Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story Review

The oft-forgotten trans musician and trailblazer is brought back into the spotlight.

It is often said that certain people were born at the wrong time. It could be because their attitudes or outlooks didn’t fit within commonplace in society, or it could be because they weren’t understood or respected and, if times changed, they would be appreciated. Jackie Shane is the exact person who would not only be appreciated but would absolutely thrive in today’s landscape. Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story, directed by Michael Mabbott and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee, tells the story of this trailblazing trans R&B singer who, on the cusp of massive mainstream success, walked away from the music industry in 1971 to live a life of solitude.

The film opens with an animated sequence showing an older woman putting a record on and dancing to it. The album in question is the 1967 record Jackie Shane Live. When the music kicks in, we are transported to the concert that provided the film’s source material as people narrate what they believe happened to Shane after she left her public life. People say she was murdered, or died in some horrific manner, but the reality was the exact opposite. She retired from both music and simply refused to leave her house to the point that no one from her past knew where she went.

The film then introduces Vonnie Crawford-Moore and Andrenee Majors-Douglas, two women from Nashville who are contacted as next of kin after their aunt passed away. Except neither of them had ever heard of their aunt, Jackie Shane herself. The film proceeds to use the backdrop of them going through their aunt’s belongings as a way for the audience to learn more about her. They sort through her fabulous clothing and jewelry, paintings of herself, photos that span her whole life, and, most importantly, a handwritten autobiography. 

Between that and a series of phone call interviews conducted by the filmmakers before Shane’s death in 2019, we see who the elusive musician was and her impact on music. The film uses rotoscope animation rendered in watercolours to retell her story, casting both Makayla Walker and Sandra Caldwell, two trans performers, as an older and younger vision of Shane respectively. Walker plays Shane as she goes from a fledgling Blues backing drummer and singer to being hired as lead singer in a R&B band put together by Frank Motley. We follow her as her band joins a traveling circus and, when it leaves the US to play shows in Canada, Shane realizes that she’d much rather live in Toronto. She is quoted as saying “You can’t choose where you are born, but you can choose what you call home.”

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From her early friendship with Little Richard – another flamboyant performer who was likely inspired more from “Little” Jackie Shane than anyone else – to playing in mafia-controlled clubs, Shane lived her life the way she wanted: not caring if she got society’s approval. She turned down chances to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand because the shows, while hugely popular and financially lucrative, either segregated its live studio audience or didn’t let coloured people in at all. They also wouldn’t let her perform unless she presented fully as male, something the flashy suits, plenty of makeup and wigs didn’t exactly represent.

The film shows rare footage of the only videotaped performance from Shane in the form of a 1965 episode of Night Train, a Nashville area show that showcased black performers in a American Bandstand like format. The movie shows not only the immediate success she had on the local R&B scenes, specifically her popularity in Toronto and Montreal, but also her long term impact a trailblazing trans performer during a time where wanting to live your authentic gender was completely unacceptable. 

The film is a celebration of life in the truest of terms. While it doesn’t gloss over the racism, homophobia and transphobia that Shane experienced in her life, it spends more time highlighting her accomplishments and positive outlook. In her handwritten autobiography, she preaches that everyone deserves love and understanding, a sentiment that likely puzzled people in the 60s and 70s but, thankfully, is celebrated and understood in today’s landscape. 

Elliot Page’s production company Pageboy Productions once again brings to light a queer story that highlights the resilience and difficult path so many people have walk and have walked to get to where we are today. Jackie Shane continues the trend of people like Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a black trans man who eventually found modern success decades after their music was originally released, which is highlighted in their own documentary, Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story

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Thankfully, Shane was appreciated in her time, but it is still sad to think that the world missed out on so much great music after she retreated from public life. She was planning a comeback in 2019, one that unfortunately was never fully realized due to her untimely death. At least we still have a few records and this touching documentary to remember her by.

Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story screened at the 2024 Hot Docs Film Festival



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