Adaptation and appropriation are important subtexts to Nina Paley’s award-winning animated epic, Sita Sings the Blues. Paley herself became a cause celebre among Fair Use activists seeking reforms to copyright law during her struggle to secure rights to jazz vocalist Annette Harshaw’s recordings. With this video essay, I look at how Paley took inspiration from both the tragic story of Sita in the Ramayana and Annette Harshaw’s bittersweet torch songs to deal with her own breakup, combining them to transform her personal suffering into art. In visualizing the legend of Sita, Paley incorporates traditional Indian and South Asian art forms that were themselves creative innovations on the source material at one point in history. In doing so, Paley plugs her work squarely into a cultural history too rich to be contained by digital rights restrictions, illustrating that true art is open to all.
Originally published on Fandor. Visit Fandor for a video transcript and to watch SITA SINGS THE BLUES.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of Press Play, and contributor to RogerEbert.com and Fandor. Follow him on Twitter..