From A Streetcar Named Desire to HBO’s True Detective, we all know America loves a good Southern Gothic (and so do I). But with the recent rise of big-budget productions shooting in the Midwest, shows like Sharp Objects and a handful of others are missing the Missouri mark.
So, is Hollywood out of touch with Missouri?
In my opinion, a little bit. Having lived in southern Missouri myself, I feel the need to set one thing straight: it’s not the south. Sure, rural Missouri has “hicks.” Sure, it’s humid here. Sure, the people have accents. But our hicks and our accents are not the same as the ones in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, or Tennessee.
Midwesterners don’t carry a molasses-covered drawl or southern belle’s twang. The cadence is a bit faster most of the time. The old money here doesn’t always live in a sprawling ex-plantation house at the end of a gravel road (*cough, Sharp Objects, cough*). Also, it’s 2008 in that show and Camille’s family parades around in silk like its the Alabama summer of 1940. Side note: that house is a mansion in California.
And I’m not saying Hollywood always gets Missouri wrong. 2016’s American Honey has given the best portrayal by far. From the houses filmed to the character’s colloquialisms, American Honey showed up in Missouri and filmed the dang thing. American Honey also nailed the stark difference between rural and urban cities in Missouri by contrasting small towns with big cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. It also doesn’t champion the clean-faced city folk while turning the farm-dwellers into insidious bumpkins.
So, I guess my biggest bone to pick was with Sharp Objects more than anything. Granted, Wind Gap is a fictional town meant to give insight into Camille’s dark past, it relies too heavily on the trope-y gritty stuff and not enough on the murder-mystery-important-plot-development stuff that makes a show sail. It milks the contemporary Southern Gothic tones with very little of the setting being inspired by its named geographic place (aka Missouri). And a few half-baked midwestern accents sound more like a Louisiana one rolling over some speed bumps with a floppy sunhat on.
I feel a pang of annoyance every time I see a big-city transplant intimidated by the dirty-faced townie. This constant narrative of the educated city folks as the heroes only exacerbates the gap between city and countryside. Is it impossible that these people have anything in common? I’m not saying Missouri is perfect, but it’d be nice to see a small town that isn’t totally dystopian.