JIG SHOW!?


Filmmaker Leslie Cunningham
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 position in the world or in relation to the subject. Thus, I admit, I was offended when I learned my grandfather’s traveling show 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.

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.