Shut Up & Sing
"Shut Up & Sing" travels with the Dixie Chicks, from the peak of their popularity as the national-anthem-singing darlings of country music and top-selling female recording artists of all time, through the now infamous anti-Bush comment made by the group's lead singer Natalie Maines in 2003. The film follows the lives and careers of the Dixie Chicks over a period of three years during which they were under political attack and received death threats, while continuing to live their lives, have children, and of course make music. The film ultimately presents who the Dixie Chicks are as women, public figures, and musicians.
STARRING: Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, Simon Renshaw
DIRECTORS: Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck
STUDIO: Weinstein Co.
RATING: R (For language, drug content and a scene of violence)
Wild About Movies Grade: B+ (If you're a Democrat)
Wild About Movies Grade: D (If you're a Republican)*
"Shut Up & Sing"
Behind The Scenes
Freedom of speech is fine, as long as you don't do it in public.
SHUT UP & SING travels with the Dixie Chicks, from the peak of their popularity as the national-anthem-singing darlings of country music and top-selling female recording artists of all time, through the now infamous anti-Bush comment made by the group's lead singer Natalie Maines in 2003. The film follows the lives and careers of the Dixie Chicks over a period of three years during which they were under political attack and received death threats, while continuing to live their lives, have children, and of course make music. At a time when the United States is fighting for democracy and freedom in another country, it raises questions about our own right to freedom of speech and the negative consequences it sometimes has. SHUT UP & SING is directed by two-time Academy Award winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple (HARLAN COUNTY USA, AMERICAN DREAM) and Cecilia Peck.
By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have certainly been as vehement. One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie Chicks CD's, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century European history it seemed eerily reminiscent of . . . But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can't happen here.
"Channels of Influence"
New York Times, 25 March 2003
SHUT UP & SING chronicles the personal and professional lives of the Dixie Chicks, the best-selling female group in history, from all-American girls and darlings of country music fans to unintentional rebels, vilified for daring to speak out against a president at the summit of his popularity and on the eve of a much-hyped -- and in retrospect, hyped-up -- war against Iraq. Beginning in early-2003 when the band was singing the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXVII and preparing to launch their aptly-named "Top of the World" tour, to lead-singer Natalie Maines' infamous comment, and on through to their defiant comeback album, "Taking the Long Way" and the supporting "Accidents and Accusations" tour, the film offers a nakedly honest and emotionally sincere look at Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, whose passion for their families, their fans, their beliefs and one-another never wavers; in spite of death threats, protests, insults, and a chillingly-orchestrated attack on their livelihood.
Two-time Academy Award winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple and co-director Cecilia Peck take viewers back and forth between the events leading up to and following Maines' remarks in 2003 and the band's 2005 collaboration with producer/guru Rick Rubin, whose is known for simply letting the artist be the artist. In fact, by choosing a third-person style rather than interviewing the film's subjects, Kopple and Peck accomplish that very goal; they allow everyone in the film to be themselves, and thus capture all of the emotion, anxiety, humor - and of course, the musical talent that has made the Dixie Chicks so popular. What's more, the non-linear style offers insight into the breadth, severity and organization of the backlash against the band, and the boldness and courage with which Maines, Maguire and Robison deal with it.
In fact, Maines' comment took several days to find its way to American media, and she has admitted she did not intend to make a political statement, "I never in a million years would have dreamt that saying that would have resulted in everything that followed. So even if I had thought about what I was going to say, I wouldn't have thought 'no, I don't want to say that because we'll get banned from the radio and people will want to kill me,'" Maines said. "What I said was just so lame."
"I was more offended or as offended as anyone by the statement of the Dixie Chicks, but to restrain their trade because they exercised their right of free speech to me is remarkable."
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on new FCC rules concerning media ownership
July 8, 2003
When Natalie Maines commented on President George W. Bush and the impending war on Iraq and in the days that followed, the president's popularity was high and on the rise. US-led armed forces were still at war in Afghanistan against the al Qaeda-linked Taliban forces deemed responsible for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. For four months, the same group of public relations specialists charged with the much easier task of selling the war in Afghanistan, led by White House Chief of Staff Dan Bartlett and somewhat ironically dubbed "The Band," (as in Bartlett's declaration, "we're getting the band back together."), and its core group, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq had been making their case to news and opinion leaders, using humanitarian buzzwords like freedom and liberation and arguing that Saddam Hussein was flouting the will of the United Nations. Even as Maines' statement began to filter across the Atlantic, the rhetoric and the publicity ramp-up were escalating. Reports of the "Shock and Awe" campaign and the testing of the Air Force's new Massive Ordinance Air Blast weapon (or more colloquially, the Mother Of All Bombs) were presented by cable news outlets with urgent, marshal tones and nationalistic graphics. Maines' comments would not be difficult to exploit.
