Early in Shut Up & Sing, we get to see the Treasonous Offending Clip: that moment during a 2003 concert in London when Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, made her infamous remark stating that the group was ashamed that George W. Bush is from Texas. I was surprised to discover that Maines delivers the comment demurely, as a slightly abashed naughty joke, and that it’s really a bone-deep assertion of her Texas-hood — a line that tweaks the president for not being enough of a true-blue longhorn’d good ol’ boy.
In other words: It was downright un-American! At least, it was for the legions of country fans who then turned on the group with a whiplash of hatred. Shut Up & Sing, co-directed by the ever-inquiring Barbara Kopple (American Dream, Harlan County USA) and Cecilia Peck, is a lively, roving, surprisingly intimate backstage documentary that follows the Chicks as they deal with the lingeringly bitter fallout from that incident. Some of the film’s terrain is familiar (their interview with Diane Sawyer, their nude tattooed-with-epithets appearance on the cover of EW), yet Kopple and Peck capture how, in a nation that has become a living media bubble, the Dixie Chicks weren’t merely criticized. They were branded, and so they were forced to re-brand themselves, leaving behind the country fans and radio stations that had abandoned them, writing about the experience on their albums, bucking the rules of a lockstep entertainment industry that would have them — say it loud — shut up and sing. Through it all, Natalie Maines’ decision to shirk humility, to stick by her guns, to the point that the group returns to that London concert venue in 2006 and she utters the same joke again, becomes a feisty and inspiring act of something there is only one word for: patriotism.