Have you seen this movie? I sat in bed watching it early Sunday morning on cable and was just blown away. It's one of the saddest, scariest, most moving American documentaries I've seen in a long time. That's no surprise, since it was directed by Barbara Kopple, who made Harlan County USA - the landmark documentary about coal mine union battles in Kentucky.
What happened to the Dixie Chicks is infuriating: performing in London just before the start of the Iraq war, lead singer Natalie Maines (married, by the way, to HEROES star Adrian Pasdar,) told the crowd "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." The scene is included in this preview.
As I watched the film, seeing the rage and cruelty that emerged in the response to this one sentence, my first thought was, "Oh my God, what does this mean for Barack Obama?" The people who went after the Dixie chicks were nowhere near a sense of respect for the First Amendment - and sounded like they would be particularly vulnerable to "elitist" or racist accusations against a candidate. If you remember the exit polls in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania you'll recall that many respondents just about acknowledged that they would not vote for Senator Obama simply because of his race. Am I unfair to wonder if many of those people are the same ones booing and even threatening Maines' life? Still "out there" in larger numbers than we wish? Look at these figures:
In Pennsylvania exit polls on primary day, 14% of voters said that race one one of several important factors. Fifty-five percent of those were Clinton voters and 45% Obama voters. When asked race was “important” 19% said yes – 59% of them Clinton voters; when asked if race was a factor in their decision, 12% said yes. In this group, 76% were white Clinton voters.
In West Virginia, when asked race was “important” to their decision, 22% said yes –82% of them Clinton voters; when asked if race was a factor in their decision, 21% said yes. In this group, 84% were white Clinton voters.
Finally, Ohio. There, when asked race was “important” to their decision, 20% said yes-- 59% of them Clinton voters; when asked if race was a factor in their decision, 14% said yes. In this group, 59% were Clinton voters. (the racial breakdown was not available here.)
Please understand - I don't know if I'm right. I'm not alleging racial bias in all those who rose up to burn Dixie Chicks CDs and threaten country stations with boycotts if they "ever played one of their songs again" - but I do suspect they could be more vulnerable to campaigns run in an uglier vein - just as they responded to this one. It's worrying me.
Beyond that, this film was a revelation. I'm a sucker for women with great relationships, but watching these three go through this and show such solidarity; seeing them all in the delivery room for the birth of Martie Mcguire's twins and later, sharing the real pain they feel - not for themselves or the impact of the boycott on their careers but for Natalie and her sense of responsibility for what happened to them -- a band that was, as one of them called it "a cash cow" for Sony Music, I found myself really moved. I don't know if these women are as great, and as good to one another and their families as they appeared to be in the film, but it was a treat just to watch for a little while and hope it was true.
One more thing. This story is a spooky echo of the decimation of another wildly popular group blacklisted in the 1950s at the height of their career. Pete Seeger and the Weavers had just seen Goodnight Irene top the pop charts and recorded several other very successful songs when they were accused of being communists. Here's the 1949 version:
Once they were blacklisted, their new TV show disappeared, venues canceled on them from one end of the country to the other, and their careers were never the same again. That was in 1952 --- 56 years ago! How depressing is that?