Chuck and Big John talk to Eastern Kentucky native Ashley York – director of the documentary fill “Hillbilly”. Hillbilly is a documentary that examines the iconic hillbilly image in media and culture. The film explores more than a hundred years of media representation of mountain and rural people and offers an urgent exploration of how we see and think about rural America. You can watch the film here.
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Chuck: We actually have a serious intro this week. As opposed to last week when we talked about big dog shirts.
Big John: Oh, real quick, before we jump into it. My mom listened to the show, like I told you, she would. And she listened on Tuesday and we got to talking on something and she said, she was like, try to be sarcastic to me, but she’s not very good at being sarcastic, but a gift, all of a sudden, she goes, all of a sudden, she goes I said, I’ll talk to you later.
She goes, all right, big dog.
And she, she confirmed those shirts. That those were real. Like those were legit. And that she told me that she picked them up all the time at yard sales for 50
Chuck: cents. That’s a deal considering they’re like $20 retail.
Big John: Yeah, exactly. But it was so funny because she remembered exactly what we were talking about.
Chuck: Good. I’m glad that it really resonated with her. Cause it certainly resonated with me. It’s a big, important part of my childhood. I remember rolling into seventh grade thinking I was total hot shit because I had a fresh cut, big dog shirt, a pair of American Eagle, cargo shorts, and an American Eagle Pooka, shell necklace, looking back on it.
I’m not surprised that nobody wanted to date me. So anyway, speaking of detestable things like my style in seventh grade detestable things happening in Kentucky, big John Rowan County, in fact, Kentucky Eastern Kentucky. So it was brought to our attention late last week. Unfortunately it was pretty late I guess has been going on for a while, but we didn’t really know about it.
Like I said until last week, but basically here’s the situation. There is a mobile home park in. Morehead, Kentucky in Rowan County, pretty rural part of the state. It’s called North fork mobile home park. And it’s been around there for a while. There’s a lot of families that live there just trying to get by, have roofs over their heads.
And Wouldn’t you know, it, John, the owner of this mobile home park, the property owner, I guess you could say decided that they wanted to sell it and they decided to hatch a deal with this guy named Pat Patrick.
She’s so pissed because your dog is already raising hell and I’m here for it. Bodies.
Big John: She doesn’t like when people do these types of things. No,
Chuck: I look, Bonnie is OJI. She’s all
Big John: Bosley. Just heard about it.
Chuck: Yeah. And know, he’s usually the last to hear about it, but he’s always going to be the loudest once he’s in there, it’s no less passion, just hard of hearing.
Big John: He’s the last guy to hear about it, but he always wants to be the front man. That’s
Chuck: him, but the first guy to post on
Big John: Facebook about exactly everybody else. Don’t say anything like, we’re just trying to get by and everything. And then he’s the first one to be like, I found this out. It was me
Chuck: All caps. It’s time for an all caps. Sorry. Okay. Anyway I appreciate the enthusiasm with the dogs. So the property owner of the mobile home park decided to contact this guy who his name is Patrick Madden. And by all accounts, he is a USDA certified platinum grade skin asshole. He’s a developer.
And he is buying or has bought rather the land where the mobile home park is. And he’s going to build it into a strip mall. John. Now last I checked and look, I’m not a professional in real estate. I don’t even own my own house. So take it for what it’s worth, but a shitty strip mall versus homes for human beings.
I’m going to go on the side of the homes.
Big John: Yeah, this is, I was really sad to hear this. This is happening more and more. It’s one of those things and the problem is it’s exactly like the thing that we talk about all the time, like rural Appalachians are rural people who just don’t have a ton of money to put up a legal fight.
So they don’t have the ability to just throw in a ton of lawyers as this guy probably does. I’m sure that they’re getting help pro bono from somebody, which is great, but it’s still really hard when you’re going up against a team of attorneys versus yourself. And I’m just making that assumption just based off of filings.
But. This is again, I am all for making some, a place better, right? Like today I pass by a house being redone in Parkersburg. If you don’t know, like Parkersburg has a lot of abandoned homes, like it’s really bad, a lot of fires happen there, but there’s been some developers coming in and buying those homes and fixing them up.
I understand that, gentrification has these issues, but when that happens, in my opinion, that’s good for the community. You get those abandoned homes taken care of and you make it a better, a safer place. But this isn’t like that to me, this is the dark side of gentrification.
Chuck: Yeah. I think there’s problems with even what you mentioned, but this is just purely to try to turn a profit by putting up commercial retail outlet space and more so is the people, generally mobile home parks are lower income, and even if you’re not lower income, it’s really hard to just pick your stuff up and move.
And honestly, like by most accounts of the people who live in this mobile home park, by all accounts, the residents, all they’re asking us for more time and more compensation to uproot their lives. And I believe they were given 45 days. Can you imagine just being told today, John, you have 45 days to move, find somewhere else.
Good luck. Cause we’re going to bulldoze your house and put a a target
Big John: it’s hard to even move in 45 days after you’ve sold your house. That’s still really tough. So I can’t imagine somebody just walking in and being like today’s the day people, clocks ticket and especially in this right now in this housing market, can you imagine what’s going on?
Look, we recently joined TechTalk and I’ve seen a bunch of these videos brokers and real estate agents have made these videos of a bunch of clients coming in at $65,000 over and still being like 30th in line. Like it’s that type of market right now. So these people are not going to be able to, just to go and move that quickly.
Yeah. It’s absurd. The money to even buy a home.
Chuck: Exactly. If they even have the money and I the other thing is just the more morality of this, right? Your. Essentially telling these people to go fuck themselves. People who are again, probably on the lower income spectrum who have made their lives, some people so one of the stories I read was about a girl who’s 10 years old and she spent six years of her life.
So half of her life in this mobile home park and they’re being evicted. For real, no good reason other than this guy wants to make a quick buck and he clearly doesn’t care about anything about these people only cares about is making money. This is what’s so sick about all this because sadly, this is legal from my honor.
Now there are going to be legal challenges to this. I know the Kentucky equal justice center, I think has filed a lawsuit is filed for an injunction or something. But the fact of the matter is if it’s. Land owned by a person and they want to sell that land. They can sell that land in most cases.
