JIG SHOW!?

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Jiggaboo…jigga…jigger…jig. As a journalist and documentarian, I am compelled to search out truth in my work and without bias of my own positionality in the world or in relation to the subject. Thus, I admit, I was offended when I learned my grandfather’s show, Harlem in Havana, was considered the carnival ‘Jig Show’.

In my lifetime, I’ve known the term ‘jiggaboo’, as an insult to black people, and I immediately made this connection. The idea of calling my film JIG SHOW made me very uncomfortable and continues to make me uncomfortable, as I suspect it will make others uncomfortable as well.

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Filmmaker Leslie Cunningham

Yet, the more I become aware of the power and punch this three-letter word holds in the progress of this project, the more I become aware of the inevitability of the title. During my research, I found an etymology of the term ‘jig’ born in the European renaissance, in celebration- play and dance to song- that devolved into a racist slur that found a temporary and perplexing home on the pages of Billboard magazine as Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana endeared fans in communities across North America, west of the Mississippi. This so-called ‘jig’ show became a gem in the cap of the world’s largest carnival, while performers of color back east bumped painfully against the walls of the Chitlin Circuit or the coveted few opportunities in America’s major cities.

I have come to understand that this word and classification reaches beyond the politics of the day as do the discourses on race engaged by my grandfather’s show. A journey into the complexity of American entertainment and race history, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana, seeks to tell the most honest story.

FILM STATUS: Currently in early production. Stay tuned at jigshow.com.

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Published by: Leslie Cunningham

A master storyteller with a journalistic background, Leslie Cunningham is an artist, writer, filmmaker, collaborator and creator of TRIBES Magazine. Driven by a passion for storytelling, Leslie is a graduate of the Documentary Arts Program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. She has directed, produced and collaborated on a collection of engaging documentary films and short video for public broadcast and film festivals. Leslie’s debut documentary film, M.I., A Different Kind of Girl (2012), was chosen for Massimadi festival of Africa (2016), Gender Reel film festival (2014), The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (2012), and Atlanta’s Out On Film (2012). Leslie is currently working on her second feature, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana, which was selected for the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Program. Leslie was also a recipient of the 2014 ITVS Diversity Development Fund and a fellow of the 2015 Cucalorus Filmmaker Residency Program. Owner of TRIBES Entertainment, a boutique digital marketing company in Durham, NC, Leslie brings a wealth of industry knowledge to her client work. She has worked tirelessly on several worthy projects to help raise money for local non-profits and is committed to mentoring young emerging artists, filmmakers and entrepreneurs. Email Leslie at lesliecunninghampro@gmail.com.