During a concert on March 10 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, fired a shot that traveled all the way from London to the US. And it hurt. “Just so you know, she said, We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
Little did the singer know that her off-hand remark would launch a political firestorm and radically change the group’s artistic direction. In Shut Up and Sing, directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck capture the country trio’s determination to cope and assert themselves within a media frenzy.
The camera follows the girls over a period of three years, switching between the time before the comment and after. Kopple and Peck’s documentary is a success in the way that it lets the story tell itself. There are no formal setups such as interviews, only a candid look at what appears to be a true sisterhood that can withstand anything.
Can a country star have liberal thoughts? Apparently not. Two months prior to Maines’ on-stage comment, the Dixie Chicks had sung “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl and were known as the all-American sweethearts of country music. At the London concert they were slightly less patriotic, and their music was soon banned from most country radio stations. Rallies were organized in the south and angry mobs came together to burn the trio’s CDs. The singers even received a death threat. Sluggish ticket sales in the South ensued and the group’s managerial team decided to bring the tour to (surprise!) Canada instead.
The documentary provides a fresh commentary on the way politics, celebrity, and the media are all interconnected in today’s politically divided society. Many reprimanded the chicks’ actions because they believed it went against the so-called beliefs of their fan base. To put it in simpler terms, red-neck, Bush supporters. The movie does an even better job at capturing Maines’ great sense of humor and no bullshit personality towards the outrageous hatred being flung at them. After reading a comment that Bush had made in which he said that the Chicks had no right to complain about “hurt feelings,”implying that the Chicks should just shut up and take what’s being thrown at them, Maines lets out a “dumb fuck” in response.
One thing Natalie Maines, Marty Maguire, and Emily Robison must face right off the bat is whether or not to apologize. The answer is a definite no way! They only compromise to the point where they say they support American troops and continue to firmly stand behind what was said. Ultimately, the Chicks find their way without turning right. They forge a new sound and garner a new audience.
Two landmarks in the Chicks’ fight for freedom of speech include the cover they did for Entertainment Weekly which features the girls nude with names they’ve been called such as Dixie twits, sluts, and Saddam’s Angels. Another is their new hit song, “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
I’ve never been a fan of country music or the Dixie Chicks. But their film debut? Maybe. Dixie fan or not, this account of the girls’ refusal to back down is downright inspiring.