director of Shut Up and Sing, a documentary about the Dixie Chicks. Directed numerous films and television shows. She has won two Academy Awards. The first was for her documentary Harlan County, USA about a Kentucky miners’ strike, and the second for her documentary American Dream about the Hormel Foods strike in Austin, Minnesota. Kopple has also directed documentaries about Mike Tyson, Gregory Peck and Woody Allen.
Perhaps no musical act has paid a bigger price for speaking out against war than the Dixie Chicks, the biggest-selling female music group of all time and the big winners at the Grammy Awards on Sunday. They have been largely blacklisted since the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. That’s when the group’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, said the group was against the war and ashamed that the President Bush is from Texas. Barbara Kopple joins us to talk about her new documentary, "Shut Up and Sing," which chronicles the period since. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Over the past four years, scores of popular musicians have spoken out against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. The list includes Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, Sheryl Crow, Barbra Streisand, and that list goes on. But perhaps no musical act has paid a bigger price for speaking out against the war than the Dixie Chicks, the biggest-selling female music group of all time. On Sunday night, the group was the big winner at the Grammy Awards.
DON HENLEY: Yes! And the album of the year, the Grammy for album of the year goes to the Dixie Chicks.
AMY GOODMAN: The group won a total of five Grammys, including record of the year, song of the year and best country album. However, if you tuned into many country radio stations today, you won’t hear the Dixie Chicks’ music. They’ve been largely blacklisted for the past four years, ever since the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. That’s when the group’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, told an audience in London the group was against the war and ashamed that the president, President Bush, is from Texas.
NATALIE MAINES: Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.
AMY GOODMAN: As soon as word about Natalie’s comment, from the Dixie Chicks, reached the United States, the backlash began. What happened next is chronicled in the new documentary, Shut Up and Sing.
CALLER: We’re going to boycott them for their music, and we’re going to boycott you for playing it, if you don’t stop playing it.
RADIO DJ: Well, ma’am, that was the last one you’re going to hear.
NARRATOR: The Chicks’ number one hit, "Travelin’ Soldier," quickly fell from the top of the charts.
RADIO DJ: They had the hottest song in the country. All this stuff started, and it died.
NATALIE MAINES: We’ve never been a political band. Now, we’re thrown into the middle of this political whirlwind.
REPORTER: The radio station set up these garbage cans for people to come by and throw out their CDs.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I liked them, you know, but for what they said, it’s trash.
SIMON RENSHAW: They didn’t only whank "Travelin’ Soldier," they whanked all the play. You’re being really targeted by a couple of groups out there. I mean, you’re being really targeted.
CNN REPORTER: A taste of things to come. American bombers dropped a series of a thousand-pound bombs on the compound.
RADIO INTERVIEWER: Now, who was the one who talked about the war. Do you regret it?
NATALIE MAINES: The thing is, it wasn’t even a political statement. It was a joke made to get cheers and applause and to entertain, and it did. But it didn’t entertain America.
REPORTER: Some protesters used a tractor and their feet to smash the group’s CDs.
EMILY ROBISON: Martie, have you talked to Mom?
MARTIE MAGUIRE: I left a message, and then I was sick all day, so I didn’t call her again.
EMILY ROBISON: I think that’s all she wants to hear from us, is how much we know it’s affecting her.
NATALIE MAINES: The people who got it all started was a right-wing group called the Free Republic.
SIMON RENSHAW: The extreme right-wing group, for their own political reasons, are attempting to manipulate the American media, and the American media is falling for it. The Free Republic is very well organized. There’s definitely a Free Republic hit list with all of the radio stations they’re trying to affect, and they are totally focused, and the girls are going to get whacked.
RADIO DJ: Good morning, 61 Country.
CALLER: They should send Natalie over to Iraq, strap her to a bomb and just drop her over Baghdad.
NATALIE MAINES: A million things just really pissed me off about it, and I’m ready to go home and set the record straight.
AMY GOODMAN: The backlash intensified in May 2003, when the Dixie Chicks started its U.S. tour in Greensville, South Carolina.
