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Movie Review: Dixie Chicks Shut Up & Sing

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This documentary about the Dixie Chicks, Shut Up & Sing, provides a fascinating look at a high-profile free speech fight. And this time the good guys – well, the good women – win.
In 2003 the band was riding high and they were receiving critical acclaim for their music. Their concert tour was popular.

And then it happened. During a concert in London lead singer Natalie Maines said, "Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." It was one of those short remarks that changed everything.

At the time she made her comments the band had a hit song, “Traveling Soldier.” But as soon as she made her comments, the Free Republic Web site and other right-wing groups quickly organized boycotts of the band and many radio stations refused to play their songs anymore.

This movie captures the whole uproar and controversy from the perspective of the band. Some of the best scenes come as the band reacts to the vicious and hateful emails, letters and other responses to Maines’ comments.

One band member – it might have been Maines herself -is quite right in pointing out that many of them probably had no idea what exactly Maines’ comments were, and might be less angry if they actually stopped to think about her remarks. But the witch hunt was on — and so on it went.

The most intriguing scenes revolve around how best to respond to the negative publicity and the hateful remarks. Handlers suggested major changes but the band members said they would rather keep going and fight the good fight. And so they do.

The first time I saw this movie I was underwhelmed because I had followed the story closely as it happened and at first glance it did not seem to be telling much I did not already know. I knew about the hateful letters and read the Entertainment Weekly cover story in which they appeared naked, but with insults and other hateful words written on their bodies.

But I had a much greater appreciation for the film on my second viewing as I noticed things I missed the first time around. I enjoyed learning more about some details of the controversy.

Also interesting was concern about how the public would react to the band’s appearance on the Entertainment Weekly magazine cover. One person is shown expressing concern it will make them look even worse.

I’m not crazy about the Dixie Chicks music but I respect them for standing up for what they believe in. Each time I watch the movie my admiration for them grows.

They could have taken the coward’s way out and backed away from the statement or said the singer was not speaking for the whole band. Instead they stuck it out, and in a bit of poetic justice their next album contained a hit song which was about the criticisms and the death threats.

While they were still targeted and criticized for their 2003 remarks, the album sold well.

Since the movie came out, the band won Grammys for Best Album, Best Record, and Best Song. If that is not poetic justice, I don’t know what is.

If you are interested in fights about free speech, watch this movie. If you want to know what was really said by the singer and how people reacted to her comments, check out this film.

And me? While I probably won’t be supporting the band financially I am cheering them on in my own way, through this review.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Claire

    CORRECTION: if you are interested in watching three women make foolishly proving this was NEVER a free speech issue then watch their faux-u-mentary.

    Congress never imposed any law prohibiting the dcx Constitutional right to free speech. They had ample opportunities, from the night nat spewed her rhetoric till the night they were awarded 5 grammys for their liberal views, to express their free speech UNHINDERED. And they did so with via their music, satellite radio, tv, cable tv, internet, magazines, thru all manner of interviews and concerts.

    A study titled “Who Killed the Travelin’ Soldier: Elites, Masses, and Blacklisting of Critical Speakers” done by Gabriel Rossman Dept of Sociology Princeton University supports the fact that neither “Free Republic or other right wing groups” organized boycotts were responsible for the dcx demise. It was the dcx themselves.

    Nat made that very clear when she said “Now that we’ve f***ed ourselves, I think we have a responsibility to…continue f***ing ourselves.”

  • Lynn

    It’s hard to see how a movie that just relays what happened behind the scenes can be a “faux-u-mentary.”

    However, Claire’s comment is the perfect example of how, after March 2003, the Dixie Chicks became a very polarizing figure in the US. They inspire pure vitriol from those who disagree with them politically – particularly by those people who don’t even know them or listen to their music. (Hateful comments are very rarely about the music.)

    More than anything, I feel what happened to them is a sad commentary on what has happened in America since 9/11. It’s polarized politically and civility has gone out the window. It’s particularly sad when my local radio station decides what music I listen to based on their personal politics.

    I didn’t know much about the Dixie Chicks before this movie and now I have a newfound respect for them and a huge appreciation for their music. Whether you agree with them or not, just remember that they are fellow Americans, mothers of 7 kids and only stuck up for what they personally believed in.

  • Claire

    Mondo-film, docu-ganda, pseudo-documentary or whatever one CHOSES to call this film it is simply not true to the behind the scenes happening at the time it was filmed. Their right to free speech was NEVER in jeopardy. Even the dcx themselves have stated they were surprised at what wasn’t included in the film which they thought should have been included. THAT is what makes this film a faux-u-mentary.

