Ballot Measure 9, Heather Lyn MacDonald's last feature-length documentary, was a "political thriller" dedicated to examining the battle over an anti-gay initiative that nearly won voter approval in Oregon in 1992. The film was lauded at festivals around the world and took home prizes from many of them, including Sundance and Berlin. Been Rich All My Life, MacDonald's follow-up to that success, is unlikely to win any awards. It is almost entirely lacking in structure, and is damaged by low-budget, unnecessary effects that one would expect to see in Unsolved Mysteries recreations, not the work of a respected documentarian. Lucky for MacDonald, however, the subjects of her film are so appealing they easily rise above its surprising weaknesses, and leave all but the most cynical of viewers charmed and moved.
Been Rich All My Life focuses on The Silver Belles, a dance troupe made up of five former Harlem showgirls, the oldest of whom is 96-years-old, the youngest a spry 84. The women, all of whom danced at The Apollo or The Cotton Club during the 1930s, met during those years, when they were the hard-working stars of Harlem's thriving nightclub scene. Between them, the five worked with every major star of the pre-war era, from Louis Armstrong to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Cab Calloway.