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Movies show Southerners in negative light



Published: Thu, August 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



People everywhere embrace its values. 'In the Heat of the Night' showed a modern South in which blacks and whites worked together and were friends."

Media depiction

The biggest culprits in portraying Southerners in a negative light are movies -- both the big-screen and made-for-TV varieties, Price says. It's done in subtle ways, with a redneck racist here or an overweight, mean-spirited sheriff who has a habit of saying "Boy" there.

He cites "Mississippi Burning" (1988) as an example. Although fictional, the film was based on the murders of three civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964. It received critical acclaim, but also drew criticism from both whites and blacks.

"I think the film made it seem as if almost every white person was connected with the Klan," Price says.

Many blacks criticized the movie because they said it made it seem as if the FBI and many white Northerners were responsible for the civil rights movement. It gave almost no credit to the blacks who fought hard for justice and equal rights.

In the 1920s and '30s, Compton says, "Many movies portrayed the South as almost heroic victims of a lost cause. Then in the 1940s, with the growth of country music, the movies discovered the hillbilly and we've gone from there.

"I think it is getting much better, but I think Hollywood will always hold on to those Southern stereotypes. They've become so much a part of our American folklore."

Overcoming stereotypes

The South still is haunted by the stigma of the Civil War and some of the images of the civil rights movement, Price says.

"But I think that's finally, gradually changing," he says. "The Internet, more diverse television and the ease with which people can travel around the country now have helped."

He notes the migration of people from other parts of the country to the South also is bringing about changes.

"North and South" author John Jakesdoesn't think that's altogether a good thing.

"I fear that eventually the things we liked about the South and liked about many Southerners may vanish," he says. The slower pace and the polite manners might gradually erode.

Fox, though, thinks there will always be room for good ol' boys and Southern jokes.

"As long as we don't lose our sense of humor, we'll be OK," Fox says. "We understand that they're jokes."




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