who was the filmmaker who had the courage to get close to the radioactive Dixie Chicks when everyone else had fled like chicken-hearted pootbutts? That would be director and actress Cecilia Peck, who hooked up with her longtime collaborator, Academy Award–winning director Barbara Kopple, to make Shut Up & Sing, the film that gave us a backstage pass of sorts as the group fell from its pinnacle as the biggest-selling band in U.S. history, and faced death threats, relentless attacks from right-wing media and plummeting record sales after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
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“Look, as an American, I was ashamed at what happened to the Dixie Chicks,” Peck says. “It was the McCarthy era all over again. Their music was banned from the radio. If my father were alive, he would have championed their right to speak out.”
Peck, of course, is the daughter of the late movie icon and civil-rights advocate Gregory Peck, well known in Hollywood for his liberal politics and social conscience.
“In 1971, he produced an anti-war documentary called The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” Peck says. “At the same time, my older brother, Steve, had been fighting as a Marine on the frontlines in Vietnam. My father was extremely proud of his son’s service to our country, and I learned very young that opposing an administration’s war policy does not mean that you don’t support the U.S. troops and their courage 100 percent. This film was made in that legacy.”
Now out on DVD, the documentary was robbed of an Oscar, but the Chicks were triumphant at this year’s Grammys, where they won five awards, including Album of the Year. The film also continues to play around the world. Peck recently returned from Paris, where she attended the French premiere of Shut Up & Sing. “To me the film is about courage and an enduring bond of friendship between three women,” she says. “But for the French it was about totalitarianism — if America can shut up these women, who’s next?”