Article - DJ Spooky's ReBirth of a Nation paints the White House black

President Obama's election gives new subtext to remixed version of D.W. Griffith's classic

Best known as an experimental electronic musician, DJ Spooky, aka Paul Miller, has also won positive reviews for his remixed version of D.W. Griffith’s classic 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. The silent film, known both for its influence on the development of cinema and its racist imagery, is based on the writings of Baptist minister and playwright Thomas Dixon, who “presents racial conflict as an epic struggle with the future of civilization at stake,” Miller imparts over e-mail. “That's basically the end-all be-all of The Birth of a Nation.”  

Miller’s remix, however, titled ReBirth of a Nation, is a chopped up and reconstructed version of the original. It decontextualizes Griffith’s work, giving it a new plot that Miller roughly describes as such: “Black person gets elected. White people go crazy!”

He produced the film by manipulating a high-resolution print of the original footage. Initially conceived as a live multimedia performance, it was released in 2004. Though the upcoming screening — which will serve as the Atlanta premiere — won’t feature live music, it includes Miller’s haunting score, which helps dictate the narrative and mixes hip-hop, blues and industrial sounds performed by the San Francisco-based string ensemble Kronos Quartet. Though Miller says that the latter-day racism of former President George W. Bush’s policies inspired the film, he acknowledges that it has taken on a new relevance since President Obama’s election. But, he says, he wouldn’t have changed anything to adapt it to the current political environment.   

ReBirth of a Nation serves as something of an appetizer to Miller’s upcoming album, The Secret Song, due later this year. “It's about globalization, economics, and the crazy act of living way, way, way past your means,” he imparts. Narrated by a Chinese economist, it contains dub material from Radiohead and Led Zeppelin, with the Coup and the Jungle Brothers featured on the lead single. The theme is simple, as Miller states: “We’re in debt, and payment is due!”