Shut Up and Sing
Directed by Barbara Kopple
and Cecilia Peck
The Weinstein Co., 2006, 93 min.
The new documentary about the media flurry around the Dixie Chicks singing band brings recent American history into clear focus.
In 2003, lead singer Natalie Maines assured a young British audience that the Chicks sympathized with their antiwar views and added, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”
Media conglomerates and right-wing commentators then carried out a whirlwind witch-hunt worthy of the infamy associated with the McCarthy period in America or, possibly, even the heyday of legendary spin-meister Joseph Goebbels under Hitler.
The Dixie Chicks were banned from country radio, their main source of fame and success. Publicity stunts involving the destruction of their recordings were held across the nation. At least one minor country singer, Toby Keith, boosted his own career by crudely maligning the three Texas women. A right-wing commentator wrote a book with the same title as the new movie. The women received at least one death threat, appropriately in Dallas!
Anyone who did not publicly oppose the Bush administration’s headlong dive to the right would have difficulty in understanding the events and the times they characterized. Everyone who did speak out, in any way, since Bush came to power, will understand all too well.
The main contribution of this film is to help make sense of the first six years of the Bush administration and, possibly, to prepare oneself to deal with the next two. The timing of the film’s release is amazing.
It went into full release five days after the American people united in rebuking Bush and all that he has stood for. If it had been released, as possibly intended, before the 2006 election, it would have been blamed for the right-wing downfall. The release itself became an issue when media conglomerates initially refused to sell advertising for the film. Add that development to the list of charges against right-wing control of American information.
Because we only heard one side of the ongoing story, that of big corporations and the media they control, Americans were left with questions: How were the three women and their families affected? What career moves did they make as they confronted the firestorm? How politically committed were they to opposing the war in Iraq? Would the group stand together around the statement that Maines made, or would they fragment under the pressure?
Most of all, would they say it again?
Getting the answers to those questions is a good reason to see the new documentary. Another reason is to see how well a story can be told by skillful movie artists like Barbara Kopple, who has already thrilled audiences with her handling of other working-class and political issues such as coal miner strikes in Harlan County. Another good reason is to get to know the three deliciously talented and genuinely humorous musicians whose success has set the bar for all female artists.
Another good reason is to hear some ass-kicking modern country music!
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