More accurate films needed about the South

Posted on December 13, 2011

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This is a column of which I’m very, very proud. NOW PLEASE HIRE ME, ATL FILM INDUSTRY!

Don’t become a hick down there.

Above all other parting words, those were the ones I received most frequently before my move from Connecticut to Georgia. Between the jokes my middle school pals told about Georgia and its backwards, backwoods folk and incest, though, I noticed a sense of shrouded concern. Worse, I shared it.

At the time, I had no idea I was moving to Alpharetta, one of the most affluent, least Southern areas of Georgia. But I also didn’t know such areas existed here.

Alas, I can’t blame my 13-year-old self. My Yankee friends and I had been conditioned by years of what I now label the “Redneck Industry” — countless films and television shows operating on the exploitation of a diluted Southern culture — to think that way.

To us, “The South” had no charm. It was all cousin marrying cousin, ceaseless farmland, trailer trash, NASCAR and that creepy kid from the banjo duel in “Deliverance.” Entertainment provided us with an army of stereotypes similar to those cast today about New Jersey by “Jersey Shore” and its orange offspring, except by not knowing about the real South, we were actually missing out.

Eight years later, I reckon I’ve changed my mindset to that of a proud Georgian. But I’m still not sure my now college-aged middle school pals, or the rest of the country for that matter, have.

And I can’t entirely blame them. It must’ve seemed logical for networks to milk the cash cows comprised of bayou vampires with wonky accents (“True Blood”), Georgia’s shiniest pint-sized pageant queens (“Toddlers and Tiaras”) and camo-clad wedding parties (“My Big Redneck Wedding”). Worse, The CW even propelled “Hart of Dixie” into existence.

All of this has come to pass despite a recent boom in Louisiana-based shoots and generous tax incentives that have turned Georgia-based film and television production into a billion-dollar industry [“Mayor’s Proposal for City Film Office Attracts Critics,” WABE News, Nov. 7].

Many, if not most, of those Georgia-based non-reality productions — “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Blind Side” and “The Joneses,” to name a few — have made use of locations around the state that suit the script at a fraction of the cost. Though such historical homes, high schools and suburbs have provided the state with economic benefit, the cultural capital still doesn’t match.

Consider my ironic realization that the most vivid presence of Atlanta on television of late comes in the form of a zombie apocalypse on “The Walking Dead.” Or that one of the South’s most beloved characters on today’s screens is the American flag bandana-sporting, dog-loving alligator hunter Bruce of The History Channel’s “Swamp People.”

As much as I enjoy both programs, I still feel a void. I’m not asking for a revolution. I’m not asking for an even greater surplus of Tyler Perry movies. All I’m asking for is a few more projects that make light of the South for its strengths rather than its stereotypes or post-apocalyptic potential.

Why not make the most out of Georgia’s fascinating, diverse landscape? Why not romanticize Atlanta as the vibrant, youthful city it is? Why not shoot a period piece set in antebellum Georgia or the civil rights movement? Remember, we had Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” before Kim Zolciak’s “Tardy for the Party” killed the mood.

Then again, maybe those special pockets of my home region exploited on screen, despite their quirks and quips, should make me proud. Sometimes, beneath the stereotypes that operate throughout today’s Redneck Industry, lie pockets of endearment. And as long as the South, image aside, continues to stay en vogue, maybe the industry will one day show me what I want to see.

 

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