Appalachia is no stranger to the complexity of media representation. Since our country's inception, there has been a palpable divide between Urban and Rural America. Within this great divide, certain regions are viewed as "other," and blamed for America's social ills.
Since the presidential election, the cultural divide in America has expanded. Stereotyping and slurs are rampant, finger-pointing and name-calling abound. hillbilly goes on a personal and political journey into the heart of the Appalachian coalfields, exploring the role of media representation in the creation of the iconic American "hillbilly," and examining the social, cultural, and political underpinnings of this infamous stereotype.
Filmed in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, hillbilly uncovers an unexpected set of artists, poets, activists, queer musicians, "Affrilachian" poets, and intersectional feminists -- all unexpected voices emerging from this historically misunderstood region.
hillbilly is a timely and urgent exploration of how we see and think about poverty and rural identity in contemporary America, offering a call for dialogue during this divisive time in U.S. history.
Featuring bell hooks, Ronny Cox and Billy Redden from Deliverance, director Michael Apted, activists and writers Frank X Walker, Crystal Good, and Silas House, and musicians Sam Gleaves and Amythyst Kiah, hillbilly arrives at a crucial moment, confronting depictions of Appalachian and other rural people on a broad, national level.
It introduces audiences to a nuanced, authentic Appalachia that is quite conscious of how it has been portrayed and the impacts of those portrayals. The documentary deconstructs mainstream representations while asking crucial questions: Where did the hillbilly archetype come from and why has it endured on-screen for more than a hundred years? How does it relate to the exploitation of the land and people who live there? How do Appalachian and rural people view themselves as a result of these negative portrayals, and what is the impact on the rest of America?
As Appalachian-American filmmakers, we committed to making this film in order to offer the world a rich and varied point of view of this historically misunderstood region.
Ashley York grew up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. She left the region to go to college where she experienced harsh ridicule and criticism due to her distinct regional accent. She later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in documentary storytelling at the University of Southern California where she became inspired by Appalachian filmmakers Anne Lewis and Barbara Kopple, and began producing a body of work about the culture and experiences of rural people. Having personally experienced the media's negative portrayals over and over throughout her life, she has long been eager to make a film like hillbilly. Ashley's most recent film, Tig, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015.
Sally Rubin's mother was raised in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, and Sally spent substantial time growing up visiting relatives, scattered throughout the Tennessee and North Carolinian Appalachian mountains. As a young filmmaker, Sally associate produced David Sutherland's Country Boys, a Frontline film about two teenage boys growing up in eastern Kentucky, and then made her own film (with Jen Gilomen), Deep Down, about mountaintop-removal coal mining in a small eastern Kentucky town. Deep Down was nominated for an Emmy Award for its outreach component, the Virtual Mine, and broadcast nationally on PBS' Independent Lens. The time Sally spent in Tennessee growing up contrasted with her experience making films in the region as an adult has sharpened her sensitivity to both insider and outsider gazes on Appalachia, and ignited her passion for telling the tragic, comedic, and poignant story of hillbilly.