And it’s horrible. And there should be protections against this, because again, this is huge gentrification. This is out the ass. And this is in a rural area, which is not typically where gentrification is associated with happening, but it just goes to show you can happen anywhere. These people’s lives are going to be ruined, just so this guy can make a quick buck and it sickens me.
It’s disgusting. Yeah.
Big John: This is the problem too, right? I don’t know that area. So like I’m making assumptions. Like I’ve never been there to be honest with you. But was there not another spot? Was this really the only place? That’s what I wonder. Because look, I am all people. I know some people wouldn’t like me for this, but whatever I am all for trying to make your community better in terms of ease.
And that includes like bringing stuff in to have access to a shopping center, for instance. But I’m not for it when it comes down to things like this, was there no other development land? Because if you look like, I’m gonna use Parkersburg for an, for a good example there are plots that have been set aside essentially for retail and stuff like that.
They don’t have to go and take people’s homes. So I’m wondering if that is actually there or not. If it’s not, we have a big, even bigger
Chuck: issue, I’m sure that there is plenty of locations that could have built this. I think the reason, my understanding why they wanted it is because it’s right off the highway, Okay.
He wants to build a strip mall at the I 64 exit. And that’s just purely like some dude that’s trying to make money and he doesn’t care who’s lives. He’s going to ruin. That’s not acceptable then. Absolutely not. It’s fucked up. And it just goes to show you that these problems, gentrification is typically viewed as a urban problem, but in this case, it’s not,
Big John: you’re going to see it more too
Chuck: in a rural area.
Oh, for sure. For sure. Especially with those communities right off the highway,
Big John: I just recently learned I’m not a tax expert, but I recently learned that Biden’s implementing a certain tax. It’s like $350,000 to go up to. I’m not even gonna try to explain it, but anyway, I’ve heard that has made Investors stop wanting to push money into like big infrastructure.
And they want to actually come in and buy like homes, for instance, build them up, make them more expensive. So they want to, that’s going to be the new investment routes is going to be even harder for people to find homes whenever this happens and it’s going to happen in cities around the country, especially ones that don’t already have high prices for their houses because it’ll drive up prices, but they can get it cheap when it first began when they first begin.
Chuck: Yeah. And sadly, there already is to a huge extent. Look, I lived in Nashville for five years and I’ll tell you what, there, you can literally drive down the road and look to see where gentrification started and where it’s happening currently. And it’s just it’s these it’s it’s people just trying to make money and they don’t care about the community around them.
Look, I’m an Eagle scout. Boy Scouts had plenty of issues, 100%, but one thing they did get read as the principle of leave a place better than when you found it. If there’s any like that should be the principal that is applied to things like this. And when you go in and you ruin people’s lives just to make money.
And this guy’s not even from there, he’s from Lexington, he’s not from Morehead. He’s not from Rowan, county’s from Lexington. So it’s an, it’s a guy who’s outside that, that community coming in just to make some money off the people there. And without any regard for these people’s livelihoods and it’s disgusting, it’s wrong.
And it’s these types of things are so frustrating. Cause honestly they happen so often.
Big John: Yeah. And it’s funny that it’s funny that you were talking about too that this is already happening because it makes me remember Parkersburg, which is a little town that doesn’t, it starting to have really high home values, but it didn’t whenever we were buying a house, but now you’re seeing a bunch of people come in, buy homes and flip them, which is not something that happened here very often.
And now it’s happening all the time. So you’re right. It is happening even in places like this, in West Virginia. So I think you’re going to continue to see it. And we haven’t had, something like this happened, but it does not surprise me because when you look at the bottom dollar, that’s all people care about when it comes to investment, it’s just, it’s so sad.
Chuck: Yeah. I hate it. I really do. And I hate it for these people. That’s just heartbreaking the follow this issue. They were, the families were supposed to be out by this past Friday. I haven’t really seen a lot more information about it, but there is an account on Twitter called at fork justice that has been posting semi periodic updates, check them out, follow them, follow Eastern Kentucky mutual aid.
I know that they’re involved in this as well. And we’ll stay on top of this because this is a travesty and it’s shameful and it shouldn’t be happening.
But with that being said, John, we we have some announcements, we’ve got one new patron this week. We do have a new
Big John: one. Matt joined us this week.
Thank you so much, Matt. And thank you to everybody who remains with us. They continue to come along for this journey and everybody that will, because it’s it’s because of you all that we can continue to get better, produce better. We can have microphones like this. We can do things that we want to do.
And we have a lot of really exciting things coming up. Don’t forget. If you want to join patrion.com/app potlatch, or you can join for as little as $5 a month. And Chuck, I think this is the week we’re dropping the new flatwoods monster. Is that
Chuck: right? Okay. It was right. It was right. We got a little bit delayed on that final one, but we’ll be dropping it this week.
So if you’re at that $10 tier or above. Hit that up 100%. And and it’s great. I’m just throwing it out there
Big John: and we’ll also have an exclusive, we’ll also have an exclusive as well, but with
Chuck: that being said, let’s get into our episode, John, we’ve got a great interview with a lovely person. Ashley York, Ashley is a director and producer who is from Eastern Kentucky.
Originally. She lives out in California. Now the reason why we had her on our show is because she directed and produced the documentary called a hillbilly, which is an incredible documentary, is about Appalachia. It’s a little bit about her life growing up in Appalachia. It touches on stereotypes perpetuated about Appalachia and the interesting complex and human dynamics about Appalachia.
It is it is a fantastic. Documentary. It’s honestly, one of, one of my favorites I’ve ever watched because I think within the first five minutes of watching it, I was sitting there thinking, wow, I can relate to this so much. And Ashley does such a good job of telling a story both from her own perspective as she is a subject, really the subject or one of the subjects of the film, but also the perspectives of so many other people and Appalachia, especially around where she’s from, that are faces that aren’t typically associated with Appalachia.
So it, this is definitely a documentary that I think is cut from the same cloth as the show and what it’s seeking to do. John, what was your thoughts?
Big John: I watched that. And I was shocked at how good it was, which it’s not like me trying to push anything on them. It’s just the fact that these documentaries are hard to do.
