The real Big Stone Gap
Is not too far from here. Three cheers for the film; the Appalachian or hillbilly stereotype deserves to die. From Salon.
Deliver me from “Deliverance”: Finally, a Hollywood movie gets Appalachian people right
“Big Stone Gap,” a new movie adapted from the bestselling novel by Adriana Trigiani, stars Ashley Judd as a middle-aged Appalachian woman whose quiet life is disrupted by a death and a sudden revelation. The film features an African-American woman who is neither servant nor Magic Negro, a gay man who is not ostracized once he comes out, and a main character who is not only Italian, but also intelligent and even bilingual. In fact, many of the characters—including a lovable librarian and a tough coal-miner—love to read. References are made to “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights.” Michelangelo is quoted. The film even showcases a couple of Melungeon characters, a tri-racial isolate that most Americans don’t even know exist because they’re rarely taught anything about this region’s culture or history. Furthermore, the film is set in 1978 and the characters actually dress like it’s 1978 — not as if they’re 30 years behind in fashion and lifestyle.
These may seem like small victories, but for Appalachian people, this portrayal is revolutionary. Even in our best films we are rarely shown as diverse, intelligent, or modern. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is one of the region’s most beloved films because it showcases Loretta Lynn, a hero to many Appalachian people because of her pluck, determination, and authenticity. Yet even this complex portrayal of the region is not without fault. Lynn herself had complaints, among them that her mother was portrayed as always wearing dowdy gingham dresses and a haggard expression when, in fact, she “was anything but drab,” according to Lynn, who insisted that her mother wore “bloodred lipstick” and blue jeans in the 1950s.
Over and over, Appalachians have been made to be representative of the past on film. Of violence and illiteracy. In 2004, a three year-old child was killed when a half-ton boulder was pushed off an illegal mining operation and crashed through three walls to stop atop his body—just a few miles from the town of Big Stone Gap. The media barely blinked; in fact, there was no national coverage of the event. I believe that’s because to most people, Appalachians are invisible. We’re throwaway people. Films have led us to believe that Appalachians—like my family on that beach trip—are so backward, mean and toothless that they’re not worthy of respect.