“They got in my head that I said ‘15 little words’: Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” says Natalie Maines. “So when I watched the movie I saw that actually what I say is something like, ‘Just so you know, we’re on a good side with y’all; we don’t this war and we don’t want this violence. And we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.’ So it was interesting to me that they forgot that little bit about not wanting violence and war which showed, I think, more support for the troops. So not adding that part made it easy for them to say I didn’t support the troops, and didn’t support America. So those were”—her eyes head skyward as she counts on her fingers—“what is that, 22 little words?”
Seated in her customary position between Martie Maguire and Emily Robison in a Toronto hotel during the city’s film festival, Maines becomes, as she has in her band, the Dixie Chicks, the de facto leader of this discussion about the new documentary she is the de facto star of, Shut Up and Sing. Directed by double Oscar winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA) and Cecilia Peck, the film follows the Chicks as 2003 opens with their rendition of the American anthem at the Super Bowl, to six months later, when Maines’ clearly offhand comment to a British audience—shortened to 12 words in the trailer—changes the Dixies’ lives literally overnight. It traces the fallout (unhappy sponsors, protests, death threats, radio bans, unsold tickets) as the band tries to keep it together while the situation escalates endlessly, beyond all logic. And it heads into the studio for the 2005 writing and recording of Taking the Long Way, the stellar crossover pop release that went number one in May without much radio play from the country stations that made the band one of that genre’s brightest lights of the past decade.
The trio already had a crew following it for promotional purposes, which is how the previously unseen footage of Maines’ remark was caught on tape at all—it’s remarkable in the YouTube age that it took this long—and when the shit hit the fan, Kopple and Peck sent them a proposal.
“Both Cecilia and I were fairly excited and really wanted to do something with the Dixie Chicks,” says Kopple. “Who were these incredible, amazing women, that, you know, were willing to stand up against everything, where everybody was trying to silence them?”
There was some hesitation at first, which Maines attributes to ignorance of the film business and Maguire chalks up to weary mistrust.
“We had been used and abused from both sides—it wasn’t just attacks from the right, we were kind of being used by the left as well,” she says. “We didn’t want to get into a situation where the story was used for a certain agenda. Just to tell it truthfully and leave the audience feeling that they got the truth, not something that’s manipulated in the film.”
The publicity and marketing for the film focus on the politics of the situation, but what gets lost in that approach is the revealing look at the women’s lives and art—their relationships with their families, the creation of Taking the Long Way and the dynamics of the band, honed over 11 mostly successful years together.
“When you’re coasting along and your career’s going great, you’re just happy in life, I don’t think you have the ability to really soul-search,” says Robison. “And it kind of gave us that opportunity, brought us much closer together.”
“It turned us into women, I think,” says Maines. “The one thing that surprised me in watching it was watching my own maturing right before my eyes. I don’t think a lot of people get to watch themselves mature, literally.”
“Nothing is ever said about or done to us that can penetrate that link of chain that connects us,” says Maguire. “I don’t think a solo artist would have felt the same way. As strong as they might be personally, it’s nice to have the other two by your side.”
Dixie chicks: shut up and sing opens Friday, November 10.