Logline:

Brown-skin showgirls, whites-only audiences, and meet the brave African American showman who pioneered Black entertainment, and left an extraordinary legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams. (2022)

Step Right Up, Folks! Watch the Trailer!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

RVA Screening at The Art of Tease, Aug 28!

Check out a screening of the film JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana, a documentary film by Leslie Cunningham - Sunday, August 28, 2022 at 7:00pm. Part of The Art of Tease, Richmond, VA, Gallery 5. 




Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Harlem in Havana Project: Burlesque Education Series

 

Coming Fall 2022!

The Harlem in Havana Project: Burlesque Education Series features three hour-long classes covering American burlesque history from the traveling carnival stage. The class list includes:

  1. Girl Shows! 

  2. My Grandma Was An Exotic Dancer!?   

  3. Burlesque Bloodlines: How I Documented My Family’s History


Presented by Leslie Cunningham, a documentary filmmaker and creator of the Harlem in Havana Project, these fun, passionate and energetic classes are filled with new and existing burlesque material, personal experiences, book reviews, film clips and much more.  Created for a global audience, these educational classes are guaranteed to expand your knowledge of American burlesque and Black entertainment history. Learn more. 


Saturday, May 28, 2022

About the Filmmaker


A raconteur with a journalistic background, Leslie Cunningham is an artist, writer, documentary filmmaker creator and owner of TRIBES Entertainment, a boutique digital media company based in Durham, North Carolina known creating daring and entertaining narratives through a variety of digital platforms. 

Leslie created TRIBES Magazine in 2004 as artists across the Triangle area of North Carolina were calling out for a voice. Her popular show TRIBES TV covered North Carolina arts and community events and aired on public television stations, including Durham Community Media and The People’s Channel in Chapel Hill, NC. A public broadcasting hit, TRIBES TV spread Leslie’s reputation as a local media institution to citizens around the Triangle. 

A graduate of the documentary arts program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, NC, Leslie’s collection of engaging documentary film, including two feature films, have screened on public television, online and at film festivals in the U.S. and internationally. Her first feature film, M.I., A Different Kind of Girl, in 2012. M.I. was selected for The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Atlanta’s Out On Film, Gender Reel Film Festival in 2012, and ended its festival tour in 2016 at Massimadi, the LGBT Film Festival of Africa and its Diasporas. Learn more.  

Get your copy of the book BROWN SKIN SHOWGIRLS!

Order Now on Amazon 

BROWN SKIN SHOWGIRLS is a black and white photographic celebration of the many brave African American and Cuban women who performed exotic, rumba, salsa, calypso, striptease and much more on Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana Revue during the heyday of burlesque. This book is guaranteed to expand your knowledge of these performers who helped shape American entertainment and popular culture as we know it today. Many of them have transitioned or their whereabouts are unknown. All attempt have been made to verify the names of the individuals appearing in this book. Thanks to this special collector’s edition, they will never be forgotten. Get ready to be titillated! Learn more at harleminhavana.com

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Watch the film!


JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana - A documentary film by Leslie Cunningham (2022, runtime 1hr:46min)


Step right up, folks! The last remaining great troupers are finally telling their stories about Harlem in Havana, one of America's most successful traveling shows that broke carnival records from the U.S. to Western Canada, birthed music icons like Rufus Thomas, Fontella Bass and Mercedes Vald├ęs and significantly impacted Black entertainment during the era of Jim Crow. Also unearthed is the legend of Tampa’s beloved showman Leon Claxton, the award-winning producer who left an extraordinary entertainment legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams.



A magical journey into the complexities of American entertainment, race history and family, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana is a three-part film document produced by director Leslie Cunningham who sheds light on an under-explored aspect of black popular culture in the American, the traveling “jig show”. 

In this untold story, road show producer Leon Claxton and his brown-skin troupe break barriers to perform for “whites only”, enduring racism, state-sanctioned segregation and immigration laws to become popular in the 1930s through the 1960s. But with social revolutions in the U.S. and Cuba, and a startling family secret, what would be the fate of Harlem in Havana, one of the greatest variety shows of our time?

