Article originally published in the July 16th, 2011 issue of The West Indian Newspaper
Art can come from many different areas. For many artists, art is only the product of a shared cultural heritage that enables others to take from various cultures to create their own.
Sita Sings the Blues, a product of this shared cultural heritage, is set to be screened and discussed on this coming Thursday, July 21st at 5:00pm. The event will be held at the Starlite Pavilion located at 130-05 101st Avenue in Richmond Hill. Admission is $5.00 and children under 10 years are free.
The panel discussion will take place around 6:30pm and will include the director Nina Paley, actor Aseem Chhabra, and SEVA director Ravisharon Kaur.I will be moderating the panel representing the cultural perspective of the youths. There will also be a Q&A session from the audience and community members.
Sita Sings The Blues is an animated film inspired by the director, Nina Paley’s, break-up with her husband. After she faced the sadness from her failed marriage, she became connected to the stories within The Ramayana, particularly the story of Sita, the wife of the worshipped King Rama.
Paley’s personal interpretation of the Ramayana and skill in animation led her to create a film that coupled the story of Sita in The Ramayana with the bluesy voice of Annette Hanshaw. Paley has fueled much debate with her depiction of Sita’s exile into the forest, Rama’s treatment of Sita in numerous trials to prove her purity after Ravana’s (the primary antagonist in the Ramayana) capture, and the use of a text deemed as holy to some Hindus.
For many youths the film has opened up a voice for universal acknowledgment of Indian culture and traditions within mainstream media. However, the way the film depicts the Ramayana does not correlate with religious explanations.
Nevertheless, the artistic techniques of the film have truly been praised and awarded. Sita Sings The Blues is an award-winning film that was screened in over 150 film festivals and on the PBS network. The FilmMaker Magazine says it’s “The type of low-fi animated musical that puts Disney to shame.”
Sita Sings The Blues has surrounded the areas of religion and culture, but unfortunately these issues have come secondary to the issue here in America. What is being held in scrutiny here is copyright. Who owns this movie?
Well, needless to say the big media companies are not debating whether it is right or wrong for Paley to use the Ramayana as her subject for this film. Instead, it is whether she should be using those jazz tunes. Yes, I mean Annette Hanshaw’s beautiful voice in her film. Since, Paley never bought the rights to the music, copyright restrictions are what have been keeping the film from being sold. In response to this issue, Paley has assumed the idea of Free Culture or in other words, no one owns culture. According to her, we are all free to use cultures to create our own ideas. An idea cannot be bought.
Paley’s idea cannot be bought. She is actually giving her movie for free on the Internet. So why should we view the movie on Thursday? Well, for one, we should view it for the free flow of ideas. But perhaps even more importantly, discussion allows us to give ourselves a voice in the portrayal of traditions, cultures, and religion within this film. It is important to hear from the audience as much as it is to hear from the director. Maybe we should attend to learn more about the issues of copyright and the concept of intellectual freedom. Or maybe even to grasp artistic techniques of animation.
It is important to note that discussion is what sparks debate and also has the potential to incite change. Always remember the power of a community and its ability to work together to reach new ideas. A community that comes together to discuss can definitely inspire a world of innovation.
*UPDATE: Due to a community protest the SSTB film screening and panel was held in a private home in Queens, NY on July 21st, 2011.