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Hot Docs Film Spotlight – Interview with Directors of ‘Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story’

As part of our coverage of the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto, 360°Sound had the pleasure of speaking with filmmakers Michael Mabbot and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee. Their new film, Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story, tells the often-overlooked story of the life and career of pioneering American soul and R&B singer Jackie Shane.

Born and raised in Nashville, Jackie’s career was complicated, as was her life as a Black trans person in the Jim Crow South. She eventually found success, and a home, in Toronto. She mysteriously disappeared in the early ’70s and was rumored to be dead, until she re-emerged in 2017 with the release of a boxed set of her material. This reverent and moving film explores the “odd and difficult manner” in which Jackie was forced to live, and celebrates her musical legacy. The film’s title refers to her remarkable signature song, “Any Other Way,” released in 1962.

The film received its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs 2024, where it won a Special Jury Prize for Canadian feature documentary. It received an enthusiastic response at SXSW 2024, and will screen at the Maryland Film Festival. It will also be the closing night film at DOXA in Vancouver.

This interview has been edited for length & clarity. Please watch the full interview, which you will find at the end of this article.

360°Sound: Sadly, Jackie Shane passed in 2019. Early in the film, you introduce us to her heirs, Vonnie Crawford-Moore and Andrenee Majors-Douglas, who have, in their words, ‘inherited madness.’ They’re keen to tell their aunt’s story. How did you guys get connected to the project?

Michael Mabbot: It’s been such an incredible journey with Vonnie and Andrenee. Nobody knew where [Jackie] was for 45 years. I’d been looking for Jackie for a couple of years, and didn’t know if she was alive or dead. When that [2016] reissue came out, that was the first time that most people found out that she was in fact, still alive. It took about a year, but I was able to track down Jackie and get her number. Jackie and I started talking for about a year and a half, and we spoke for well over 100 hours. Part of it was telling me her story, but a big part of it was seeing if I was the person she wanted to do this film with. It was a very long and wonderful relationship with Jackie. And then shortly after, she was like, ‘All right, let’s do this. Let’s make this film.’ But a month after that, she passed away. She was 78 when she died.

Andrenee Majors-Douglas (l) & Vonnie Crawford-Moore (r) with some of Aunt Jackie’s personal effects

Vonnie and Andrenee, her nieces, get a phone call from a private detective saying, ‘You have an aunt named Jackie Shane. She was famous and you’re her heirs.’ They had no idea that Jackie existed, and she lived literally five minutes away in the same neighborhood. This family went into protection mode, and they locked it down. They were looking at everyone suspiciously, including me and my team. So we flew down to Nashville and met with all of them. They clearly told us, ‘We’d love you to do this. And if you screw up or mess with her legacy, you’re gonna mess with us.’ And these were women not to be trifled with. They came [to Toronto] for the screening, and it was really emotional for them and for us.

Lucah Rosenberg-Lee: When Michael asked me to work on this with him, he said, ‘You know who Jackie Shane is?’ I said no, like so many others – including her own nieces. As a black trans person, I thought I knew a lot of the black trans people in history, but it just reminds me how many stories we don’t hear. Sharing this with people was really intriguing to me.

You had access to telephone interviews that Jackie did late in her life. And you created these striking watercolor-hued animations to bring those conversations to life. It’s really beautiful. How did that aspect of the film come about?

Michael: There’s only one piece of film footage of Jackie, on the Nashville show Night Train, and it’s an amazing piece of footage. But she didn’t like doing shows like that – she liked these live, intimate things. She said no to The Ed Sullivan Show, she said no to American Bandstand. Sullivan because they wouldn’t let her wear makeup, Bandstand because it was racist. But there’s a good amount of incredible live audio of her playing. My idea was, let’s bring it to life with rotoscope animation. What we did was film this incredibly talented young black trans woman [Makayla Walker], lip synching to Jackie’s live music. Then paint over all of that, and it’s like a moving watercolor. When [Jackie] passed away, it was a natural extension to bring these phone conversations to life.

Sandra Coleman as older Jackie in rotoscope animation

The average call was four or five hours, and we talked for 11 hours straight once. There was so much coming out of her. One conversation, she kept talking about this pal of hers, Jim the Junkie. The next time I talked to her I said, ‘Jackie, is Jim the Junkie Jimi Hendrix?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, he was a guitar player.’ And I’m like, ‘Jackie, may I please record these conversations?’ There was never any intention of using them in the film, but thank God we got that.

Lucah: And a note about the rotoscope, you can really take it in so many directions. It was important that we found something simple enough, but that was diverse enough to feel like it was bringing you in, in the same way that people talk about Jackie on the stage.

Jackie re-emerged around 2017. And she says near the end of the film, ‘Right timing is what it’s all about.’ Why did you guys feel this was the right time to tell Jackie’s story?

Lucah: For so many reasons. I transitioned 15 years ago, and I made my first film about being trans then, because I thought there wasn’t enough stuff, specifically around trans men, but really around the intersection of blackness and transness in general. I wanted to live in a world where people had at least awareness of trans experience. But now we’re seeing the double-edged sword of that – the more people are aware of it, the more hate it gets, while people are still figuring it out. But what was so awesome about Jackie, she knew the anger towards transness was fear. And it was their own sense of self. And it was their own fear about what they were losing, or what it means for their identity. If someone could be that self-aware that they know they were born in the wrong body, what does that mean for me? What does that mean for society, and all the toxicity that brings up? And so it’s really great to tell her story now.

