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WV filmmaker shuns stereotypes

By Staff | Jul 26, 2012

Darrell Fetty, a Milton filmmaker, has waited nearly 40 years to retort negative nuances assumed from having an address in West Virginia. He left the state for a film industry career, but he vowed to one day nuke the hillbilly and holler stereotypes that crept into nearly every Hollywood-produced saga set in the Appalachian region.

A timeline of short gains and tackles behind the line of scrimmage have been responsible for meritorious portrayals of characters (i.e. the grieving town in “We Are Marshall,” “October Sky , ” and “Super 8”). Poverty stricken, toothless and barefoot backwoods inbred creeps continued making “Wrong Turn” deviations and sequels on the horror circuit. Regions aplenty suffer at the convenience of quickly establishing a character type, be it the South, New Yorkers, Texans, or mountain folk out West.

Attempted typecasting cost the job of an unnamed individual responsible for casting extras. They made a politically incorrect assumption of describing on paper in the casting call what type of looks they sought to populate the scenes.

Then, Gov. Joe Manchin proclaimed righteous indignation from historic and geographic liberties which placed West Virginia University’s Mountaineer football team and fans as supporting segregation in “The Express” (2008), which told the story of Ernie Davis, the first African American Heisman Trophy winner.

Having grown up “resenting the term (hillbilly) which actually means ‘a friend from the hills,'” Fetty has been waiting for an opportunity to produce a “positive portrayal of West Virginians.” As one of the producers of the History Channel mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys,” Fetty understood that the feud itself had to overcome the cliche ridden “stupid hillbillies fighting with themselves over nothing.” Set in the late 1800’s, Fetty stressed there were “substantial reasons for conflict, just as there is today.”

Comparing the West Virginia and Kentucky disagreement to the movie western, he noted how Wyatt Earp and The Clantons are “hailed as wonderful Americana” for their shootout at the O.K. Corral. “They are heroes, legends, western myths and we are just hillbillies. Yet, [the feud] was at the same time, just a little further east. It was just after the Civil War so people settled things with guns. There wasn’t law, it was dependent on a code of honor (a verbal contract) before law and order was established.”

Explaining that the accurate story of the feud has “never been done,” Fetty and the filmmakers relied on a historian as an on set consultant. Still, a dramatization of history allows for creative license. For instance, Ben Kingsley received an Oscar nomination for his role as an accountant in “Schindler’s List.” In reality, there were eight accountants. Kingsley’s role was a composite, just as Kate Mara played a cheerleader composite character in “We Are Marshall.”

Shot over a six month period in Romania, timelines for “Hatfields & McCoys” had to be altered to ensure dramatic construction. “This upset our historian,” Fetty explained adding that “things did not happen exactly in sequence, but it is pretty close. There were adjustments for dramatic reasons, still, this is the truest this story has been presented.”

Stressing that this production, unlike others, has an accurate emotional conveyance of the families and conveys “truer lessons” for viewers, Fetty told reporters recently at the Huntington premiere, “you should learn if you are mad at your brother or sister to forgive them. You should not hold grudges…there’s collateral damage…people take sides. This is an American tragedy. You have one visceral character that goes toward the light. And, another starts as a very righteous man and he goes to the dark.”

Following its debut to record ratings on The History Channel, the mini-series has spiked an interest in the history of the feuding families and the region in which it took place. Already “jokes” have slaughtered stereotypes, such as, “What do they call a ‘hillbilly’ now? Answer: An Appalachian American.”

Long time Hollywood actor, Tom Berenger stars with Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton. When visiting for the premiere at Huntington’s Keith Albee, Berenger told reporters that the Jim Vance character was one of his favorite roles.

Berenger has placed the “Hatfields & McCoys” performance amongst a litany of heroes and villains, including, Sgt. Barnes (“Platoon”), a young Butch Cassidy (“Butch and Sundance: The Early Years”), Peter Browning (“Inception”), and Sam Weber (“The Big Chill”). That he ranks Vance among his favorite roles should not come as a surprise, since the actor has a great interest in Civil War history. One article attributed Lt. General James Longstreet, whom he portrayed in “Gettysburg” (1992), as nearest to his heart.

The DVD hits store July 31. Word is that one network plans make a reality series around people who were “kin” to the Hatfield’s and McCoys.

Editor’s Note: History Channel aired a two-hour documentary before the June marathon of the mini-series. Shot in WV and KY by Huntington based Trifecta Productions, the companion documentary “America’s Greatest Feud: the History of the Hatfields and McCoys” produced by Fetty and Joe Murphy featured local icons such as Clint McElroy, Dave Lavender, and (Mayor) Kim and Deborah Wolfe. One of the primary sets was Heritage Farm. Tours of Pike County, Kentucky, can be scheduled by called the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for a schedule, (800) 844-7453.