PROTESTER: We’re tired of the anti-American voices. We’re tired of the antiwar voices.
REPORTER: Tickets for the Dixie Chicks concert went on sale months ago.
TICKET HOLDER: We did buy the tickets, before they said these things.
TICKET HOLDER: Before they said that.
TICKET HOLDER: We couldn’t get our money back, so that’s why we’re here.
REPORTER: But these South Carolina fans had no idea that the show they were paying to see would end up becoming much more than a concert.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think we in South Carolina ought to say goodbye to the Dixie Chicks, and anybody that thinks about going to that concert ought to be ready, ready, ready, ready to run away from it.
PROTESTER: God bless GW!
PROTESTER: When Natalie Maines made her comments on the eve of war, most of us recognize that was reprehensible.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It hurt our men fighting overseas who think their cause is just.
REPORTER: Is this a matter of free speech or bad manners?
SEAN HANNITY: Their opinion is so ignorant.
BILL O’REILLY: They don’t know what they’re talking about. Callow foolish women, who deserve to be slapped around.
REBECCA HAGELIN: Absolutely.
REPORTER: The Bi-Lo Center is working with Greenville police to provide extra security surrounding the Dixie Chicks concert.
SECURITY GUARD: Sit.
MARTIE MAGUIRE: Bomb-sniffing dog.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I mean, the Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say, and just because — they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out. I mean, you know, freedom is a two-way street.
NATALIE MAINES: They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt? What a dumb[bleep]! You’re a dumb[bleep]!
REPORTER: Of course, everyone anxious to find out here what happens when the Dixie Chicks go before a live audience for the first time.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Fourteen thousand Dixie Chicks fans ready to go. Feels real good.
REPORTER: Deafening cheers and a standing ovation greeted the Dixie Chicks, as they opened their first U.S. tour since Maines made her controversial comment. The down-home greeting came just as President Bush addressed the nation aboard the USS Lincoln.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: America is grateful for a job well done.
NATALIE MAINES: They said you might not come, but we knew you’d come, because we have the greatest fans in the whole world! Oh, wait, I hear some boos. We have a plan for this. If you’re here to boo, we welcome that, because we welcome freedom of speech. So we’re going to give you 15 seconds to get whatever you have out. So, here we go. On the count of three, you can start your booing. One, two, three! [cheers]
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the documentary, Shut Up and Sing, about the Dixie Chicks. It’s being released on DVD February 20th. Its film director, Barbara Kopple, joins me now in our firehouse studio. She’s the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker. Her films include Harlan County USA and American Dream. Welcome to Democracy Now!
BARBARA KOPPLE: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: What a documentary, and what a week for the Dixie Chicks!
BARBARA KOPPLE: Oh, the Dixie Chicks just really kicked butt this week. They just sweeped the Grammys. They didn’t think that they were going to win anything. They thought that they had just totally been shunted out by everybody, and they just had their minds blown. They were crying after the show was over with such delight.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how you ended up doing this documentary, Shut Up and Sing.
BARBARA KOPPLE: Well, I co-directed this documentary with a longtime friend of mine, Cecilia Peck, who is the daughter of Gregory Peck, and we had been hearing so many stories about the Dixie Chicks from a mutual friend, before they went on their Top of the World tour, and we just thought it would be so interesting to see who these women really are. They’re incredible musicians, and they do songs like "Goodbye Earl," and they take a very heavy subject, and that’s about domestic violence. But they had never written any of their own music before.
And we called them up. We got in touch with them, and we found out that they had just hired a website crew to be filming, and they said, "No, we don’t need a documentary. We don’t do anything that’s very important."
Right at the beginning of the Top of the World tour, on the eve of war, where there was maybe a million people marching in London against the war, they were at Shepherd’s Bush in London. Natalie Maines made her famous comment. And they didn’t think anyone would care. I mean, right after the concert, you know, their manager said, "This is great, this is wonderful."