Jackie Shane at the edge of stardom

I mentioned her talent. This music is just extraordinary and beautiful and intimate – no matter who you are, no matter where you’re coming from. I connected to Jackie, very intimately and deeply listening to a record made in 1967, in a bar that doesn’t exist anymore. She gave me solace. She made me want to dance. She went through some horrible stuff, as people are still going through today. We were so lucky in the two actors that represent Jackie, that they got Jackie’s humor and sarcasm and joy. There was just so much laughter in the conversations, when she’d be talking about these horrible people. She was just like, ‘These poor fools.’ And that is pretty helpful right now, in these times.

Sandra Caldwell is a particularly excellent contributor to the film. As well as being a part of the rotoscope animation, you have her reading Jackie’s handwritten draft of her autobiography. I was floored by Jackie’s quote, ‘I was born, but I never lived.’ How does that reflect how Jackie felt about her life?

Lucah: She’d lost her audience; she’d lost the stage. When you feel like you’re born in the wrong body, you feel like you missed out on all these opportunities, because of society. And I can only imagine how much more intense gender norms and expectations were at that point. She says she wanted to be a man’s wife. For her, living wasn’t just her fame, it was also having a somewhat heteronormative, white-picket-fence experience.

Rodney Diverlus talks about the lyrics to “Any Other Way.” ‘Tell her that I’m happy / tell her that I’m gay.’ That double entendre would have been even more veiled at that time. How interesting for a trans person or somebody on their discovery journey to sing that lyric. 

Lucah: Exactly. We recently heard the Bruce Springsteen cover, and noticed that he changed it to, ‘Tell her that I’m happy / Tell her that I’m great.’ Michael and I were joking, ‘God forbid anyone think you’re gay.’

Michael: One of the most powerful things about Jackie’s story for me is, she touched people. People related to her. People were inspired by her, because she was up on stage being her true self – a black trans woman in Toronto, Canada, in the ’60s. To stand up there and be brave enough to be honest, that was her great power. She gave strength and courage to people, no matter what their truth was. It touched me. I’m a straight white guy, and it gave me courage to be myself, to be truthful. Her ultimate message was, be true to yourself, whoever the hell that is.

So, by 1963 in Toronto, she’s a sensation. She releases “Any Other Way” and has a hit with it. That should have established her as a hitmaker. What happened?

Michael: The thing for Jackie was to be able to connect to people intimately, and for them to connect to her. She chose to play these smaller clubs where she was comfortable, where she was protected. And in an odd twist of fate, some of that was being protected in really mobbed-up clubs – clubs that might be dangerous to other people. She didn’t come up to Detroit, which would have been one of the major stops. She didn’t play Philadelphia and New York. Her music was there, because it was regional radio at the time, but Toronto felt safer to her. I say safer, because it’s also been really important for us to not pat ourselves on the back as Canadians. She escaped the horrors of the Jim Crow South, but there was racism here – perniciously, polite racism. But she did feel safe, relatively speaking, here in Toronto. And so that’s where she ended up staying.

Jackie on stage in Toronto with bandleader Frank Motley’s band, The Motley Crew

With about a half hour left in the film, Jackie says, ‘You’ve got to know when to leave the ball.’ The narrative turns in that moment and becomes almost elegiac, even the score, as you recount some of the more somber bits of her later life. Was that a conscious choice to change the feel of the film, or did it organically shift?

Lucah: I think both. It was a great line that she had said to Michael, ‘I’ve had a great time, but it’s time to leave the ball.’ There were a lot of reasons, but it’s the music factor that we looped back into at the end. She had a very complicated relationship with the music industry – the drugs, the drinking, the expectations, the traveling – that culminates in those scenes.

Michael: We’ve always thought of Jackie’s story as a hero’s journey. After the fun and games comes the dark night of the soul. She couldn’t do what she needed to do in Los Angeles – getting married to a man, either officially or unofficially. She had to leave the spotlight, and that turned into literally quite a dark night of the soul. The relationship went south; it was more complicated than I think she thought it might be. Then there was some family stuff that came in. I think it was very sad for her to have to leave the stage.

Jackie dared to be intentionally visible as a woman

I also want to shout out Murray Lightburn who did our score. Jackie gave us guidelines of what to do. We talked a lot about it with Murray, when [the film] makes that turn. And that piece of music was one of those things that you pray for as a director, something you’d never think of, and is just stunning and beautiful. He did an incredible job throughout, but that piece of music was an incredible thing. It’s an interesting third act – a lot happens.

In that third act, you guys did a wonderful job bringing [the story] around to a real positive feel. 

Michael: When we started out with this film, the hope and dream was that Jackie would be on film telling her story. The fact that the family didn’t know she existed, and then found out she existed, led us on this journey with them. We literally unpacked this storage locker with them; the family discovered all this with us. Then coming together, many generations – [even] the generation that erased Jackie’s history and didn’t tell the younger nieces – were dealing with some of those questions as to why they didn’t hear about this, and how Jackie was treated back in the day. The hope that they have is that [the film] will bring about healing. That last scene with the family was a beautiful thing to be part of. It was amazing.

How are people going to be able to see this great film?

Michael: We are playing at the Maryland Film Festival; we have two screenings there. It’ll be coming out in theaters in Canada in the fall. But yeah, more to come.

Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story screened at Hot Docs 2024 where it received a Special Jury Prize for Canadian feature documentary.
Screenings at the Maryland Film Festival are Saturday & Sunday, May 4 & 5.
The closing night screening at DOXA will be Saturday, May 11.


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