Story | Trailer


The glorious legend of Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana, a so-called Jig Show that endures racism, segregation and immigration laws to become popular in the 1940s through the 1960s. See the brown-skin showgirls and meet the brave African-American showman who left an extraordinary legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams. 

Step right up, folks! The last remaining great troupers are finally telling their stories about one of America's most successful traveling shows that broke carnival records across the U.S. and Western Canada, birthed American music icons, and significantly impacted Black and Latin entertainment during the era of Jim Crow. Also unearthed is the legend of Leon Claxton, a brave African-American showman 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 compelling feature documentary film produced by director Leslie Cunningham who shines a spotlight on her grandfather’s tent theatre presentation of Black and Cuban music, dance and comedy that played Royal American Shows’ World’s Largest Carnival Midway for nearly four decades in the early-to mid-20th century. 

Tensions heat up when violent racial discrimination heightens in the U.S., Batista is ousted by Castro, the heir to the Harlem in Havana throne is taken away in haste, and Claxton must find a way to maneuver the political realities of the day. 

The cast is led by main characters Shirley Bates, a former lead dancer on the show in the 1940’s, and her son, John, who was raised on the show and drove stakes with the tent-hands in the 1950s. As Claxton family, their lives were deeply affected by Claxton's life and work, and their exclusive on-camera interviews add layers to this epic story. However, JIG SHOW is not just about family, but triumphs, connections and weaving across cultural divides. Above all else, Leslie is on a mission to preserve her family's legacy, before the memories die with a generation. 

JIG SHOW combines breathtaking show photographs, rarely seen historical clips and beautiful b-roll of the city of Tampa highlighting where Claxton and Harlem in Havana were headquartered for nearly 40 years. The film reflects upon and honors the bumpy nights and long rides on train car #66 and passion of the voluptuous showgirls and entertainers who bravely showcased their talents on the front-line of racial polarization and left an indelible mark on entertainment around the globe. 

Ultimately, JIG SHOW is a celebration of our multifaceted past and a path for the descendants of African and Latino-Americans to look back, embrace the past, and liberate their own stories from historical amnesia.