    Lynn’s comment that the dcx inspire pure vitriol from those who disagree with them politically. Well, gee, don’t know which planet (s)he’s from but on planet earth the caustic “Not Ready To Make Nice” and “Lubbock Or Leave It”, really don’t inspire the warm fuzzies.

    nat has demonstrated time and time again that civility has definately gone out the window. One need only watch this film to see the depths of their hatred towards those who disagree with their politics. Seems rather hypocritical coming from people who claim to be Forgiving, Understanding, Tolerant, Knowledgable.

    Political band wagon jumpers who had never even heard about the dcx until they started bashing Pres Bush, should really educate themselves on how radio request lines work. Radio stations have always relied on call-in requests. If people can request a song be played the opposite also holds true, people can also call and request a song NOT be played. That’s how it works in a democracy. There could be several reasons why artists lose favor with their fans. The dcx CHOSE to make it about their politics. And as long as they put their politics over their music they can expect their former fans to stay away.

    True, the dcx are parents and (un)Americans. But the person, they were hoping their fans would hate as much as they do, is also an American and a parent who just happens to have the most important job in our govenment. Our country has been at war these past four years. So either the dcx were mistaken or ignorant of the fact that REAL Americans at heart pull together during time of war. Abraham Lincoln said it best “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Hope the dcx got the message: Our “house” is much more important to us than your musical careers.

  • Scott Butki

    Thanks for your comments and opinions.

  • Egbert Sousé

    “One need only watch this film to see the depths of their hatred towards those who disagree with their politics.”

    It wasn’t the Chicks who issued death threats that the FBI took seriously, so let’s not throw the word hatred around.

    We are not at war in Iraq any longer. Try and get your facts straight because it makes you look like the ignorant one.

  • Claire

    According to the dcx themselves, there was only ONE death threat nat and the FBI took seriously. The guy was indentified and deemed “kinda cute” by nat and NOT a serious threat by the FBI. So, lets not get all unhinged over something we already know amounted to nothing except as a PR stunt the dcx have milked to death for the last four years.

    As for the intellectual giant who claims we are “not at war in Iraq any longer”, pray tell what is our Military doing IN Iraq if not fighting a war? Or are you one of those who believes our Troops are the “real terrorists”? While we may NOT be at war WITH Iraq, we are fighting a war against terrorists IN Iraq.

  • michael

    claire,

    the Chicks right to free speech was threatened, by organized intimidation from the right wing. any dissent from the bush line was labeled as un-american, un-patriotic, traitors, hate america, and are terrorist supporters. the right wing is still using those tactics today.

    the invasion of Iraq inflamed radical muslims all over the world and created the very problem the troops face today.

  • Claire

    Michael,

    Documented evidence in the form of interviews, via every form of communication medium, over the span of four years shows the dcx’ free speech was never EVER in any danger of being censored or suppressed. Much less intimidated.

    Those labelling the dcx and their fellow dissenters as “un-american, un-patriotic, traitors, hate america, and are terrorist supporters” have every right to choose whatever words they deem necessary to express their opinions. At least as much right as nat had to call Pres Bush a “dumb f***” not once but twice.

    As for the Iraq invasion having “inflamed radical muslims…”, you might be surprised to learn that isn’t what has them “inflamed”.

    Read up on the 1786 meeting between Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the “Dey of Algiers’” ambassador to Britian, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja. Read about the “Barbary pirates” and what Jefferson thought of these Musselmen and what they thought of us and why. Maybe then you’ll begin to understand that Iraq is not the issue here, not for the “inflamed radical muslims” anyway.

  • michael

    claire,

    in 2003, thanks to bush’s lies and deceptions this country was in a gung ho mood to invade Iraq. the terms un-patriotic, traitor, etc carried a great stigma. before Natalie’s comment the Chicks were the most popular female group in history. after the comment, the Chicks were banned from almost every country station, there were organized ” destroy the Chicks cd’s ” parties and the right wing pundits vilified the Chicks on the radio, tv, newspapers and the net. the combination drove the Chicks into a 3 year musicial exile. i would call that intimidation.

    because of the invasion, terriosts have turned Iraq into a training ground for new tactics. America has payed a heavy price because of bush’s bungling. over 3600 dead soldiers, over 23000 wounded, and 12 billion dollars a month spent on this insane war. and what do we hear from bush? we need more time.

  • Claire

    Michael,

    The banning of the dcx did happen but it was a grassroots effort not an “organized” effort like the Rock the Vote events of 2004. RTV was organized, it failed but it was still organized.

    In reality, all the cds destroyed belonged to the people who destroyed them. Not one cd belonged to the dcx. Merchandise, bought and paid for by customers, is their property to do with as they please once it is in their hands. So why all the crying and whining?

