Hybridity and Context in Sita Sings the Blues: Appropriate or Appropriative


Abandoned by her husband who was working in India, the cartoonist Nina Paley found Sita’s rejection by Rama to be a closer parallel to her experience than any Western myth. Her feature film, Sita Sings the Blues (2008), crafted over five years, is an animated musical featuring a hybrid Sita expressing herself through the voice of the 1920s blues singer Annette Hanshaw, whose records were Paley’s chief solace. Instead of taking Sita’s story directly from the Ramayana, she recorded a conversation about Ram and Sita between three NRI friends, depicted in the film as Wayang Kulit shadow puppets. Relying on memories of the story from various sources, they disagree among themselves. There are four narrative strands, each with a graphic style: autobiographical (realistic), NRIs’ retelling (Indian poster), the Ram and Sita musical (Indian/American cartoon), scenes from the epic (Rajasthani miniature). Instead of assuming Sita to be a selective adaptation of Valmiki’s Ramayana, I argue that the contexts for interpreting the Indian aspect of Sita are the diaspora community not India proper, and the Ramayana as cultural legacy not as a specific text. I read the hybridity of Sita as exemplifying the “Critical Transculturalism” posited by Marwan Kraidy (Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalization, 2005). Paley’s key transcultural move was to incorporate an original, diasporic Indian dance and Hindi prayer representing Sita’s trial by fire, which, unlike the love story of Ram and Sita, cannot be accommodated in the Western imaginary.

Author Information
Jeffrey Spear, NYU, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2017
Stream: Humanities - Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication

This paper is part of the ECAH2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon