Fiqah:All right, full disclosure. I loathe Birth of a Nation. L-O-A-T-H-E, my friends. In my short time on this planet, I have been forced to endure two (!) viewings of the flick–twice the Recommended Lifetime Limit for Black people. The last time I watched this film in its entirety was in college for a film class. Attending the screening was mandatory: you could not pass this class unless you watched it. Please believe me when I tell you that if my professor had not essentially dangled that tasty degree carrot in front of me, I would never have watched this movie again. I got through it by taking extremely-detailed notes: not my usual style (I am a scrawly doodler) but I wanted to make sure that I would never, ever have to refer back to anything in that movie that would require me to watch it again for as long as I lived. After it was done, I wrote a paper contrasting the placement of female archetypes in the film, collected my “A”, and put all the unpleasantness behind me.
So when Latoya posted about Rebirth of a Nation, I was quite intrigued and more than a little excited. “A remix of that piece of racist cinematic self-flagellation?” thought I. “What a concept! I am SO down! Put me in the game, coach!“ I skipped my happy ass on down to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where I met up with the always fabulous Mizz AJ Plaid. As the theater filled (Fridays at MoMA are free, so it was packed), AJ and I chatted about what we hoped the film would showcase. What was a remix in relation to a film, anyway? How would DJ Spooky’s take be viewed in a post-Obama context? Why the hell don’t the people behind us just sit closer together instead of carrying on a fifteen-minute shouting conversation across a row of empty seats? Answers to all these questions were delivered swiftly.
Andrea: DJ Spooky’s conceit: a director is a type of DJ, remixing reality. In D.W. Griffiths’ case, he remixed the ugly, lethal reality of the Ku Klux Klan into a hero’s narrative, that of the white-supremacist group saving The White Race from the emancipated Blacks and biracial folks. Furthermore, we’re still seeing the rippling damage from that piece of work to this day, not only in film but in various interactions between Blacks and Whites.
The master mixer does damage to his project by overstating the obvious. And what I mean by overstate is: moving geometric shapes framing certain characters and gestures; red-tinting war and rioting scenes; the trip-hop soundtrack. That ^%&%$ trip-hop soundtrack.
Spooky should have lost the trip-hop and the triangles and remixed Birth… with current examples of the images it spawned, e.g. the scene in which a white woman leaps off a cliff to avoid the sexual advances of a Black(faced) man and its direct descendent in 1992’s Last of the Mohicans. And splice that with news footage of how the Black rapist still plays in the popular imagination (most famously Bush the Elder’s use of Willie Horton). After all, the original was a 3-hour epic…mess.
Such length offers such a perfect opportunity.
Fiqah: From my notes–”About 15 minutes in, I realize with mounting horror that this supposed remix is actually a play-by-play retelling of the original with little innovation. This is Birth of a Nation.” Continue reading