They’re not easy. And then we come to find out, it took five years to do this one. That’s insane to me. And it was really funny because when I was watching this, I had written in my notes, Chuck will relate to her. John will relate to Silas, which is exactly how I felt. Like I knew that when I watched that you w listening to her story, you’d be able to relate to that really well.
And then, when I was listening to Silas talk about everything that he was going through. And especially that moment, I don’t know if you remember Chuck, but that moment, whenever he says. I always defend rural people, but I can’t defend them from this because rural people did this and I, it just hit me cause it is hard to defend everything all the
Yeah. And for those of you who may not know that’s a reference to Silas house who is a prolific author from EA, from Eastern Kentucky one of the best, in my opinion. And PR also prominently featured in this documentary. Yeah. I completely agree with you. Let me just read, I want to read just a little snippet about the documentary to give people an understanding of what it is.
And then at the end of the show, Ashley mentioned about how you can check out the film, but it’s on Hulu. If you have Hulu, it’s also on Amazon prime. We don’t like Amazon, but it’s fine. If you want to go there to watch that. And I think on a couple of their platforms as well, hillbilly is a documentary film that examines the iconic hillbilly image in media and culture.
It explores more than a hundred years of media representation of mountain and row people and offers an urgent exploration of how we see and think about rural America. This movie is for anyone who is a hillbilly or anyone who knows one. So a fantastic documentary. Ashley did a phenomenal job. We had a really great conversation with her.
Yeah. Bonus Dolly Parton’s featured in it. So there you go. It’s all you need to know. Is that being said. Ashley York
Interview with Ashley York
Thank you for joining us. I’m very excited to talk to you. So I’m just really excited, to jump into it. And John so excited, that he left. So
Ashley York: no, I’m excited too. I kept, it was one of those where I kept hoping, I felt it was like a prom day, I kept pressing me to come onto your podcast and of course I follow along on Twitter and I know a lot of folks who’ve been on your podcast and I’ve talked about it with, I’m just, I’m a big fan, so I’m glad.
Chuck: Yeah, it was on our list for a long time. So it takes a little bit of some maneuvering to get everything scheduled. So one thing we like to ask our guests when they come on is to tell us a little bit about where they’re from, which is perfect.
Thing for you because that’s in a lot of ways what you’re doing your documentary is about. So I was wondering if he can tell us a little bit about where you’re from and Kentucky
Ashley York: I am from, it’s interesting. I grew up in rural Kentucky in meta holler, which is something that I did not tell anyone until I started making this film.
It had, you asked me where I was from when I was 18, 18 years old, or when I had first moved to Los Angeles, I would have told you that I was from Pikeville, Kentucky, which is the urban center of East Kentucky where I grew up. But I I grew up in the head of the holler.
Very rural specifically I lived in Kippur, Kentucky, which is a teeny tiny town. In East Kentucky, right over the West Virginia border, right over the Virginia border, brought in that pocket thereof Southern Appalachia.
Chuck: You had mentioned something about not truly realizing or appreciating where you’re from and apologies again for bettering this until you leave.
Sometimes you also need to come back and listen to people to really, truly understand it and that really resonated with me because I grew up in West Virginia and I think grew to resent it while I was growing up there. It wasn’t until I left and moved up to Michigan for law school that I really truly appreciated where I was from.
Did you have a similar experience?
Ashley York: Sure. Chuck, I had a shared experience like you, and so many of us who grow up in Appalachia when the film Silas house, the brilliant Silas house tells the story about how he works with a lot of young people and how they want to escape the region as soon as possible, because they’re ashamed of where they’re from.
They’re ashamed of the way they talk based on all of these representations that we see over and over in magazines and the movies and on television. So I am not unique, in that way.
And it was, everybody was talking about it, but nobody was talking about it. Like we all know it was happening. And the next day at school, there was this sense of Oh my gosh, like we were all felt so ashamed, but there was no like critical discourse about it. And I think from that moment on, that was the inciting incident for making hillbilly.
Although I didn’t say, Hey, I’m going to make a film someday when I’m in my early thirties after I have I’ve lived for a while, but I definitely have that shame. When I left the holler I was 18 years old. I was accepted into the University of Kentucky as a journalism major and I was very ambitious and active and I was working for the student newspaper for the student radio.
I was interviewing a lot of people and, I was shocked when I started to experience certain people’s reaction to the way that I’ve talked and fellow Kentuckians, people from Northern Kentucky, people who, regarded themselves sales is different from the East Kentucky ends like me.
So when you ask, where are you from? That’s another. Thing I used to always say I’m from East Kentucky, and sometimes I still say that, but, I’m always negotiating what does it mean? When we identify as being from East Kentucky or from rural Kentucky or an Appalachian, which I also did not identify as an Appalachian until I it made the film and, I am a bit hesitant about that just because of the connotations with Appalachia and certainly the whiteness that’s implied when we talk about Appalachia.
I’m conscious of that and it’s complicated, but I’m from rural Kentucky.
Chuck: Yeah, I would, I listen to you. This is so interesting because it reminds me a lot of my own experience in different ways. It’s interesting that you had some interesting reactions from other people in Kentucky.
That’s really interesting to me personally, just like thinking about accents and there’s so many things that I’m thinking of right now that come up in the film. So why don’t we just jump into it? Cause there’s, I dunno when I watched this, when I watched hillbilly first, the mice are walking like, God, I can relate to this so much.
And so much of this is, an experience that I’ve had or a similar experience or dealing with family members that are like this. I’m curious, what was that moment that compelled you to do this, to tell your story, but also the story of the region or of where you’re from and the regions central Appalachia and and just that thought process for you.
That’s a huge undertaking.
Ashley York: As I mentioned, I, the seed was planted when I was that nine-year-old kid watching Dan rather tell the world about. East Kentucky Floyd County specifically. This was a program, the highest echelon of news making came to our town and told this story that like horrified us all because of the stereotypes that it was perpetuating.
The seed was planted when I was a nine-year-old kid. So fast forward, a decade later I move away to the University of Kentucky where I studied journalism, I learned about feminism. I learned about gender studies. I learned about racial justice for the first time. And, everything that I came to care about really solidified at the University of Kentucky, that university changed my life and, my opportunity the opportunity that I had to tell stories and to work with people and to just really explore, my own curiosity as a human being and to learn how to think critically.
