“Hillbilly”: Destroying a tired stereotype of a beautiful region

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"Hillbilly" played at the Los Angeles Film Festival during the Brent Kavanaugh hearings (photo provided by hillbillymovie.com)

Think pieces and profiles were written after the 2016 election of Donald Trump that pointed the finger at the rural people of Appalachia as the reason for Trump’s election. The New York Times wrote a profile in 2016 which described those Paris, Kentucky who voted for and believed that Trump would “Make America Great Again”.

There has been a recent rise in commentary that fights back at the stereotype of Appalachia being Trump Country. The Guardian published an article by Appalachian writer and activist Elizabeth Catte that goes over why Appalachia isn’t as staunchly conservative as one might think.

Still, little news coverage has been on those in the region who disagree with Trumps politics. Even less has been said on those who have been affected by the region’s stereotype as lazy, stupid hillbillies that has been created by films like “Deliverance” or television shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies”. These are the people who are the subject of a new documentary created by Ashley York and Sarah Rubin called “Hillbilly”  

The heart of the film lies in the on-screen presence of Ashley York. York is a film school graduate who realized how the Hollywood portrayal of Appalachia effected overall perception of the region only once she had spent time away from the region and in the film industry.  

In “Hillbilly”, York returns to her hometown in Kentucky to interview her family who are staunch Trump supporters. York doesn’t agree with her family’s political beliefs. But she wants to understand what has led them to these beliefs.

York’s grandmother sticks out as a character amongst her family. She describes wanting to have great faith in the government. But after years of having her home damaged by coal company interference with no assistance from the government, she sees voting for Trump as voting for the only candidate who appears to still care for the region instead of berating it.

 “The 2016 Election proved how much distain urban liberals have for rural Appalachia,” York said. “Poor, rural people are the only minority left that it is acceptable to poke fun at.”

When the film isn’t focused on York and her family, it focuses on creating profiles on people who to contend with the cultural stereotype of Appalachia. One of these people is Billy Redden.

Film goers may not know Redden’s name. But they certainly know his face. Redden was picked out of a group of kids at his school by a casting director to play the mentally disabled boy who plays the banjo in the 1972 film “Deliverance”.

Redden did not play the banjo in “Deliverance”. A banjo player pulled his arms through a sleeve of a shirt Redden wore to simulate the illusion (photo provided by hillbillymovie.com)

Redden’s received $500 for his part in the film. He admits in “Hillbilly” that he was embarrassed watch the scene when he got older because he realized how his face had become a poster boy for Appalachian stereotypes.

Redden and York’s grandmother are people who have already had their personalities labelled for them by society because of where they come from. Rubin and York have created a beautiful film that gives the voiceless a voice, and winds over the hearts of people who, before seeing the film, may have viewed people like Redden as nothing more than a caricature of their region.

Redden had dreamed of visiting Hollywood and walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame after he completed his iconic role in “Deliverance”. “Hillbilly” was accepted to be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and as soon as York and Rubin heard the news, they invited Redden to come with them and fulfill his wish.

“Hillbilly” has already completed its screening at the Los Angles Film Festival. But it might be streaming in people’s living rooms soon. Co-director Sarah Rubin informed viewers of the film at a screening in Shepherdstown that the documentary has been picked up for streaming by Hulu but was unable to say when it would be available. For more information on “Hillbilly” visit the film’s website at hillbillymovie.com.