Shut Up and Sing (Kopple, 2006)

Freedom of speech should never be questioned, no matter how radical or conservative the content. It’s one of the core elements our founding fathers deemed necessary, not tertiary. Since 9/11, freedom of speech has taken a drastic hit to the stomach, especially in the wake of the buildup toward war with Iraq in 2003 and the absurd popularity of George Bush. As thousands marched across the world attempting to quell this American military offensive in the Middle East, The Dixie Chicks were about to begin their latest tour in London. Made up of three spunky Texans, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire, The Dixie Chicks were the most successful female band over the last eight years, with more success inevitably on the horizon. But in one moment, with one comment by lead singer Natalie, they found out personally how much freedom we’ve lost when it comes to speech. Addressing the excited British crown, Maines said she was “ashamed the President of the United States was from Texas.” Conservative groups in America got wind of the quote and used it to launch a devastating campaign of hate and scorn at the Chicks, pressuring fans and radio stations to boycott their music. In turn, the Chicks’ record sales plummeted. With Shut Up and Sing, veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.) follows the women over the course of three years since the comment, both dealing with the immediate shift in their public image and the affects such changes would inevitably have on their personal lives. Kopple catches moments of great inner conflict with the Chicks, both as artists, parents, bosses, and human beings. Many questions arise – without the support of the country music base, what direction should their music head, and will they ever attain the same level as success? All three women find voices in Kopple’s intimate and friendly portrayal, an engaging look at the politicization of art in modern day America. Kopple shows the right wing response to the Chicks outlash as indeed reprehensible, and it’s to the Chicks’ credit they’ve stuck by their guns, and stuck together. When the thunder storm was raining down, The Dixie Chicks knew the ability to express their beliefs was non-negotiable, no matter the cost. These witty and beautiful women aren’t hardasses with an agenda. No, The Dixie Chicks remain artists with a dedication to their families and fans, and an undying love for the foundations of their country, Unfortunately, The Chicks had to realize freedom of speech was more an illusion than ever before. Thankfully, they decided to merge into a modern day reality not fixated on fear or mob mentality, but with a strength in self, the one thing that remains unstoppable in the face of adversity.

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