W. Griffith is one of the most important films in American History. \r\nIt set the tone for how America views racial politics in cinema. So I\r\ngot the rights to the film.  We remixed it... when I say we I guess, \r\nwell,\r\nme.  And the whole idea was to apply DJ technique to film in a way\r\nthat kind of self-implodes the film and get people to think about as a\r\nyou know maybe something that needs to be looked at a lot more closely,\r\nso with Bush you have to remember: they played games with the black\r\nvote, they disenfranchised a large amount of people by playing those\r\ngames, and again it was a lot of it happened in the old south that were\r\nin places like Ohio. So Birth of a Nation was the first film to show a\r\nflawed election and in 1915, I mean, you know, a lot of games were being\r\nplayed with the black vote.   So disenfranchisement, black face, you\r\nknow if you fast forward and update it you could easily see the same\r\nresonance with "Avatar" where most of the main characters were in blue\r\nface, those were black actors for example. Or Jar Jar Binks this\r\nannoying creature that is like a minstrel on the "Star Wars" thing.  The\r\nracial politics is still very much prevalent in American film. \r\n"Terminator" or you know, what is the "Transformers" where they have the\r\nkind of minstrel robots who had this annoying black sort of almost-gay\r\nvoice or something.  When I say gay I’m not… no disrespect.  I’m just\r\nsaying it’s a minstrel kind of emasculated male voice where they always\r\nmake a black character like a Jar Jar Binks an annoying, “What’s up you\r\nall?”  You know those kind of very annoying creature or something like\r\nthat that has a high pitched and like yeah, really annoying like you\r\nknow. 
So anyway, "Birth of a Nation," what makes this Antarctic\r\nproject different than that is they’re both critiques of the \r\nnation-state's relationship to the individual.  Antarctica is the only \r\nplace on\r\nearth with no government.  It’s the only place that really says: "You \r\nare\r\nyou."  The subjectivity that goes into that I mean once you step off a\r\nboat and you’re on an ice field in the middle of nowhere you are\r\nwithout the idea of the nation-state anymore.  And I think "Birth of a\r\nNation"... obviously "nation," you know, nationalism, nation, state, the\r\nenvironmental politics that go into how nations play with carbon\r\ntrading, how nations play with the idea of pollution and all these\r\nkinds of things you could say that the divisions now are even more\r\nencoded because of the North/South divide. Like the industrialized\r\nnations of the north versus the more multicultural countries of like\r\nChina, India, Russia.  Well Russia is still considered European, but\r\nif you go slightly outside of... you know there is plenty of Russians \r\nthat\r\nlook very Asian.  So the racial politics that go into environmental\r\nissues is something that hangs like a specter over a lot of the\r\nprocess right now.  So I had a big gallery show at Robert Miller\r\nGallery called "North/South."  It was a pun about my "Birth of a Nation"\r\nversus Antarctica.  Sense of humor in the title, but nonetheless, I’m\r\nvery concerned about the way environmental politics shapes out with\r\nindustrialized versus non-industrialized nations.  It’s something that\r\nreally we have to think about. 

Recorded on April 8, 2010

Miller remixed D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" as a critique on racial politics. His Antarctica project touches on many of the same ideas, differently.

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