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DJ Spooky

DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) is a composer, author, producer, and electronic and experimental hip-hop musician. His stage name, "That Subliminal Kid," is borrowed from the character The Subliminal Kid[…]

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.

Question: What inspired your film Rebirth of a Nation?

DJrn Spooky: rnMy film "Rebirth of a Nation," amusingly enough, was a component of a rnshowrnI had at Paula Cooper Gallery and one of the things that really goesrninto my mind when I think about contemporary art and music is howrnweirdly divided they are.  The art world likes music sort of, but whenrnthey do they usually go for sort of I call white bread art rock.  Theyrndon’t get…  You’ll never see hip hop in normal Whitney Biennial orrnwhatever.  I mean they don’t…  The art world has problems with rhythm. rnNow at the same time you have really interesting electronic music andrnmulticultural, specifically multicultural, takes on contemporary art. rnMy film "Rebirth of a Nation" was a critique of the way Bush had gottenrninto office playing off of racial politics and the fears that whitesrnhave of being… becoming a minority. And I think the code words for thernBush Administration and people like Karl Rove was that State’s rightsrnand devolution of federal powers would make these kind of white…  Nowrnall the sudden you notice with the Obama Administration they’re havingrna rise of all these white militias and stuff like that.  Yeah, I meanrnwhite Americans feel anxiety about some of the issues and I think thatrnthat needs to be addressed. 

"Birth of a Nation," the film byrnD.W. Griffith is one of the most important films in American History. rnIt set the tone for how America views racial politics in cinema. So Irngot the rights to the film.  We remixed it... when I say we I guess, rnwell,rnme.  And the whole idea was to apply DJ technique to film in a wayrnthat kind of self-implodes the film and get people to think about as arnyou know maybe something that needs to be looked at a lot more closely,rnso with Bush you have to remember: they played games with the blackrnvote, they disenfranchised a large amount of people by playing thoserngames, and again it was a lot of it happened in the old south that werernin places like Ohio. So Birth of a Nation was the first film to show arnflawed election and in 1915, I mean, you know, a lot of games were beingrnplayed with the black vote.   So disenfranchisement, black face, yournknow if you fast forward and update it you could easily see the samernresonance with "Avatar" where most of the main characters were in bluernface, those were black actors for example. Or Jar Jar Binks thisrnannoying creature that is like a minstrel on the "Star Wars" thing.  Thernracial politics is still very much prevalent in American film. rn"Terminator" or you know, what is the "Transformers" where they have thernkind of minstrel robots who had this annoying black sort of almost-gayrnvoice or something.  When I say gay I’m not… no disrespect.  I’m justrnsaying it’s a minstrel kind of emasculated male voice where they alwaysrnmake a black character like a Jar Jar Binks an annoying, “What’s up yournall?”  You know those kind of very annoying creature or something likernthat that has a high pitched and like yeah, really annoying like yournknow. 
So anyway, "Birth of a Nation," what makes this Antarcticrnproject different than that is they’re both critiques of the rnnation-state's relationship to the individual.  Antarctica is the only rnplace onrnearth with no government.  It’s the only place that really says: "You rnarernyou."  The subjectivity that goes into that I mean once you step off arnboat and you’re on an ice field in the middle of nowhere you arernwithout the idea of the nation-state anymore.  And I think "Birth of arnNation"... obviously "nation," you know, nationalism, nation, state, thernenvironmental politics that go into how nations play with carbonrntrading, how nations play with the idea of pollution and all thesernkinds of things you could say that the divisions now are even morernencoded because of the North/South divide. Like the industrializedrnnations of the north versus the more multicultural countries of likernChina, India, Russia.  Well Russia is still considered European, butrnif you go slightly outside of... you know there is plenty of Russians rnthatrnlook very Asian.  So the racial politics that go into environmentalrnissues is something that hangs like a specter over a lot of thernprocess right now.  So I had a big gallery show at Robert MillerrnGallery called "North/South."  It was a pun about my "Birth of a Nation"rnversus Antarctica.  Sense of humor in the title, but nonetheless, I’mrnvery concerned about the way environmental politics shapes out withrnindustrialized versus non-industrialized nations.  It’s something thatrnreally we have to think about. 

Recorded on April 8, 2010