So then I go to Los Angeles to go to film school at the university of Southern California. When I was 22, I moved to LA and started working. And it was probably, I dunno, 10 years later when I finally became ready to embark on the journey of making a film, and that was inspired, there were two media examples that happened in that contemporary moment of 2007, 2008.
And that was the show Buckwild, which was this MTV series that, comes out they’re promoing it, that show was very carefully designed to take the place of Jersey shore. One of their hits shows they’ve got the corporate sponsors, this is a huge moneymaker for the MTV corporation.
And at this point, I had been working, I moved to LA at 22. I had been working in the industry about six or seven years. So I had developed an understanding of how the industry works and how these. Shows get developed and cast and the research and, the way that the corporate partners come in and the way you pitch and the way you have to present things in a certain way.
So my understanding of the media culture had evolved in that sense, so that when Buckwild came out, it just annoyed me. It made me so mad. I had just started teaching at the university of Southern California at that time I still teach there, which you know, is a very important part of my practice.
And I remember talking to the students about it. I remember showing them the book wild trailer and didn’t even want to watch the show, but, and I saw it on a plane when I had to fly up to San Francisco to do a meeting at ITVS. And I remember it was on, it was a jet blue flight, they had the TVs on the back of the seat.
It was one of the first airlines to do that. And I remember seeing McDonald’s this giant hamburger, so I knew Oh my God, they’ve got like the biggest sponsor in the world. And this was all constructed. This series filmed in West Virginia, showing these kids who can’t regulate, who don’t have phones, who are just running wild and partying.
And this is what lack of West Virginia is like when I knew okay, sure. Yes, people like to party. We love to party when we were kids, we would camp out and we would fall wheel on top of the mountains. But we also went to college and we read books and we. Had questions about the world that we lived in and we weren’t just all these walking stereotypes.
That just really upset me. And, again, I was in the context of an academic environment. I was in the context of working as a producer when I started making a film about some folks that I went to high school with, who are currently in prison for murder for life.
So that started taking me back home and having me, just look at where I grew up in a different way, look at how the Christian establishment, had affected, these young people from my hometown or their relationship to Christianity, I should say. There were a lot of things that came together.
And then orange is the new, the black series that I adore on Netflix, this series comes out, I was interested in the experiences of people who were in prison. Of course I’m watching this show. It is so progressive in the way that it’s representing. Women and non-binary folks and sexuality and gender expression and race.
The show was just doing so many important things, but here comes your rural character Pennsatucky and she is just every stereotype in one character and her name, even the fact that her name is Pennsatucky, that she’s intersecting all of these Appalachian regions and her whole storyline, which is anchored in, she shoots up an abortion clinic.
She’s just, it was just, it was like the riders in that room, they just didn’t have an understanding of like, All of the issues and the intergenerational issues and the complexities and nuance of Appalachia. The film, in a large part was made with that audience in mind, that we wanted this film to be a resource that professionals could look at, and that could just make the point that, we should be more mindful and respectful and conscious of the way that we represent people from rural communities, people from Appalachia, the same way that we represent, any marginalized or vulnerable person.
So there’s a very long answer to your question, it was a long process and it, but it was so necessary. And it took me a long time to get ready and to find the courage and into to partner. I must give credit to Sally Ruben, my directing partner on the film. And she’s a producer also on the film and Sally’s mothers, East, Tennessee.
And, she grew up going to East Tennessee. She grew up, she was lived in Boston, but she would go back to where her mom was from. She loved the area and knew that her mother had shame because she was from East Tennessee. Then, she had moved to Boston and needed to escape her dialect and her relationship with it as well.
We had a shared sensibility in that way and, teamed up. She was also very annoyed by the oranges, the new black Appalachian character Pennsatucky and we decided to make the film.
Big John: It’s funny that you mentioned Buckwild. Cause we’ve talked about how we didn’t like Buckwild when it came out like I was so upset.
I wrote a letter to Joe mansion saying that he needed to talk out about these stereotypes being perpetuated by one of the biggest media outlets out there. And I was, trust me. I was pissed too. The funny thing is though through our discussion of Buckwild, we then met Kara from Buckwild, Kara parish and it took, it turns out Kara has turned into one of the biggest advocates for Appalachia out there.
So it’s just crazy to see that, that change because obviously when you were watching that show, you’re like, okay, that’s not what this person’s going to end up. But the carers, she’s a rock star now she’s killing it for the region. She’s doing everything she can. So I think that’s, it is a good example of why people get upset with these stereotypes.
And it’s also a cool transition to see That these stereotypes really aren’t real, and this is the real person behind it. So I do find that to be a pretty interesting example of it. I saw it in a, in the documentary and I wanted to mention it because I think that’s really cool. The thing that I always wonder, because this to me is always a tough part.
Like obviously, like we fight against Appalachian stereotypes all the time. But as a creator and as somebody who brings people on and interviews them, you have to worry about not perpetuating those stereotypes yourself. Like you have to make sure that, the editing has done right. Or the way that you’re discussing things is correct.
And it’s tough. How did you, as somebody who’s making a documentary go about trying not to perpetuate stereotypes while also discussing, some of the real things that are happening here.
Ashley York: That’s a great question. And just one more point about Buckwild – and I appreciate you mentioning that experience with Kara.
I don’t believe we interviewed her. I don’t remember intersecting with her. Most of our attention was on Shane Gandy who died so tragically and so young and it’s so heartbreaking. What happened to him, which his mother and sister took time to interview with us.
And, we went really deep with his story, but I do want to know that just because it was a show that came out and bugged me and, inspired me to do something and to use my voice as somebody who grew up there had a personal experience with this and also was in. The media world I had the opportunity to say something and to do something, even though I had run away from Appalachia, I like you, Chuck, I had developed that sense of I don’t ever want to go back.
I, this place, forget it. I need to not speak like I’m from there. I’ve been discriminated against because of this. I’ve been made fun of brought to my face. Like I just like I had to change in that way, and that was a process in and of itself. It took us five years to make to make the film.
