Little Cities of Black Diamonds employee Daniel Clepper shines a light onto an unidentified filmstrip during a tour of the Tecumseh Theater in Shawnee, Ohio, on April 16, 2018. The filmstrip, dated 1936, would have likely been in rotation during the region’s industrial heyday when the theater was home to musical performances, sporting events, and movies for Shawnee’s residents. Photo: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia
Before I introduce you to this month’s host, I want to ask you for your help. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the launch of this newsletter series and so far, we’ve been able to introduce you to 10 Appalachians working in photography, illustration, music, acting, and so much more!
But we want to know how we can make this experience better for you! Please consider taking this very brief, four-question survey and let us know what you want more of in 2021!
Now, I’d like to introduce you to our March host, Elon Justice! Growing up in Pikeville, Kentucky, much of Elon’s childhood revolved around storytelling. Early on, she noticed that not all representations of Appalachia were accurate, and most of the misrepresentations of our region and people came from non-Appalachians telling — or trying to tell — our stories.
So, she did something about it. Through The Appalachian Retelling Project, which she founded in July 2020. Here, Appalachians can submit their own stories in their own words and discuss topics like code switching or share personal recollections from a half-century ago. This project documents life as it really is in Appalachia, and I encourage you to take time to explore it. I cannot wait to read this series, y’all.
I’ll let Elon take it from here.
Photo: Elon Justice/Provided
Greetings, y’all –
My name is Elon (which is not pronounced like Elon Musk, because us mountain folk like to say things funny), and I am a filmmaker, writer and scholar from Pikeville, Kentucky. Currently, I am a master’s student in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, where I study documentary and counter-representation. I am also the creator of The Appalachian Retelling Project, a participatory web documentary aimed at sharing stories of Appalachia that you don’t typically see in national media coverage.
Growing up in Central Appalachia, stories have always been a huge part of my life. My dad told me stories while we drove through the mountains in his Ford pickup truck, and my Granny told them as she pulled a hot cast iron skillet of biscuits out of the oven. Stories were everywhere, and they taught me about who I am and where I come from. As I got older, though, I learned that stories had a dark side, especially when they were used against you.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that people from outside Appalachia didn’t see our place the same way I did. Pick just about any popular media portrayal of Appalachia, and it’s probably not a positive one. These stories tell the rest of the world that the place I love is full of hopeless, degenerate people. Sure, we have our problems, but popular media isn’t giving anyone the full picture — and I want to do something to change that.
From that point on, I became passionate about media and the ways it could be used to help people instead of harm them. Eventually, that passion brought me to MIT, where I’ve learned more not only about the ways that Appalachia tends to be systematically misrepresented in all forms of media, but also about what can be done to combat these harmful portrayals. To that end, I created The Appalachian Retelling Project, a place where everyone is welcome to share their stories – collectively creating a representation of Appalachia that is nuanced, hopeful and deeply human – in an attempt to re-tell the world who we are on our own terms.
During my time with this series, I’ll go over different archetypes commonly used to portray Appalachians in popular media, diving into how each stereotype came to be and providing some examples throughout history. Next, I’ll showcase some submissions to The Appalachian Retelling Project that I think do a great job at countering these harmful representations (see, counter-representations!). Finally, I’ll provide a prompt or two to help you think about stories from your own life that might work as effective counter-representations as well.
Please also consider submitting your responses to me in the form of an essay, video, poem, collection of photos, whatever – or you can just use them as food for thought.
I’m so excited to share these stories with you, and I really hope to hear from you, too, to see what we can create together. Here’s to an amazing month!