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"hillbilly" examines the `hillbilly' stereotype in media and culture, seeking to expand social understanding of Appalachia and rural America.
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Running Time
Feature Film
85 minutes


In “hillbilly” directors Sally Rubin and Ashley York show the evolution of the uneducated, promiscuous `hillbilly’ stereotype in media and culture, linking it with corporate exploitation of Appalachia’s natural resources. The film examines the experience of rural voters and seeks to expand understanding of the region by featuring diverse communities in Appalachia, including Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute where young adults find community and refuge, and the Affrilachian Poets, a grassroots group of poets of color living in the Appalachian region. “hillbilly” seeks to challenge viewers’ perception of Appalachia, opening up dialogue between urban and rural America, and offering folks within the region a cinematic portrayal of which they can be proud.

Filmmaker Notes:

Ashley York: I am a trained journalist and filmmaker who is guided by a feminist approach. My work has taken me from America’s prisons to its Native American reservations and seeks to build on the long history of non-fiction work that addresses significant social challenges of our time, focusing in on the Appalachian region and the experiences of women and girls and the queer community. I am motivated by innovative approaches to storytelling, and by the desire to elevate the voices of marginalized and vulnerable people. I am inspired by many social issue documentary films including Anne Lewis’ Fast Food Women (1991) and Barbara Kopple’s Academy-Award winning documentary, Harlan County USA (1976) — two films which inspired me to make documentaries.

Ashley York quote: “This is deeply personal. My intention in making this film is to contribute something meaningful to the culture about this complex topic,” said York. “I hope this film can serve as a productive way to bring voice to some very challenging issues and inspire critical discourse that raises consciousness and advances progress.”

Sally Rubin: I grew up in Boston, where class and cultural differences among its co-mingled population loom large. My small community was made up primarily of middle-class Jewish families who mixed with the white, working class Italian and Irish who made up such a large portion of Boston. As a kid, I noticed the differences and separations between these groups, between us even as children. As I got older I developed an interest in Appalachia, where the non-Jewish side of my family is from. My mother grew up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, where my family has lived since the early 1600’s. Much of that family has spread across the South, including throughout North Carolina and down to Mississippi and Florida. As I became interested in documentary filmmaking and media representation, I dreamt of making a film that looked at class differences among white Americans and the way they manifested in the media in particular. hillbilly is that film.

Sally Rubin quote: “I am so gratified to be finally releasing hillbilly, which represents the result of four and a half years of research, fundraising, production, and editing–and several decades of thinking about the issues in the film. I hope our film can ignite conversation and understanding between rural and urban America.”

Film details
Year(s) screened
  • 2018
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