Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Are Hillbillies a Protected Class?

As a bona fide coal miner's daughter (yes, my dad mined coal as a young man in his native West Virginia), I can't decide whether to laugh or be insulted at the casting call for a new movie depicting the Mountaineer State's "holler" people, also known as hillbillies:

A movie about to be filmed in Pittsburgh is casting Gothic characters -- including an albino-like girl and deformed people -- to depict West Virginia mountain people.
"'Regular-looking" children need not apply.

That's the gist of an open casting call for paid extras for "Shelter," a horror film starring Julianne Moore that will begin shooting in Pittsburgh in March.

The casting call scheduled for Sunday invites "men and women of all races, 18 or older," to try out as extras, according to the announcement from Downtown-based Donna Belajac Casting. But the extras wanted for the West Virginia scenes evoke images of Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes.

"It's the way it was described in the script," Belajac said Monday. "Some of these 'holler' people -- because they are insular and clannish, and they don't leave their area -- there is literally inbreeding, and the people there often have a different kind of look. That's what we're trying to get."
Belajac said the announcement was not meant to stereotype people from West Virginia. But state officials and a history professor called it "unfortunate" that such unfair views of people are being repeated.

"They clearly are not trying to create the image of a quaint, homespun mountain family," said Kevin Barksdale, assistant history professor at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. "Clearly, what they're trying to establish is this notion of the hillbilly monster."

Maybe these two guys should apply.

It's hard for me to see why West Virginians can be insulted by this portrayal of them. Every roadside stand along Highway 119 from Charleston to Madison had some buck-toothed, big-eared, domed-forehead bearing hillbilly paraphernalia. Some were statues made of coal. Others were bumper stickers, posters, joke books, and more. True, it's not a flattering portrayal any more than all those redneck cowpoke portrayals of Texans are flattering. But if it weren't for stereotypes, where would Hollywood be?