In spite of hopeful assurances from manager Simon Renshaw that the controversy would blow over in "three days, tops," a firestorm garnering international media attention erupted. The tumult was embraced by right-wing blogs and web sites, most notably Free Republic. Free Republic gained notoriety during the dustup surrounding the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, during which the site was the genesis for protests, letter-writing campaigns and other attempts to embarrass the president. An all-female country band that took on President Bush and criticized the impending war against Iraq presented Free Republic an ideal scenario to fire up their conservative base. Said Maines, "We were their wet dream."
Often referred to as Astroturf-roots politics (as in fake grass roots), the effort poured gasoline on a controversy that might otherwise have smoldered.
For most Americans, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the main priority in Washington, DC. But for media owners, the biggest news wasn't happening at the Pentagon or the State Department, it was happening at the Federal Communications Commission where decades-old restrictions on ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations were under consideration. Cumulus Media, owners of some 270 radio stations, issued a ban on Dixie Chicks music in all of its nearly 50 country music stations - and reportedly disciplined at least two of its DJs for defying the ban. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing at which Renshaw, describes the blacklisting the band received, Senator John McCain grilled Lewis W. Dickey, Jr., Chairman/CEO of Atlanta-based Cumulus, who repeatedly suggested the company was merely an affiliation, and not ruled by a strong central office, before finally admitting the stations were ordered to stop playing the Dixie Chicks.
According to a Reuters story published on July 11, 2003, Senator McCain asked Dickey, "Did you not order these stations to take the Dixie Chicks off the air?"
"Yes," Dickey replied,
"Would you do that to me?" McCain continued.
"No." Dickey answered.
"Then why do it to a group of entertainers?" concluded McCain,
Dickey claimed the CD bans were strictly a business decision. But Cumulus was neither the only media owner seeking changes in Washington nor, it is speculated, the only one ordering a ban on the Dixie Chicks. Clear Channel Communications, the San Antonio, TX based owners of more than 1,200 radio stations and 30 television stations in the US has long had strong ties to George W. Bush. Company Chairman Tom Hicks bought the Texas Rangers baseball club from Bush, making the future president millions and raising numerous ethical and legal question in the process; served as president of the University of Texas Investment Management Company while Bush was governor; and has been a major fundraiser for Republicans.
During the run-up to the war, Clear Channel sponsored a series of pro-war rallies, and in spite of protestations to the contrary, Clear Channel stations were widely reported to have pulled the Dixie Chicks' music from their playlists. Media consolidation may not seem important to the average person, but the film opens viewers up to a world where decisions that are seemingly insignificant -or even unknown- to the average American are revealed as important to maintaining the very fabric of our nation. "Consolidation means one guy at the top decides everything," Emily Robison said. "I don't think the media have been successful in pointing out why that's so dangerous."
"[M]y fellow Americans: Major Combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country."
President George W. Bush
Aboard the USS Indianapolis
May 1, 2003
On the same day President Bush rode a fighter jet onto the Navy aircraft carrier USS Indianapolis just off the coast of San Diego, CA, the Dixie Chicks kicked off the US leg of their tour in Greenville, SC, deep in the conservative south. Viewers walk alongside fans and detractors alike outside the arena - some protesting, others claiming they are only going to concert because they couldn't get their money back, and many showing support for the band. The film brings the viewer inside the arena when Maines declares the band's dedication to free speech, and offers concert-goers that wish to do so fifteen seconds to let out with all of their boos. The result does not suggest a crowd who have come simply because their tickets were nonrefundable.
The combination of bravery, sincerity, and humble defiance with which the band deals with their situation is presented without filter. Combining footage the band was compiling for their own documentation with later footage shot in specific support of the documentary, Kopple and Peck do not tell a story so much as bring viewers along on a journey unlike anything experienced by any entertainer since the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Committee hearings.
* We had both a Democrat and Republican grade the movie...