So Cecilia and I kept trying to do this film, and finally, they said, "OK, you can make the film." And we never left their sides from then, and we watched them change over the course of three years, really transform into political beings, into people who were politically active, who wrote their own songs for the first time. Martie calls it her therapy. They just so got into it, and the songs are everything about love, about infertility and, of course, about politics.
AMY GOODMAN: The Dixie Chicks, when Natalie says this, when she says she’s ashamed President Bush is from Texas, particularly country music and the country music stations went after her, or we should say just pulled the CDs. Can you talk about what happened?
BARBARA KOPPLE: Oh, absolutely. Country music put sort of their musicians in a box, and they’re expected to be very conservative in their leanings, and these were three all-American girls that nobody ever expected this from. So when Natalie made her statement, it was as if she had betrayed country music. There was a massive boycott on playing any of their music. There was this group called the Free Republic that immediately got on websites and blogs and everything else to make sure that their music was not shown, their CDs were trampled, and for this, they even got death threats. So they had to have bomb-sniffing dogs, they had security, and nothing could stop these women from playing.
Dallas, Texas, was where they were going to be shot dead on July 6, 2003, and they went on the stage, and you can sort of see Natalie on the stage and Martie and Emily sort of move a little far away from her, because you just get up there and you feel so naked. There’s nothing that can be done, but they knew if they didn’t go on, that people could get away with anything they wanted to.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of — well, it goes to the issue of media concentration, as well. Which were the networks that were going after the Dixie Chicks? This is a congressional hearing, a Senate hearing, that is being run by Senator McCain of Arizona.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: … continues its series of hearings examining media ownership by returning to the topic that started it all: radio.
SIMON RENSHAW: As a result of statements made by members of the Dixie Chicks at a concert, two radio networks — Cox and Cumulus — banned the Dixie Chicks from their play lists at a chain level.
LEWIS DICKEY: Mr. Chairman, first of all, Mr. Renshaw refers to radio companies as networks, and we are not networks. We are a confederation of 270 individual stations in 55 cities —
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You made a decision from corporate headquarters that was binding on your deejays, and just prior to that you say that you’re a group of independent radio stations. That’s a total contradiction, Mr. Dickey.
LEWIS DICKEY: I think that mischaracterizes it. As I mentioned, this was a collaborative decision-making process. Everybody fell in line. This was a unanimous overwhelming decision.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: "Fell in line." I understand.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Do you think what you did sent any type of a chilling message to people that they ought to shut up and not express their views one way or other?
LEWIS DICKEY: I would hope not.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the clip, Shut Up and Sing. That hearing, with their manager testifying before the Senate. Barbara Kopple.
BARBARA KOPPLE: Simon Renshaw, we often call him the fourth Dixie Chick. He is so dedicated to the Dixie Chicks. And what’s so wonderful is that the Dixie Chicks are in charge of every single thing that goes on in their world. They are totally strategic. And they are so against media conglomeration. They fight it with everything they’re about, and their manager just leads and pushes through.
AMY GOODMAN: And he testifies.
BARBARA KOPPLE: He testifies.
AMY GOODMAN: He testifies against the CEO of Cumulus.
BARBARA KOPPLE: That’s right. That’s right. Mr. Dickey.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are the Dixie Chicks today? What are they going to do, now with this massive show of support, back in the country music world, as well? Best country music album.
BARBARA KOPPLE: They never thought that any of this would happen to them. The Dixie Chicks have seven children between them.
AMY GOODMAN: They had twins.
BARBARA KOPPLE: Two sets of twins —
AMY GOODMAN: Two sets of twins.
BARBARA KOPPLE: — due to infertility. They are all married, three husbands who totally support them and also have their own lives. They’re so close, and they’re so bonded, and what this has done has made them so much stronger and so much more politically active.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll certainly continue to follow them. I want to thank you, Barbara Kopple, Oscar-winning filmmaker, did the film about the Dixie Chicks, Shut Up and Sing, which is being released on DVD on February 20th.