But the point is that both of those things can co-exist right? A show can be harmful as far as the MTV corporation, doing what it’s doing so carefully. And so orchestrated to sell ads, but it can also be a great experience for the people who are in the show.
I’ve produced a ton of television and the 18 years that I’ve been in Los Angeles and I’ve certainly not all shows are equal, but I know that there are shows that sometimes I’m like, Oh my gosh I’m just doing this for a paycheck, but on the other side of that, the people who were participating, it’s like the greatest thing that ever happened to them, to have their story be recognized and told, and to work with people, professionals from Los Angeles who come in to tell their story.
Both of those things can be true. And I certainly know from talking to other people about Buckwild, that there were people who had positive experiences, people who I’m sure like Kara who learned something and who. Are using that for their own activism. We never know where inspiration is going to come.
And, I think that’s the beauty of humanity is that we’re always growing and evolving and we learn and we unlearn and. That’s very meaningful. But for us, when we started the film, of course the first rule was do no harm. That’s my rule with everything that I make.
I don’t want to be in the business of, feeling, people feeling like they trust me to tell their story and then it, all of a sudden becomes something else or something they don’t recognize, or, if they feel misled or misrepresented in some way. That is, I grew up seeing that my whole life as a person from Appalachia.
As part of my practice, as a journalist and filmmaker, I didn’t want to do that. The first thing we did when we said, okay, we’re going to make this film. We learned about the Appalachian studies association conference, which is this annual event that happens it rotates to various regions to various universities.
And Appalachia every year in 2014, we went to Marshall West, Virginia two, sorry. In 2014, we went to Marshall university, which is in Huntington, West Virginia. And we attended our very first Appalachian studies association conference before we went, we looked at the program and we learned that there’s this incredible world of people who study Appalachia.
They study the issues, they study the social movements. They study the issues of racial justice of women’s issues of, just Annie at the environment. People who have dedicated their lives to. Studying Appalachian culture. That was very Island, to learn that there were all these scholars and writers and activists who were doing such important work and were able to articulate these issues in a way that I could only dream of at that point.
So Sally and I, we we flew into Huntington that amazing airport right there on top of the mountain. It was a teeny tiny plane. And we went to the conference. We met. A lot of the folks that we would work with throughout the production, people like Barbara, Ellen Smith, who is featured in the film, who makes that incredible comment about Progressive’s and how Progressive’s need to be really conscientious of how they’re talking about poor white people.
We met Emily Satterwhite. Silas house was the keynote speaker that year. And, Sally had worked with him on her prior film and he was open to working with her. They had a great experience.
And, I remember the moment I met him. Of course, I knew about Silas and, I knew he was a, a very prolific and respected writer in the region, but I hadn’t got to experience his work, but the moment I met him and, I was putting the microphone on him cause he was doing the keynote and we just stood there for a moment and he was like, whatever you all need, I want to participate in his beautiful piercing blue eyes and just the way that he spoke and then hearing him deliver this keynote with his accent, I’m filtered and unaffected. That was one of those moments in my life, that was so transformative.
And it was just So meaningful the, yeah, sorry. My
Big John: pups, my dogs are, my
Ashley York: little toes are tapping, so that’s why I pause. She’s looking for the cancer then. In that that conference was.
So important for us and for our process. And the people we met, we continue to collaborate with and to talk with and, they were just guiding us every step of the way. So if we were looking to connect with the person who wrote this book, they could help us make an introduction. They served as humanities advisors to us on the grant applications that we did, we were so fortunate to have the support of the national endowment for humanities, for hillbilly, without them, this film never would have gotten made probably, they trusted in us.
They believed in us, they believed in our vision and gave us a development grant and a production grant. Like the arts matter, humanities matter, these funds matter for creatives, this wasn’t the kind of film that Hollywood was like. Yep. We’ll give you all the money.
You need to make it. It was very difficult for us to try to raise money through traditional means because of that bias. And when you hear about the liberal media on the coast, they’re not always the most welcoming and friendly to people who want to tell a story based on, a community that they have a ton of stereotypes in their mind.
So that conference was important and, just really reaching for like my heroes. When I learned that bell hooks was a Kentucky in, and that she and I also had a shared experience. When I read her book belonging, she talks about going back home to live out the rest of her life, and how she had to run away from where she was from in order to find her voice.
And that is directly connected to that last comment that I make in the film where I say sometimes you have to leave to find your voice. And sometimes you have to go back for a deeper understanding. That is directly inspired by the hooks who is the greatest influence perhaps in my life, as a person, as a human, as a scholar, as a media maker.
And there, I just, I am Inspired by her and her work and her courage and the opportunity to interview her. Oh my gosh. It was like one of the greatest, one of the greatest days of my life. We got to do two interviews with her, but of course the, and they were both phenomenal. But the day that we got to, when she invited us into her home in Berea, Kentucky I just, I felt so, so grateful.
Big John: Yeah. That’s it, you mentioned something too that I wanted to talk about because on this show, we’ve been very open about Chuck and I, we both lean left somewhat. And there seems to be this almost negative connotation that’s coming out of progressives in the democratic party, almost that looks down on the region.
And I thought that part of your discussion, I can’t remember her name. You all were talking to her on election night. She says it’s 11 o’clock, I can’t remember her name, but off the top of my head, she says They look down on us because we vote Republican, but if we didn’t vote Republican, they’d look down on us because of drugs.
And then they’d look down at us because we’re drunk. And I thought that was like the, to me, one of the biggest parts of the documentary, cause I was like, that’s a hundred percent. So how do you, as somebody who does come off as a more progressive person, I’m just guessing because supporting Hillary and everything like that how do you balance that with maybe some people you’re working with out in LA, did you face those issues where you have to, roll people back and tell them that’s what they’re perpetuating almost
Ashley York: that woman is Sam Cole. Sam is a brilliant human being and rider. She’s an associate producer on the film. She’s also featured in the film. Sorry, just one moment. Let me shut the, it’s just a little noisy for it. Let me know if we need to stop or anything. So Sam it tells a very important truth there that when people have bias and when people, discriminate, I think, sorry, let me try to wrap my head around what I want to say here.
