It’s not what you think. Just because I’m black doesn’t mean I have to be into some random rapper’s journey “back to the ‘hood”. While I respect their grind, I hear about that kind of shit every fucking day. I found this film randomly on Netflix about two years ago, being promoted like crazy on its homepage. I still remember the poster; a black-framed woman’s back with a graphic lookin like a fresh tattoo stitched on it. “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia”. It took me a few months to actually check it out and BOY, I wasn’t prepared.
It was a lazy morning. I smoked a bit, lounging around in my room for an uneventful day during a break from Adderall College. As anyone in the U.S. knows, that calls for some Netflix binging. The THC in my brain told me “hey, check that one out”. (THC sounds like Cheech Marin, for your reference). So, I clicked it. I saw that it was a Dickhouse Production, the glorious team that brought us all things Jackass. I knew immediately that I had made the right decision, and thusly packed another bowl in preparation.
The film chronicles the lives of the rambunctious White Family of Boone County, WV. My grandmother (maternal) was born and raised in Kanawha County, WV, so I had to do a quick Google Maps search to see. Boone County sits in the midsection of the small state, smack dab in the middle of Appalachia. There are a lot of these folks in the family; our main narrator would be Mamie, the eldest living daughter of Bertie Mae and D. Ray White.
Now, their claim to fame is D. Ray, who was an extremely talented “mountain” tap dancer. Coming from a culture where it was always lithe, zoot-suited black men who tapped, I was shocked to see a wrinkled, near-skeletal, white coal miner going HAM on a wooden board outside of a trailer. I mean, he was dope.
Unfortunately, D. Ray was shot in the 80’s and killed before his family could really benefit financially from his talent. So, what happens when a father dies and leaves a single, impoverished mother with thirteen children and a few grandchildren (at that point) in the middle of rural West Virginia? Utter chaos. Welcome to Boone County, bitches.
Along with Mamie, we met her brother, Jesco. Yes, JESCO. He, like his father, is a badass dancer. Unlike his father, I believe Jesco had a bit of a mental breakdown after his father was killed and along with the unfortunate gasoline-huffing habit he acquired, he’s now a terribly frightening yet sympathic character. He’s also a bit of a hero in the Southern states, performing at shows and venues to this day. Jesco, in the best way he can, describes his bipolar (possibly borderline personality) disorder as saying “sometimes when I laugh, it’s like fakin'”. Okay, Jesco. Take care of yourself, buddy.
We also hear the story of Sue Bob and her son, Brandon. Sue Bob is the youngest daughter and due to the fact she smokes and drinks like a damn fiend, I personally can’t put an age on her. Apparently, she made the “boucoup” of money stripping beginning when she was 17. And she’s the sexiest one in the family. Go, Sue Bob. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though; her son Brandon, when we catch up with him, was in prison for being barred out on Xanax and other narcotics, getting pissed at Mamie’s boyfriend Billy, and in a total rational move, shooting him in the face three times. And Billy, being a goddamn beast, lived to tell about it with only a faint scar under his salt-and-pepper beard, clutching a Natural Light and contemplating whether or not to kill him if he ever gets out of prison. But, we don’t have to worry about that, Brandon was sentenced to 25 to life.
Moving on, we enter the life of Bo, Derek, and Susan (who’s affectionately nicknamed Kirk). Bo (the middle daughter, with a star tattoo on her raisin-y face) is Kirk and Derek’s mom. All are heavy drug enthusiasts; particularly weed, Xanax, and any opiate. Kirk, when she’s first interviewed, is clearly high as SHIT discussing how she attempted to stab her ex-boyfriend to death for cheating on her, all the while her wild 7-year-old son Tylor plays in the background listening. It’s like one thing after another with these folks. With Kirk, we skip ahead about six months and she’s in the hospital, having just given birth to a baby daughter. The baby’s father: the wounded ex. But, uh-oh, Child Protective Services actually did their job and found a small pharmacy in the infant’s system and took her. So, most of Kirk’s story line is dedicated to her regaining custody.
Why do I like this film, you ask? It’s nothing but a bunch of hillbilly rednecks who’d likely see a person like me and promptly try to kill me while screaming “The South will rise again!”. Because it’s about as far removed from anything I’ve ever seen. It’s like a white, Jewish kid from a wealthy suburb in Cleveland who saw Boyz in the Hood or listened to Tupac’s various LPs and it opened his eyes to a world he’s been carefully sheltered from. There are people like this in the world. In our own country.
West Virginia is only one state away from me; but this kind of rampant poverty and disillusion with social norms is present. And, I can see why the White Family behaves this way. They are just trying to survive in every action they do. Every swig of “alkyhol”, every crushed-up Vicodin, every robbery, every tattoo memorializing a fallen family member is just a whacked-out method of survival. To make one feel normal until their God calls them home. Now, whether they go to Heaven or straight to Hell (as the title song croons), that’s not up to me or them. That’s up to any higher power they choose to believe in.