    What you call intimidation, is a typical day at work for those in the entertainment industry. They don’t intimidate easily and if they do then they need to get out of that cut-throat business cause criticism and ridicule is a huge part of that industry.

    You’re claiming Pres Bush lied but you forget that Bill Clinton, Al Gore and several prominent democrat members of Congress serving during both the Clinton and Bush Adms said the same things about Saddam and the threats he posed. Why were these lies when Pres Bush said them but not when Clinton, Gore & Company said them?

    You claim “because of the invasion, terriosts have turned Iraq into a training ground for new tactics”. NEWSFLASH: Saddam, his sons and his elite military were/are terrorists too and they were in Iraq learning new tactics.

    The call for more time isn’t only coming from Pres Bush, you’re also hearing it from the Generals and boots on the ground bleeding for this cause for freedom you have the mendacity to call “insane”.
    Funny that it wasn’t “insane” when our country was seeking its independence. As a matter of fact we still celebrate that war, and many more died then than have died in this war.

    Iraqi men, women and children tasting freedom and enjoying basic human rights for the very first time in their lives would beg to disagree that this is an “insane war”. As would our Troops who keep enlisting and re-enlisting to go back there and keep fighting.

  • michael

    claire,

    a grassroots effort? so a bunch of people just happened to gather in the parking lot of a radio station on particular day. they just happened to bring their Chicks cd’s with them. there just happened to be a a bulldozer there. you overlook the symbolism of that type of action.

    i could go on, but it would be futile. your arguments have more spin on them than a top.

  • http://myspace.com/angelicaross Angelica

    I stopped reading the comments after someone posted, that the Dixie chicks ONLY got ONE death threat. Only? Wow. It’s amazing the things we choose to take seriously and those we don’t. It seemed to me Natalie made those comments about the suspected culprit in coping with the fact that she actually received a death threat! This country has continually under estimate the quiet killers. The kind of cute and harmless introverts. The latest being the Virginia Tech incident.

    I saw the documentary, and was inspired. And for those of you who find it hard to find the inspiration in all of this, let me point it out. We all have beliefs, and our country is internally at war because everyone’s fighting for those beliefs, that are inevitably different from the next. Everyone believes they’re right. I think the Dixie Chicks controversy has been misdiagnosed. This was not about fighting for their right to freedom of speech. It is more about simply believing what you believe and standing up it. They continued to sing, they let their Lipton Tea sponsors go, after the company expressed concerns of being affiliated with the Dixie Chick “Brand”, when the radio stations and country music industry turn against them, they found another avenue.

    This is a blatant example of the human spirit’s ability to thrive and overcome. We all have said things to our spouses, to friends, or to our bosses that we regret saying. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to say at that time, but we stuck our foot in our mouths. Imagine being crucified the way the Dixie Chicks were (Imagine a more real and personal attack, we all are not Grammy winning singers). Two words were the catalyst. “I’m ashamed.” Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” So it’s a feeling, and although it’s sometimes hard to believe especially from some of these responses, we all have them. So maybe she spoke too soon, or let it slip, either way the whole situation got out of hand because of the outbreak and epidemic of monkey see monkey do behavior from some of the right wing conservative groups. For example, one monkey says, “I hate the Dixie Chicks, they are un-American. Don’t you think so? If you don’t you must be un-American too.” Then the other monkey says, “Hey, I’m not un-American I hate the Dixie Chicks too! OOOOH OOOH EEEE EEEE!”

    Please people, stop fighting for your beliefs and just stand for them. All you have to do is stand. No need for defense. Consequence is not exclusive to negative actions. There are consequences for everything we say and do, right or wrong, positive or negative. I am a transsexual with resolve for the life I chose to live. The world may have picture of what my life amounts to. But, my reality is that I just got engaged to my love of 5yrs. I have a home in Florida and Chicago, I am following my purpose in life, and have so much to be grateful for every second of every day. And I am here because I stood, when no one else stood by me or for me, when everyone told me “how it was and is” and “how it’s going to be”. I refused to believe that I should be sentenced to a life of depravity, for having belief in who I am and who I believe I was meant to be. I don’t watch television at all anymore, but I watch the Dixie Chicks Shut up & Sing, almost everyday now. It’s inspiring to see other examples of strength, than the muscles the president tried to flex in the past years. Thank you DC.

  • SCott Butki

    Thanks for all the comments. We sure had us an interesting debate.

    Quite the opposite at Newsvine as I posted this same review here at newsvine where it got only one comment so far.

    I led the discussin of this movie at my church today and we had a good discussion of it afterwords.