JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana
A documentary film series by Leslie Cunningham
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, birthed music icons, and significantly impacted Black and Latin entertainment during Jim Crow.
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.
A magical, musical and poetic and journey into the complexities of American entertainment, race history and family, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana is a compelling 3-part educational documentary film series produced by director Leslie Cunningham who shines a spotlight on her grandfather’s tent theatre presentation of Black and Cuban music, dance and comedy. An unknown story about an American "Jig show", this wildly popular brown-skin stage revue was the leading attraction on the world's largest traveling carnival exhibition for nearly four decades of the 20th century. Claxton's all-colored revue helped to eased racial tension in the Deep South, and ushered in a new era of multi-cutltural entertainment.
Tensions heat up when violent racial discrimination heightens in the U.S., Batista is ousted by Castro, and the heir to the Harlem in Havana throne is taken away in haste, and Claxton and his troupe must maneuver the social and political realities that threaten his show's existence.
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.
Each part of the film 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. Historical in nature, the film document adds to the existing knowledge about how Black and Latin entertainment evolved - and reflects on 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.