Nina Paley has been through a lot for her art. Like her immortal counterpart in the film Nina has weathered an unending array of obstacles, but remains steadfast and true to her calling. Her latest trial by fire comes from a small but dedicated group of Hindus who see Sita as an assault on their beliefs. They have been organizing protests at showings of Sita Sings the Blues and attempting to censor Nina through petitions and even threats of violence.
I had the very good fortune to spend some time going over these recent tribulations with Miss Paley.
What would you most like to have known about the recent protests against Sita?
There has been some pretty lazy news coverage of these protests. It has been reported that the protesters are Hindu, but that’s like calling the KKK a Christian group. These are extremists, with their own agenda.
Have you received threats?
I’ve been receiving threats for years! There are thousands of very colorfully worded hate letters in my inbox. Really creative stuff too. My friends say I get all the best hate mail.
You don’t sound too concerned.
I’m not. I really don’t take it too seriously, there’s no reason to empower their hate by feeding it. The tragedy is when these bullies can manipulate vulnerable communities like the one in Queens.
Do you think the protests have been a hindrance to the film?
Quite the opposite. The movie has been out for over three years, how many movies still get press after so long? I’m grateful, in a way, to the Hindutvadis. They’re exerting a lot of time, effort and money to attract attention to my film. They made M. F. Husain’s career and now they’re making mine.
Among the objections to Sita are things like false representations of holy writ, offensive language, lewd portrayals of Sita and weirdest of all a perceived attempt to portray the bible as more accurate than the Ramayana, thereby undermining Hinduism and propagating Christianity. Care to comment?
Wow. Well, first off, I’m an assimilated Jew. I don’t subscribe to any faith and the religion I’ve studied the most am most connected to is Hinduism. Not sure what they’ll make of that little nugget.
Honestly I don’t think the majority of people who object to the film have actually watched it. If they had they may have one or two valid (in my mind) complaints about some of the content, things I felt a little iffy about including.
Oh no, if they haven’t caught it I’m not going to point it out.
So would it be fair to say this is a personal interpretation of the Ramayana?
Absolutely. When I named the movie Sita Sings the Blues rather than “The Ramayana,” I thought that was a pretty obvious indicator of my personal interpretation . I was not trying to re-tell the Ramayana, I was inspired by the suffering of Sita. I had my own narrative to tell.
What else would you like to have known about these protests?
Mostly I want people to know that these hate groups are a tiny minority and that there are many devout Hindus who enjoy Sita Sings the Blues and have been very kind, offering praise and support. I also want people to be educated about the distinction between moderate Hindus and the extremists who are making the threats and trying to censor art.
What can we expect next from the great Nina Paley?
God, I don’t know. It’s too damn hot to do anything right now.
Sita Sings the Blues is available 100% free to all here
Also check out Nina’s insanely beautiful quilts!
And by special request of the artist, here is a link to the world’s first (only?) Hindu nationalist parody site.