Shut Up & Sing opens at select local theaters Wednesday, Nov. 22.
Once the belles of the country music ball, the Dixie Chicks are now seen by many as more akin to the Indigo Girls than the Mandrell Sisters. Shut Up & Sing reveals a defiant and unapologetic trio devoted to their craft, true supporters and, yes, country, while actually embracing the involuntary transformation of their fan base.
The best-selling female music group of all time suddenly found themselves personas non grata after lead singer Natalie Maines publicly criticized President George W. Bush in March 2003 on the eve of the invasion of Iraqi. In retrospect, her rather innocuous comment during a concert in London—"Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas"—pales in comparison to the volley of infectives that are hurled daily against the president and his war. It was not so much the rebut itself that ignited a firestorm of controversy that still burns, but who the speaker was and what they were expected to represent.
In that way, their story speaks to several issues: our red/blue political and cultural divide; the perception of women, particularly in positions of influence; and the machinations of the record industry. On the heels of their remark, country music radio stations blackballed the Dixie Chicks' records. Protests and, on at least one occasion, death threats followed them on tour, especially throughout the South.
Co-directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck ably spotlight the fallout felt by this provocative group. Still, the film itself it not particularly revealing, and feels at times more like a stagy hagiography. The filmmakers flesh out clashes with the country music industry, right-wing pundits and even singer Toby Keith. However, they gloss over any tension within the group itself or resentment toward Maines, presenting instead a united, resurrected sisterhood. Friend and foes alike will find fodder for their opinions, little of it not already covered in gossip rags and on tabloid TV. Shut Up & Sing delivers a good sermon, but ends up preaching to the choir.