In the film document, Leslie, the granddaughter of a great impresario, is on the road collecting the memories of former performers and past patrons who witnessed her family's popular show "Harlem in Havana". This Black and Cuban presentation of specialized music, dance, and burlesque-style performance became the leading outdoor attraction before the American public during Jim Crow and left an indelible mark on the history of American entertainment. Switching lanes between Black history, and personal memoirs, Leslie turns the cameras on her own family to understand how her grandfather Leon Claxton went from humble beginnings in Memphis as water boy for Ringling Brothers Circus- to producing a groundbreaking and highly successful show that earned him millions and a place in history.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Duke dance professor Thomas F. DeFrantz talks about JIG SHOW


Thomas F. DeFrantz, 
Dance Professor at Duke University

Leslie Cunningham’s project sheds light on an under-explored aspect of black popular culture in the United States, the traveling “jig show” or performing variety show/ human circus of the twentieth century. These traveling shows brought forward crucial possibilities of social engagement in their presentation of specialized music, dance, and burlesque-style performance. Bridging the shift from live performance and vaudeville to the ubiquity of television in the first half of the 1900s, these midway shows stand as demonstration of American popular culture shaped by a pressing need to share music and dance from other geographic locations, standards of musicality prevalent in other places, and, of course, definitions of femininity and female beauty demonstrated by the showgirls always featured in the revue. 


(Photos: In the Spring of 2022 Defrantz invited Leslie to screen her film 
to students at the annual Slippage@Duke event.) 


Indeed, Leon Claxton’s successful show built upon a well-established arrangement of specialized dance, including tap dance and Latin dance; specialized music, including big band Latin sounds; and burlesque performance, including “showgirls” and strip-tease artists. Cunningham narrates an expansive social impact of these formations of a popular black and Latino cultures in the context of the segregated United States. Indeed, Cunningham’s project holds enormous potential to ignite discourse surrounding instances of Black American and Cuban collaboration, a woefully under-resourced area of inquiry. 

Leon Claxton’s show confirmed a willingness of Cuban and Black American alignment, a formation easily denied or forgotten as many twenty-first century Cubans claim proximity to ‘whiteness’ rather than ‘blackness.’ Popular cultures always reveal fault lines and tensions of race, gender, sexuality, class, and their circulations among people; this film Jig Show will bring these tensions into sharp relief while providing an invaluable document of myriad routes of circulation for black music and dance.  

From Thomas F. DeFrantz, Chair, Duke University African & African American Studies
Professor, Duke Dance|Theater Studies, Director, SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, President, Society of Dance History Scholars

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Celebrating Black History: Watch the full film free online!


JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana - A documentary film by Leslie Cunningham (2022, runtime 1hr:46min)


In the film document, Leslie, the granddaughter of a great impresario, is on the road collecting the memories of former performers and past patrons who witnessed her family's popular show "Harlem in Havana". This Black and Cuban presentation of specialized music, dance, and burlesque-style performance became the leading outdoor attraction before the American public during Jim Crow and left an indelible mark on the history of American entertainment. Switching lanes between Black history, and personal memoirs, Leslie turns the cameras on her own family to understand how her grandfather Leon Claxton went from humble beginnings in Memphis as water boy for Ringling Brothers Circus- to producing a groundbreaking and highly successful show that earned him millions and a place in history.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

TWO HAYTI BLACK FILMMAKERS COLLECTIVE DRIVE-INS / SCREENINGS OCTOBER 2021



In celebration of the Hayti Black Filmmakers Collective (HBFC), the Hayti Film Next Level series brings you two HBFC member films in October. These offerings will be presented the 2nd weekend in October featuring two drive-ins and online virtual screenings.

First we’ll screen the award-winning The Passing On (directed by Nathan Clarke and produced by HBFC member Lana Garland) at a drive-in on Friday, October 8th. Then on Saturday, October 9th it’s a night at the carnival with JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana (directed and produced by HBFC member Leslie Cunningham). Both films will be available online after their drive-in appearances.

