Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing

2006, Movie, R, 93 mins


Freedom of speech is supposed to be every American's inalienable right, but Barbara Kopple's documentary about the Dixie Chicks examines the cost of certain comments. In 2003, at the start of the popular country-music group's "Top of the World Tour" (in retrospect, the title is almost ridiculously ironic) and as America was about to invade Iraq, lead singer Natalie Maines spoke her mind to a London audience: "We're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war or violence. We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Little did she know that her offhand remark, made in a city teeming with protests against U.S. involvement in Iraq, would stir up such controversy and cause the Dixie Chicks to be shunned by much of the country-music community. Maines' bandmates, founding members and sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, stuck by her during the media firestorm and followed the savvy advice of their manager, Simon Renshaw, to comment only as a unified group. Within weeks, longtime fans were burning their CDs and voicing their concerns, saying that the only reason they even attended post-remark concerts was because they couldn't get a refund. George W. Bush responded by observing that he agreed with free speech, but "they shouldn't have their feelings hurt when nobody buys their records." Natalie's candid reaction: "He's a dumb----." Death threats cast a pall over their shows, threats made even more daunting by the fact that they travel with their young children. Throughout, they never tried to stifle their fans' displeasure and responded to rivals and detractors, like popular country artist Toby Keith, with humor. As the group reunited in 2005 to start work on a new album, turbulent emotions were still running high. Maines, Maguire and Robison work together to formulate a strategy: How will they bill themselves? Should they apologize or stand their ground? Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple does an excellent job capturing the Chicks' thoughts, and uses judicious clips from political speeches to put Maines' off-the-cuff comment into context. While it's unlikely that her film will sway former fans who swore off the band for political reasons, that seems beside the point. And the Dixie Chicks, whose next album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, seem unbowed and focused on a future with those who stood by them — they're still singing, and they're not shutting up. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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