Making A Film About Hillbillies

I’m thinking seriously of going into a new line of work, for which I think I’d be suited. I plan to offer the folks in Hollywood my services as a casting director.

Reportedly, well-known movie director Ron Howard is at work on a film based on the book “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance. His work tells about growing up in the Appalachian region of southern Ohio.

Howard’s plan has some people in our neck of the woods concerned. The Roanoke (Virginia) Times published a lengthy editorial bemoaning the fact that “if Appalachia gets depicted at all, it’s in a negative way. Think ‘Deliverance.; Or District 12 of ‘The Hunger Games.’ Our fear is that the movie version of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ will simply add to those negative portrayals.”

They left out the 2003 cult classic “Wrong Turn.” It’s about some young adults who encounter cannibals in West Virginia.

But if another retelling of the stupid, lazy, vicious hillbilly yarn is what Howard has in mind, I’m just his man for casting director.

I can furnish more stereotypical hillbillies than Howard will ever need. I know the dirt roads and hollows where they’re found. I know to look for the cars up on concrete blocks, the hand-lettered “beware of dog” signs, the torn wire mesh in screen doors — the whole thing.

I can find these people for you, Mr. Howard.

Trouble is, most of the hillbillies I know aren’t very good actors. And that’s something most of them would have to be to fit into the stereotype.

Sure, some of them never finished high school. Some could use a shower. Some don’t have two dimes to rub together.

And yes, some are stupid, shiftless and mean.

But the vast majority are smart in ways the Hollywood crowd can never understand. And nearly all of them have hearts of gold.

The real story of what happens to some big-city kids whose car breaks down on a dirt road in West Virginia is about a fellow who finds them, goes home to get his tools, then returns to repair their car. That failing, he drives them to the nearest garage, where a fellow who was just about to go home for the weekend works late into the night to make their car drivable. Meantime, someone gets them something to eat.

It’s happened to me, more than once.

People in our mountains and hills often suffer from economic deprivation. That part of “Hillbilly Elegy” is right on the mark.

If “shiftless” means you just can’t find work after the coal mine closed down, well, it’s true.

And the few bad apples we have around us get noticed simply because they’re the exception rather than the rule.

Is this diatribe merely what some would call being a “home boy” — that is, sticking up for one’s community, regardless of its flaws? Perhaps. Especially here, in the West Virginia part of Appalachia, we face enormous human challenges.

But by and large, we’re good people. Some of us just need a break economically.

How would Howard make that into a movie? I honestly don’t know. But I hope he bucks the traditional Hollywood view of us and tries.

A good start would be spending a few weeks in “Almost Heaven.” I can help with that, too.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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