What the Movies Did to the Mountains and What the Mountains Did to the Movies

By J. W. Williamson


340 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 65 illus.

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4503-5
    Published: June 1995

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Awards & distinctions

1996 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award, Western North Carolina Historical Association

The stereotypical hillbilly figure in popular culture provokes a range of responses, from bemused affection for Ma and Pa Kettle to outright fear of the mountain men in Deliverance. In Hillbillyland, J. W. Williamson investigates why hillbilly images are so pervasive in our culture and what purposes they serve. He has mined more than 800 movies, from early nickelodeon one-reelers to contemporary films such as Thelma and Louise and Raising Arizona, for representations of hillbillies in their recurring roles as symbolic 'cultural others.' Williamson's hillbillies live not only in the hills of the South but anywhere on the rough edge of society. And they are not just men; women can be hillbillies, too. According to Williamson, mainstream America responds to hillbillies because they embody our fears and hopes and a romantic vision of the past. They are clowns, children, free spirits, or wild people through whom we live vicariously while being reassured about our own standing in society.

About the Author

J. W. Williamson is professor of English at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and editor of Appalachian Journal. He is author of Southern Mountaineers in Silent Films and coeditor of Interviewing Appalachia.

For more information about J. W. Williamson, visit the Author Page.


“This book is highly likely to become a work as enduring as its popular subject.”--Southern Cultures

"Convincing and well documented."--Choice

"Bold, adept, and often shrewd. . . . Rarely has so much rich food for thought been served with such panache."--Journal of Southern History

"A complex, entertaining, and insightful book."--Journal of American History

"For this splendid book Williamson should be given some kind of prize. . . . It is that good. The questions Williamson raises have far-reaching implications."--Journal of American Culture

"Will be of value to those interested in film and popular culture, to those concerned with the invention (or continual reinvention) of Appalachia, and to those who just enjoy a good read. . . . An instant classic, required reading for hillbillies everywhere. Ma and Pa Kettle give it two thumbs up."--West Virginia History