We made hillbilly very separate from the industry. We were a very small unit. It was self-contained. We raised every dollar of that film on our own and through, the national endowment for humanities, the national endowment for the arts West, Virginia humanities, Ohio humanities, South Carolina, humanities, Virginia humanities, the Kentucky foundation for women gave us a grant Kentucky humanities council, like all of the money came through these councils.
It was not a film that was made with any support from the Hollywood media establishment. If anything, we just didn’t like, nobody would give us money. Like we would apply and we would submit the materials and we would either get a, this film is not for us or just no response, which, again is common when you’re a document, you get told no a lot.
We knew that and that was hard, certainly when you know, like what the film will be and, you’re not necessarily in a position to convey that the way you want to, like that, was hard. And that’s just, Eric Glass has that great story about the gap and how sometimes when you’re producing and you know where it’s going to get to, but it’s a long road to get there.
This was certainly the story with hillbilly. It took us like, again, it was a five-year process and a lot of that had to do with financing because you can’t, go film if you don’t have the resources. And another thing that was very important to us was having the visual integrity be preserved throughout the making of the film.
Like I was committed to having the film. Look beautiful. And to have gorgeous cinematography, it’s a film about representations. It was critical that it not feel amateur or low budget. That we were able to work with a director of photography who we knew could honor the space and who could, document it in a way that would have this high cinematic value there.
The director of photography, his name is Brian Donald. He is a very gifted person. He is a friend of mine. We spent a lot of hours on the road, of course, like when you’re making a film like this, you gotta be in the car a lot. You need someone not only who is downloaded, but somebody who, you can spend time with, and he’s a Tennessee and he’s from Nashville and cares deeply about Appalachia.
And, we just had such a great time, running around, from Georgia to Kentucky, to West Virginia, to Ohio. We, we filmed all over the region.
Chuck: That’s super interesting about all the things you talked about with financing. Cause I we’ve talked to other documentary filmmakers.
You’ve had issues with that too, and it’s, but I think it shows the resiliency of you and of your team for wanting to do this so much that you made it happen. So that’s a really awesome thing you should be proud of. I’m curious what the reaction has been from people who aren’t from the region or maybe people from the film BDS establishment that you speak of, because I saw on the website, it certainly has been at least nominated and received a number of awards from different different film, societies, different groups and organizations.
I’m curious if people went into it with one preconceived notion came out with another, or just what the general reaction from people who aren’t familiar with Appalachia was.
Ashley York: That’s a great question. I’m going to read you. I’m gonna read you some quotes after I I’m going to answer your question, but then I also want to read these quotes because I think they’re really important.
So we have again, when we set out to make the film, the goal was to make a film that would have commercial viability. Certainly this was my second film I had made the film TIG, which we also made independently, but we were able to get financing. Like we had to, work on our own for about six months, which was substantial.
And we shot most of that film in six months. But then that put us in a position to take the film out and to develop the film with a number of potential financers, including paramount. We ended up going with Bay beach on that film, we made it, we premiered at Sundance and Netflix.
Acquired it back when Netflix was still a DVD company. That was where I was as a filmmaker. So of course this film, like I wanted it to be big. I wanted it to go to someone like Netflix, So we make film, we get accepted into the Nashville film festival which was a terrific festival.
We premiered there and April or may of 2018 Dolly Parton saw the film and she said it was wonderful. We were so grateful to to Dolly for her kind words about the film. And of course she is featured in the film in archive and the film started to make its way through the festival circuit.
We showed at a festival in San Francisco, sets it into doc NYC, and screened at smaller regional festivals. And then we got accepted to the Los Angeles film festival, and that was so exciting and so unexpected and so important because. We wanted the film to reach urban audiences.
Like we, of course, wanted to make a film that folks in the region could be proud of. And folks in the region could see and not feel horrified or not feel like they’re being made fun of or not feeling here’s somebody who grew up there who left and who’s, telling some hateful story, about her experience there and, feeling like she had to leave to go be a journalist or a filmmaker.
But the thing is I was run out of my own state by Kentucky and, the way that some of those folks talk to them, my fellow journalism colleagues at the university of Kentucky there’s some of the most harsh. Comments I’ve received and I’ve, I’ve received them like in LA, too.
Don’t get me wrong. Just some weird things that people do when they hear where you’re from and they’ll break out in song or start singing the Beverly hillbillies. My God, that’s I’ve seen it all, the hardest ones perhaps were there in Lexington, Kentucky, and I often say people are like when you moved to LA that must’ve been like some great culture shock.
And I’m like not really. Like when I moved to Lexington from East Kentucky, two hours West, that was like this culture shock that I just, I didn’t expect it was hurtful. I was also at this point in my life where I was like discovering feminism and just critical theory, critical race theory.
And like it was I was transforming as a person, but I was also being met with discrimination, like for the first time in my life based on, where I was from in in Eastern Kentucky. But, the film, it has spread around the world. We, from LA to New York city, to the frozen river film festival, to the Boone, North Carolina film festival, San Francisco doc NYC, the Anchorage film festival we screened at a lot of universities.
There was a screening at Eastern Kentucky university where we had 800 people, our largest screening to date always screened at the university of Southern California, where I teach the university of Kentucky where I studied the American film showcase, picked up the film. That’s a state department program like the United States state department.
And it’s curated by USC and they show your film around the world. So they cure rate films, that open discourse. And through that, we were able to do screenings in Prague and Albania and Columbia, South America. So no matter where we have shown the film, there’s the traditional hater or the traditional, this is liberal garbage.
Cause they come in and think the film is going to be one thing. But I love that comment. It’s one of my favorite criticisms of the film where that proudly, I think it’s an Amazon comment. But 98% of the feedback that we’ve heard about the film is that it helps people understand a region of the world that they didn’t know much about.
There was this one, a woman just staying a Walford who was the programmer at the women’s Texas film festival in Dallas, where we were also invited to screen very early on in our process. And when Christina talked about the film, she said, this movie changed my life perspective. I had preconceived notions about Appalachian people and this movie changed how I think.
And, loved. Yeah. I just, I love that. And I got a note from this fellow in Canada and he said, I’m actually a Canadian from Northern Ontario, but being a border city, we were very connected to our neighbors from the South, referring to the United States as the South, the greater us as the South, we feel your pain and your glory and the Trump era concerned us.