The Passing On synopsis
Three professions ushered Black former slaves from poverty to the American dream:  preacher, teacher, and undertaker. Lewis Funeral Home has functioned within this tradition as a pillar of the Black community in San Antonio, Texas since 1909. While  Black funeral homes close across America as a result of the loss of Black  neighborhoods and gentrification, Lewis’ current chief embalmer James Bryant cares  deeply about this institution after a career of preparing over 10,000 bodies. And he’s  damn good at it, having been named the National Embalmer of the Year in 2016. Now,  James puts his faith in a new generation to continue this vanishing legacy. He’s met  with resistance from his young intern, Clarence Pierre, who himself is conflicted about  his commitment due to the judgment he feels from the Black community as a queer,  Christian man. https://thepassingonmovie.com

JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana synopsis
A magical journey into the complexities of American entertainment, race history and family, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana is a compelling documentary produced by director Leslie Cunningham who shines a spotlight on her family's Black and Cuban traveling revue- a so-called “Jig Show" that endures racism, segregation and immigration laws to become popular in the 1940s through the 1960s. Also unearthed is the legend of producer Leon Claxton, a brave African-American showman who left an extraordinary entertainment legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams. https://www.jigshow.com/Visit jigshow.com

Both filmmakers will be in attendance. The JIG SHOW drive-in will also have a pre-screening “tease” of the type of entertainment that would have been presented at Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana!

Buy your tickets for both films at HaytiFilmNextLevelOctober.eventive.orgThis event is sponsored by The Forest at Duke, ABC-11 WTVD, and Lincoln Community Health Center. 

Contact: Lana Garland, film@hayti.org

About the Hayti Heritage Center

The Hayti Heritage Center preserves and advances the heritage and culture of the historic Hayti community in Durham, NC and the African American experience through programs that benefit the broader community, locally, nationally, and globally. 

HAYTI FILM NEXT LEVEL is a monthly series featuring great films, panel discussions, and workshops. The series is offered every 2nd Friday leading up to a fundraiser in June 2022, supporting the Hayti Heritage Film Festival (HHFF), one of the longest running Black Southern film festivals in the nation. 


 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Slippage @ Duke University Fall Series presents a special student screening JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana



Sunday, August 29 at 3pm the SLIPPAGE @ Duke University 2021 Fall Series presents a final "work in progress" of Durham-based creator, Leslie Cunningham’s new documentary film series (part 1 and 2) “JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana”. This is a special screening for students. Slippage@Duke is directed by Thomas F. DeFrantz at the Rubenstein Arts Center. All events will be in the SLIPPAGE lab, Room 202, Rubenstein Arts Center. All events are free and open to the public. There will be capacity limits and masking protocols. For more information email:t.defrantz@duke.edu or visit https://slippage.duke.edu.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Burlesque artist Bebe Bardeaux featured!

Burlesque artist Bebe Bardeaux talks about the history of Black Burlesque in JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana! 

In August of 2020, the New York School of Burlesque Book Club held an online event hosted by Bebe Bardeaux where filmmaker Leslie Cunningham talks about the history of Harlem in Havana, her family's legacy and the Brown Skin Showgirls book. Parts of the virtual interview will be featured in the JIG SHOW film series showing online now   

Affectionately known as "The Doll of D.C.,"Bebe Bardeaux", is an award-winning burlesque performer who has wowed audiences all across the nation from coast to coast! Bebe took home the 2019 Golden Smile Award at the Golden Legends Champion Challenge and the #1 top prize at the 2018 Washington D.C. Burlypicks competition. She was nominated for the 2018 New York Burlesque Festival's Hottest Freshman Award and the 2018 Best of Gay DC Best Burlesque Performer Award. 

BEBE brings her critical perspective to the film project. She is a published burlesque historian and author of the forthcoming book SHAKE QUEENS, and has been featured in several leading pinup magazines. 

A special thank you to Bebe Bardeaux, the New York School of Burlesque and headmistress Jo Weldon for creating the platform to share the legacy of Harlem in Havana, an important part of the the history of Black Burlesque!    

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Meet the indy artists behind JIG SHOW

Filmmaker Leslie reached out to a few of her favorite indie artists to help tell the story of JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana. Featured in the film are the works of Hip Hop Poet Mr. Rozzi; African born-musician Mamoudou Balde; rock-n-roll musician and music composer Gordon Tittsworth, spoken word poet and activist Monica Daye, visual artist Derrick "Benetez" Bryant and Atlanta-based R&B artist Jeremy Johnson (aka J’DA Prynce)
who lent his voice for narration in part 2, and signed on as executive producer for the film.

