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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that most teens probably won't be all that interested in this politically charged documentary, which is too bad, since it deals intelligently with mature themes like the debates over free speech and patriotism. That said, it also features repeated uses of "f--k" and other language (someone calls President Bush a "dumb f--k"). The Dixie Chicks face a death threat in Texas, as well as ugly language in protests (on the radio, in on-camera interviews, and spelled out on signs and T-shirts). The women appear in towels as they prepare for a photo shoot in which they pose naked (nothing graphic is shown) except for the words written on their bodies. Overall, the film offers a very sympathetic look at the Chicks, who are by turns funny, passionate, and determined to say what they mean, even when they're told to shut up. Some viewers might see this sympathy as political -- with a liberal slant.
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What's the story?
SHUT UP & SING is a politically informed documentary about the Dixie Chicks' run-in with country music radio and fans. The film traces the backlash against the Chicks following singer Natalie Maines' now-infamous declaration at a London concert on March 10, 2003: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." A boycott of their music threatened their career. Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison took on the controversy as a means to defend "free speech." They spoke against majority opinion, which supported the invasion of Iraq. Cutting back and forth in time, Shut Up & Sing includes concert footage, reactions to a death threat made against Maines, recording sessions for Taking the Long Way, and discussions with manager Simon Renshaw as he and the Chicks figure what to do, as the fallout begins to build. The Chicks are asked repeatedly whether they "have regrets," but, after the first worries, they embrace their new status and working conditions.
Is it any good?
Barbara Kopple and Cecelia Peck's impassioned film shows the Chicks to be wives of supportive husbands and mothers of young children, as well as long-time collaborators. (Maguire and Robison are sisters.) This focus makes the Chicks look especially likable, as if the movie means to recuperate them into the fold of domestic conservatism. But, in fact, it argues against labeling the Chicks as either "good" country western artists or "bad" unpatriotic bigmouths.
The whole situation reveals the ways that the music industry manages its business; the movie shows footage from a July 2003 Senate Commerce Committee hearing on radio ownership in which the "ban on the Dixie Chicks" was investigated. As reported in Freepress senators sought to discover "whether or not the radio ban on the Dixie Chicks during the Iraq war constitutes a concern related to concentration of ownership." One witness states that the decision to boycott the Chicks' songs "was a collaborative decision-making process. Everybody fell in line." As the film ends, the Chicks' anti-war stance has become popular, even as they remain "not ready to make nice." The changes in their career and fan base may not alter the way the music industry works -- still, the Chicks will not shut up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the meaning of free speech, and whether that concept changes during wartime. Is it "unpatriotic" to criticize a president or a policy? How do the protests against the Dixie Chicks become personal? Is that fair, considering that they were the ones who made their personal opinions public? Since this movie is a documentary, should it be objective about the subject it's covering? Is it? Why or why not?
- In theaters: October 27, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: February 20, 2007
- Cast: Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines
- Directors: Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Documentary
- Character Strengths: Communication
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for language.
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