Your movie really helped us better understand how and why so many people have and continue to support him in the horrible ideologies he stood for. We love our neighbors and your movie helped me look past the people who voted in more at the Y. I hope the CNN update, this documentary captures exactly what is happening in America right now.
That’s from someone in San Francisco, someone in Prague said, It’s rather similar here in the Czech Republic, our president and prime minister had been dividing the country and they were voted for, by people who were easily manipulated. Maybe there’s some crisis of democracy in several countries all over the world.
I share all of that because we have just found that, while so many of us. Like you, Chuck saying you grew up there and you felt shame this is something that people feel all over the world, these personal stories. They become so universal and that’s the real magic and gift of making this film was, I was so scared to, involve my family, to involve myself, to bring my own personal narrative into this film, because I felt like I had so much at stake and I’m going to risk my career, here in Los Angeles in some way.
Like that’s what growth is about, right? Confronting those parts of ourselves where we’re not sure where we struggle or where we feel hurt or shame. And, it’s been so transformative for me and I’m so grateful. And just the collaboration’s with, all of the partners on the fam with the advisors, with all of the participants.
What a life-changing journey, I I really look forward to continuing the work.
Big John: I think that is a perfect stopping point because I think that’s a great wrap up. We really do appreciate you coming on Ashley. Where can people learn either more about you or the documentary, your work and people watch it?
Let our listeners know,
Ashley York: Hillbilly is available on Hulu. So you can catch the film there. It is also available on Amazon hillbilly movie.com is our website. So you can you can reach us there. There’s a contact form and we get those emails and we respond to them. I love hearing from folks that’s where I, heard from some of the folks that I just read you, their comments.
We have a very interesting collaboration coming up with the Smithsonian who commissioned Sally and I to make a short film based on the themes of hillbilly. So that’s going to be part of their exhibit that they’re opening this fall called futures. So we’re really excited to be able to continue the work and to come back to the region this summer to make a film that’ll be in the Smithsonian.
Chuck: That’s awesome. I live in the DC area, so I’ll have to check that out when when it comes.
Ashley York: Oh, that’s great. Yeah, we’ll have to, I’ll have to make sure that we I’m not always the best at following up and keeping up, with folks. Cause there’s always so much happening, I would love to find a way to do that so that when we do come out, you should come, it’d be great to meet you.
Of course they’re unsure if they’re going to be able to do in person step in November, but that’s the hope is that there’ll be some kind of reception and launch and we’re one of many filmmakers, they curated a bunch of us are commissioned a bunch of us to make short films about the future of America.
Chuck: So that’s awesome. Ashley, again, thank you so much for talking to us. I know I really loved the documentary. I know John did too, and I know that we’ve heard such good things from all our followers and listeners. So we hope that more people get a chance to experience it and really appreciate it.
Like we did. That’s
Ashley York: great. Thank you guys so much. I have I’ve had a baby since the movie, so you might’ve heard her in the background and my pup Lula. I’ll just mention that for your own sound editing, if you need that. And what a pleasure again, I was so happy that you guys reached out.
I’m such a fan and I was just hoping you would ask me to to come on your podcast at some point, so can’t wait to hear it and look forward to keeping in touch with you guys and congratulations on all of your great work that you’re doing.
Chuck: right, John, I I might need to watch this documentary again. Cause it was that good. I’m going to, my wife is going to watch it. We’re going to watch it together, but I I was really struck by how. How hard it was to get the funding for the documentary and just how resilient Ashley and her team were with making sure that it happened.
And that’s something that is so important. It would have been so easy for her team to give up on this project so many times, and they didn’t. And for that, I think we owe them a debt of gratitude and a, and it just shows you how important this film was for her to tell this story.
Big John: Yeah. When you listen to the interview, one of the questions that I asked was how do you do something like this without perpetuating stereotypes?
Because it’s hard. Chuck, as when we think about the show, like we have to be careful too, because it’s we talk, we want to talk about things, but we have to do it in a way that we know that we can present it in a fair situation rather than try to, essentially become JD Vance 2.0.
And speaking of JD Vance, the funny thing about this is if you read or watch hillbilly Elegy, you wouldn’t think that there was a black person in Appalachia. But come to find out why watch it, you watch hillbilly and that there actually is a black community and it’s a black community.
That’s fighting to stay relevant. They want to be a part of this culture, but they have to find their own way to do it. And that’s, again, a huge thing that we always talk about that book missed, but this documentary does a really good job of showing that there is diversity here and not everybody is the same and not everybody thinks the same.
And I think that was really important. You had two competing sides. You had the Trump voters from her family, you had Silas house and her who were on the liberal side to me, it was like one of those things that you could finally look at Appalachia and go, huh? Everybody’s not the same.
Chuck: Yeah. I think the way you frame those really perfect because it like what we try to emphasize on the show showed the complexity of it.
It didn’t just show you some. Whitewash view of Appalachia showed you every aspect of it showed you Afrolachian poets, which we’ve touched on briefly before, but w which was incredible. It taught, it showed people, LGBTQ people, which hardly ever in the national media get highlighted from Appalachia. So I thought it was, it’s so important.
And I think that it deserves so much attention. And so I really implore every single one of you who is listening to go and watch this. You will not regret it.
Big John: Yeah. And if you’re in college, tell your professors, Hey, stop showing hillbilly Elegy or stop having us read it, show this instead, because this is the real, this is the real thing.
I wish that more people would do it. Heck I might even create maybe that’s what we do. Chuck. We create an email list and we just email blast this thing out to all the professors saying stop showing hillbilly Elegy, stop making your kids. Read it, watch this instead.
Chuck: Hell. Yeah, let’s do it.
Speaking of doing it, let’s. Do it meaning the last segment of the show as it always is the last part of the show where John gets to air up all of his pent up aggression from the past seven days, let it out like a trial balloon going into the sky, the Monarch of meat, the Baron of Beef, the Caleb of the center cut beef with big John
Beef with Big John
Big John: First off I got to say, I don’t have beef with these people. Chuck, do you see my new hat? This new
Chuck: hag kind of it’s. It just looks blue with leather.