     
Mammoudou Balde
African Musician 

Monica Daye
Spoken Word Artist

Derrick "Benetez" Bryant
Visual Artist

Jeremy Johnson
Writer and Musician

Mr. Rozzi
Hip Hop Poet
   
Gordon Tittsworth
Music producer & composer




Thursday, February 25, 2021

View the HARLEM IN HAVANA Collectors edition online!

(IPad, PDF or Web Viewer)

The Harlem in Havana Collector's Edition features 28 original pages taken directly from the show's annual program booklets in 1955, 1958 and 1959. Showcasing outstanding cast members, including Micki Lynn, The Five Pennies and the Cuban Dancing Dolls, some of the pages in this special edition include autographs from the entertainers themselves!  View now. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Supporting SUSO-NC

We're donating $1 from every order online to SUSO!

Supporting Stand Up Speak Out - NC (SUSO) - SUSO aims to empower individuals they serve by providing advocacy and  therapeutic support through Art Therapy for children and teens who are victims or witnesses to domestic violence and sexual abuse. Read more now

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Musician Jeremy Johnson signs on as Executive Producer

Musician and performing artist Jeremy J. Johnson of Applaud You Talent Group LLC, has officially signed on as an executive producer (EP) of the JIG SHOW documentary film. Jeremy is a seasoned musician, performing artist and entertainer who has performed internationally as a lead vocalist with popular R&B bands, including Heat, SolcetFre Project and Soul Brothers Band-the Ultimate James Brown Tribute Band.  

Learn more at jeremyjjohnson.com


Sunday, August 2, 2020

New York School of Burlesque Book Club Show presents "Brown Skin Showgirls"


August 5, 6 pm-730 pm EST on Zoom/Facebook Live. 

Join the New York School of Burlesque Book club show for an hour of books and burlesque! Burlesque Historian Bebe Bardot will guest host, interviewing author/filmmaker Leslie Cunningham about her book Brown Skin Showgirls
Learn more now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

2019 Grant Recipient of "Filmed in NC"

Just announced! JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana is a 2019 Grant Recipient of Filmed in NCDurham-based documentary filmmaker Leslie Cunningham will join ten other filmmakers from North Carolina who will receive project funding in this year. 
Read more.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Don't wait for the film! See the BROWN SKIN Showgirls!

BROWN SKIN SHOWGIRLS is a black and white photographic collection of the Black and Cuban women who innovated dance on Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana Revue in the 1930s through the 1960s. This book is guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Black and Cuban performers that shaped American popular culture. Learn more

Monday, November 6, 2017

2017 SDF Grant Recipient

Just announced! JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana has been selected as an official 2017 Southern Documentary Fund Filmmaking Grant recipient. SDF supports documentary films made in and about the South. The grants are made possible thanks to the generous support from the Mark Duke Biddle Foundation. Visit southerndocumentaryfund.org.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

JIG SHOW hits FRESH DOCS, Friday, September 22, Durham, NC!

The Center for Documentary Studies and the Southern Documentary Fund are pleased to present a free screening of JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana, a feature documentary film in progress by Leslie Cunningham who takes viewers on a tour of her grandfather’s Black and Cuban traveling show that endures racism, segregation and immigration laws to become popular in the 1940s through the 1960s. The film is presented as part of the Fresh Docs series featuring documentary works-in-progress. Following the screenings, a moderated conversation with the filmmaker will be held, during which the audience provides valuable feedback. Note: This screening is a Fresh Docs screenings are free, but attendees must RESERVE A TICKET via Eventbrite. Friday, September 22nd @ 7pm, Full Frame Theater, American Tobacco Campus, Blackwell St. Durham, North Carolina 27701

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Work-in-Progress Screening in DC, Saturday, July 29th!

Capitol Dance & Cinema Festival's feature film series continues Saturday, July 29 @ Dance Exchange with a work-in-progress screening of the coming documentary film JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana by filmmaker Leslie Cunningham.
  • 7:00pm - 7:30pm Harlem in Havana Photo Exhibition and Event Seating 
  • 7:30pm - 8:30pm Film Screening Q &A with filmmaker

The event is hosted by Jen Ray of Dancinema
Brown Skin Showgirls Books Available for Purchase! 

Free Admission! .
Dance Exchange
7117 Maple Avenue
Takoma Park, Maryland