A funnies thing happened on the way to Birth of a Nation, a collaboration between ''House Party'' director Reginald Hudlin and Aaron McGruder, creator of the satirical comic strip ''The Boondocks.'' For years, Hudlin, 42, had dreamed of making a civil war comedy -- not of the blue and the gray, mind you, but of the Republic of Blackland. ''A secession story set in my hometown of East St. Louis,'' Hudlin calls it, speaking of the predominantly black and prevailingly bleak Illinois city. ''When you live in a place like that, you at least contemplate, 'Would we be better off on our own?'''
In the summer of 2001, inspired by Florida's electoral irregularities, Hudlin and McGruder -- friends currently shopping the pilot for a ''Boondocks'' TV series -- started a screenplay imagining East St. Louis revolting against a U.S. led by an unmistakably Bushian cabal. They wrote drafts, then set them aside. (''After Sept. 11,'' says McGruder, 30, ''we didn't know if we would ever be allowed to critique the government again -- at least in terms of somebody paying money for us to critique the government.'') By the time they finished, they decided studios wouldn't have an appetite for a comedy pitting the current administration against a nation whose anthem is adapted from ''Good Times''' theme song. Says Hudlin: ''It's not even something I went around to pitch.''
The published book, featuring art by cartoonist Kyle Baker (''I actually think my strengths lie more in writing than drawing,'' McGruder explains), isn't exactly a director's cut. Many scabrous subplots were jettisoned along the way. ''In the original concept,'' McGruder says, ''the new country legalized drugs, and so it became party central for all the white spring-break kids and amongst them was the President's daughter.''