JIG SHOW Preserves Black and Latino Entertainment History

Durham Documentary Filmmaker Brings Her Epic Family Legacy to the Big Screen; Crowd Funds for Production in Tampa; and, Hits Cucalorus Film Festival's Work in Progress Program
DURHAM, N.C. - Aug. 7, 2015 - PRLog -- Step Right Up, Folks! The last remaining great troupers are finally telling their stories about one of America’s most successful traveling shows. In the compelling new documentary film in progress JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana, Durham-based documentary filmmaker Leslie Cunningham unearths Black and Latino entertainment history and enriches the whole of our cultural knowledge of how American entertainment evolved.

The granddaughter of a great African American impresario, Leslie narrates the telling of the story. The gem of Royal American Shows North American carnival exhibition for nearly four decades, Harlem in Havana was a spectacular showcase of colored music, dance and comedy that helped launch the careers of entertainment heavyweights Chuck Berry, Merceditas Valdez, Redd Foxx, Rufus Thomas and Fontella Bass, and played a major role in shaping American pop culture in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Claxton's wildly popular midway attraction showcased an orchestra playing blues, big band jazz, latin rhythms, early rock-n-roll and R&B, and specialized in standards of music from Cuba and other geographic locations. The show introduced some of the first Black American and Latino women to perform burlesque, exotic, chorus-style, rumba, salsa, calypso and striptease dances. The show left U.S. and Western Canadian audiences amazed. Labeled a "Jig Show", Harlem in Havana rose above the segregated stage and achieved mainstream and international recognition, despite turbulent Jim Crow times and the Cuban Revolution.

The film also unearths the legacy of top show producer and one of Tampa's most beloved showmen, Leon Claxton. Claxton's vision, passion and determination produced a show that still resonates today. Leslie's deep connection to her grandfather’s spirit of entrepreneurship, her unique relationship with carnival historians and familial ties to the Claxton legacy, adds to the authenticity and complex resonation of her grandfather’s life and the preservation of her family’s rich history.

"The carnival stage is often overlooked when recalling the contributions Black and Latino performers had on entertainment in America," says Leslie. She admits she was offended when she learned her family's high-caliber tent theater production was considered the carnival jig show. Leslie had always known ‘jig’ as an insult to black people and she immediately made the connection.

Most notably, Harlem in Havana was one of the most financially prosperous carnival venues that people of color were permitted to patronize under Jim Crow law. “There wasn’t a black person in Tampa that didn’t go to Claxton's show!” remembers Dr. Cheryl Rodriguez, a Professor at the University of South Florida who witnessed the show in the 1950s. Harlem in Havana was headquartered in Tampa for more than forty years.

Recently accepted into the 2015 Cucalorus Film Festival Work-In-Progress Program, JIG SHOW features candid interviews with academics, carnival historians, past patrons, Claxton’s own family members, and some of the last surviving entertainers of color who performed on the front-lines of racial polarization. The film is rich with never-before-digitized archive photographs, historical clips, artful reenactments and music remembering the times. Perfect for American Public television, JIG SHOW will contribute to discourses in popular society and education in Afro-Cuban History, the Anthropology of American Music, and the history of African-American entertainment.

Film Production Set for Tampa- Slated for release in 2016, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana is currently in production. In partnership with the Southern Documentary Fund, Leslie is running a 30- day crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo in order to raise funds for the hour-long film project. To learn how you can make a tax-deductible donation today, and to learn about some interesting rewards for supporters, please visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/harlem-in-havana-is-ba... or the film's website, http://www.jigshow.com.

ABOUT Leslie Cunningham

Leslie Cunningham is an independent filmmaker, artist, writer, journalist and founder of TRIBES Entertainment, an award-winning digital media and production company based in Durham, North Carolina.  Leslie is an artist with a critical eye and a unique viewpoint. She approaches all of her projects with a style and precision that yields engaging, thought-provoking and professionally executed media.

Driven by a passion for storytelling, Leslie is a graduate of The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University with a Certificate in Documentary Arts.  Her debut feature film documentary, M.I., A Different Kind of Girl (2012), was selected for such film festivals as the 2014 Gender Reel film festival; The 2012 North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and Atlanta’s 2012 Out On Film. M.I. also paved the way for more projects that would educate, entertain and feature provocative subjects and subject matter.  Visit lesliecunninghampro.wordpress.com.

About TRIBES Entertainment Films

TRIBES Entertainment Films creates compelling documentary films about important social issues and pioneers making essential noise in their communities. Visit tribesentertainment.com.

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Tags:HARLEM in HAVANA, Leon Claxton, Crowdfunding
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Location:Durham - North Carolina - United States
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