Big John: There’s West Virginia says West by God. It’s pretty cool stuff. Kinship goods. Who, if you remember one, the Appalachian business of the year in the iPod latch, Appalachian awards, I got the
Chuck: letter and a prestigious
Big John: award.
Yeah. I got to go there for the first time ever really cool place. I just wanted to shout them out because they do a lot of really good work for the community and Charleston, West Virginia. And they honestly they have shirts for everybody, not just people in West Virginia that you should, everybody should go check them out.
Anyway. Now to the beef, Chuck kinda mentioned that we’re going to talk about the Jim justice situation in our exclusive. So if you want to hear that, go check it out. patrion.com/app called Latcho. But my. Beef is an extension of that. Because again, Chuck, I got beef with people who continue to use situations like the one with Jim justice and turn them into a large stereotype about every Appalachian person ever.
Chuck: Yay. This is one of my favorite things to talk about. Oh my God. Yeah.
Big John: So if you haven’t seen the video, go check it out. But anyway, this video goes around and instead of people being like Jim justice is he wasn’t ready to talk about this. He passed or he signed a bill that he shouldn’t have.
There was some talk of that, but instead people were like it’s West Virginia. That’s what’s to be expected. Everybody there hates trans people, everybody there hates minorities, everybody there hates, and that’s not true. I understand that there is hate not going to deny that plenty of hatred here.
But not everyone is, there are a lot of allies. There are a lot of people fighting on the ground. There are a lot of people who could use your help. If you are not in West Virginia, there, there are groups here that you could help. What is it? Fairness West Virginia. Great group. That’s doing a lot of great work that could really use your support rather than you posting on Instagram or Twitter or Tik.
Talk about how Jim justice is just the personification of all West Virginians, because that’s not true. There are so many people who are affected by this bill. In fact, Chuck, I don’t know if you saw on my Twitter, I got a response from one of our old high school science teachers Alison shool,
He was also a participant in our accent challenge. Oh yes. She was anyway, not our challenge,
Big John: but our thing though, she had said because Jim justice had said there’s only 12 kids, that this will affect. And she said, that’s
Chuck: good. He’s pulled that number
Big John: out of his ass. And she said that’s funny because that would mean I have six of them.
Say so, and she’s and those are the people who are fully out about, willing to discuss it and everything. But now think about that. Chuck, so many kids and we’ll get into this Patriot. So many kids are going to be hurt by this way more than 12. And I think Alison does a good job of talking about that in that tweet, just mentioning there are more than that.
Chuck: She’s always been woke
Big John: big fan. Yeah. And she’s a massive fan of my wife. Way more than me. She always says like I got lucky, which is true. But anyway, Jim justice is not West Virginia. Yes. Jim justice won election in which, what was it? 70% of the people voted. So another 30% didn’t. And that doesn’t even mean.
I think he got, I don’t remember his percentage and I’m not going to even try, but anyway, not everybody here. Sports Jim justice, not everybody here thinks the way Jim justice does. And not everyone here thinks like their Senator does. We have a misconception that just because people voted Republican, that they voted, for hatred, I don’t always believe that.
I think that again, I think people vote Republican to not vote Democrat a lot of the times. And I think we miss that sometimes and I get it. You have to hold people accountable. I am 100% with you on that. I’m not 100% with you on saying that all of West Virginia is filled with hate because that’s not true.
Chuck: Exactly. So this is something that is a personal grievance of mine. A personal pet peeve of mine drives me insane because people use this as an excuse to like they do with many things. Excuse me, do paint a picture about a state that they already have a preconceived idea about. And it’s really, it’s really convenient.
They’ll, West Virginia is always already seen as a very red, very conservative in the mainstream perception, very backwards thinking state. And so this is a great this is a great. Figurehead to carry that stereotype. A great animating figure to do that. But again, it’s with anything is like places are complex.
They’re not, you can’t categorize a place based on the color of the electoral college map that they show up on. And for example, the same can be said about almost any state in this country. John, how many people voted for Donald Trump in West Virginia? It was roughly 69% of votes cast. But how many votes was that?
Do you know? There’s 545,000 people that voted for Donald Trump in West Virginia, seen as a humongous Trump stronghold, rightly John, the liberal bastion of California. How many people voted for Donald Trump?
Big John: A million
Chuck: long, 6 million, 6 million people in the state of California. That is roughly three to four times the size of the entire state of West Virginia.
And ju, but just because borderlines are drawn, we like to associate California with this humongous liberal bastion, which it is in many senses, but there’s also a huge part of that state that likes Donald Trump. Okay. So it was only 34% of the people that voted. But my point is that States are complex and there’s a large part of California, for example, that voted for
Big John: Donald Trump.
And to wrap this up, I want to point out why it’s so dangerous to do that because one, it undermines the work that is going on in this state or States like West Virginia. Because when you say that all people do this, you essentially discount every person that has boots on the ground. That’s trying to do something good for these people.
Second, it’s also one of those things that allows you to. Essentially convince people that they’re not ever going to change West Virginia or a state like West Virginia. And so that just leads to more brain drain. I understand that people are going to leave anyway, but essentially telling people like it’s over, this is a place that will never change is only you helping create a strong hold that you don’t like.
So if you actually started to talk about how you could change things and how change is possible, you’d have more people who think like you come to this state, the stronghold would be depleted and you’d be able to make changes, but by doing what you’re, what people are doing now by just discounting the entire state, you’re actually helping that stronghold increase because either it’s a person leaves or a person doesn’t vote because they don’t think their vote matters anymore.
And because, and that’s because of people doing these types of tweets and this type of stereotypical stuff,
Chuck: Yeah, you make a great point that it undermines all the people that are working so hard to try to change things and try to prevent stuff like this from happening. That’s a wrap. You heard it.
It’s just what you get at Quiznos. That’s a wrap. Thank you all for listening. Follow us on social media, especially Tik TOK. I’m really alarmed by how many followers we’ll be able to get in the past week. And it’s upsetting because at a thousand I’m going to have to make a video. And now I’m going to have to think of what to do in a video.
So thank you all so much. Have a wonderful evening.