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About Leslie

A raconteur with a journalistic background, Leslie Cunningham is an artist and filmmaker originally from Los Angeles, CA. Feeding her hunger for producing daring and entertaining narratives that represent a diversity of subjects and communities, Leslie created TRIBES Magazine, the award-winning online arts and entertainment publication telling stories from the frontline of urban music, arts and culture.

A graduate of the Center or Documentary Studies at Duke University with a Certificate in the Documentary Arts, Leslie’s collection of engaging documentary film and videos have screened on public television, online and at film festivals in the U.S. and internationally. In her early years of filmmaking, Leslie produced a number of popular shows for the local public television station The People’s Channel, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her show, TRIBES TV, covered arts and community events in the Triangle area including: Triangle Black Pride , Shelly B, The Queen of NC HIp Hop, and Domestic Violence: Healing through spoken word. TRIBES TV was a public broadcasting hit and spread Leslie’s reputation as a local media institution to citizens around the Triangle.

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In 2012, Leslie released her first feature-length documentary film, M.I., A Different Kind of Girl, which debuted at the Hayti Heritage Film Festival in March 2012, followed by a three-city Pride Festival tour through Philadelphia, St. Louis, and ending in Raleigh at the Triangle Black Pride Festival. M.I. also was chosen for The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and Atlanta’s Out On Film in 2012,Gender Reel Film Festival (2014) and Massimadi, the LGBT Film Festival of Africa and its Diasporas in 2016. The film has paved the way for more projects that would educate, entertain and feature provocative subjects and subject matter.

Now, Leslie is making the film that has become her life’s work. JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana is a film about her family’s stage show which documents the legacy of her grandfather, Leon Claxton, one of the twentieth century’s most successful traveling show producers. Sponsored by the Southern Documentary Fund, JIG SHOW received research and development funds from ITVS’ Diversity Development Funding in 2014, was selected for the Cucalorus Filmmaker WIP Residency Program and participated in the Sundance Institute New Frontier Program in 2016. The film is slated for release in 2019.

Leslie currently resides in Durham NC. She is a member of Film Fatales, an inclusive community of women feature film and television directors and is committed to mentoring emerging young filmmakers. She also enjoys photography, writing and painting.

Contact Leslie at


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JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana

A documentary film by Leslie Cunningham


Step right up, folks! The last remaining great troupers are finally telling their stories about one of America’s most successful traveling shows. JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana is a compelling hour-long documentary film narrated by filmmaker Leslie Cunningham who takes viewers on a tour of her family’s popular Black and Cuban stage show that broke carnival records across the U.S. and Western Canada, birthed music icons Rufus Thomas, Fontella Bass and Mercedes Valdés, and significantly impacted Black and Latin entertainment during Jim Crow. Also unearthed is the life and lore of her grandfather Leon Claxton, a brave African-American showman who left an extraordinary legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams.

A magical journey into the complexities of American entertainment, race history and family legacy, JIG SHOW combines breathtaking show photographs, rarely seen historical clips and on-interviews with a colorful cast of former performers, past patrons, historians and academics who bring their critical perspective to the conversation. Beautiful b-roll of the city of Tampa highlight where Claxton and Harlem in Havana were headquartered for nearly 40 years. Spoken word poetry, classic and new music by some of today’s top indy artists honor the beloved showman, voluptuous brown-skin showgirls and tenacious entertainers of color who bravely showcased their talents on the front-line of racial polarization and left an indelible mark on entertainment around the globe.

Learn more at

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Step Right Up, Folks! Watch the trailer for JIG SHOW!

Documentary filmmaker Leslie Cunningham is making the film that has become her life’s work. Nearly ten years in creation, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana is preparing for big screens around the globe in 2020. Watch the extended trailer now! In JIG SHOW, Cunningham and a cast of colorful characters take viewers on … Continue reading Step Right Up, Folks! Watch the trailer for JIG SHOW!

Don’t wait for the film! See the Brown Skin Showgirls!

  Step Right Up, Folks! I’ve got big news! In an effort to document the rich history of my grandfather Leon Claxton’s Black and Cuban stage show, Harlem in Havana,  I’m creating a collection of black and white photography books called Brown Skin Showgirls. And,  the Cuban Edition, Vol II, is now available on Amazon!  Brown Skin Showgirls, … Continue reading Don’t wait for the film! See the Brown Skin Showgirls!