She never heard people bad-mouth Appalachia until she left. Now she's making a film in response.

Sometimes telling a simple story is a revolutionary act.

"Where ya from?" is a question Tijah Bumgarner got a lot after she left her home state.

"West Virginia," she'd reply, when she was waiting tables in Los Angeles and folks noticed her accent. And she knew the follow-up before it was asked. "They'd joke around like look down to see if I was wearing shoes and of course ask me if I'd married my cousin."

"They'd joke around like look down to see if I was wearing shoes and of course ask me if I'd married my cousin."

After a while, the 20-year-old started to respond with a prepackaged quip. When asked where she's from, she'd say, "West Virginia, but I have all my teeth and I'm wearing shoes, so don't bother asking about that."


It was an understandable defense mechanism — making fun of herself before anyone else could — but looking back, Tijah says she never "recognized what that really meant or that I was really just perpetuating this stereotype in a way."


Tijah moved to California in her 20s to attend film school. Image courtesy of Tijah Bumgarner.

Stereotypes of Appalachians as "helpless hillbillies" are pretty common — and they've been around for centuries.

What are the dominant stories that come out of West Virginia and other parts of central Appalachia these days?

On the one hand, you've got plenty of movies and shows about ignorant, backward, and "other" mountain people. Like the "Wrong Turn" series of six (yeah, SIX) movies about inbred, cannibalistic hillbillies in West Virginia.

Those types of stories can be traced back to the late 1800s, when travel writers from the North would come to the mountains to write what was essentially fiction about the isolated people there who were oh-so-against progress.

Poor, white sharecroppers in Appalachia, circa 1936. Image by Walker Evans.

This narrative took the fact that folks were living off the land and twisted it around against them — because surely anyone who doesn't want their land stripped away from them for resource extraction must be against progress, right? Right.

And then, of course, you've got news stories heavy with tragedy: chemical spills, poverty, drug use, mine disasters.

"Of course it's sorrowful. Of course we're losing a lot. Of course they're blowing up mountains. But there are other things happening too."

Appalachia is certainly known for its stories about coal mining. Photos by Mario Tama/Getty Images, altered.

"Of course [the stories of devastation] are important," Tijah stresses. "But they're not the only stories. Not everything has to be just about devastation, about sorrow for our land. Of course it's sorrowful. Of course we're losing a lot. Of course they're blowing up mountains. But there are other things happening too. So even that's pushing this narrative of helplessness in a way."

This summer, Tijah's working on a new kind of story: one that's simply about growing up.

Her story is a simple one, a relatable one, and maybe even a cute one, about a 14-year-old girl growing up in Tijah's hometown of Meadow Bridge, West Virginia.

A road sign coming into Meadow Bridge. Image courtesy of Tijah Bumgarner.

"People can definitely relate to it. It's a universal coming of age story," says Tijah. "You have this awkward 14-year-old girl who's made fun of at school. So what I'm adding [to the narrative] is like, hey, kids that grow up here, we go through the same things as [everywhere else]. Sure, we may think we're a little different, but really, we all kind of go through these things. Y'know, we all have a crush, we all have a first kiss. I'm hoping that people can relate to that."

Tijah as a kid growing up in Meadow Bridge. Images courtesy of Tijah Bumgarner.

Tijah knows that there's no way "Meadow Bridge" could single-handedly reverse all the stereotypes people have about central Appalachia. No one story could do that.

But she hopes that adding to the discourse may help create something different. "At least," she hopes, "it's a drop in the bucket."

"Sometimes telling a simple story is a revolutionary act."

Help make sure "Meadow Bridge" comes to life! Support the Kickstarter campaign here:

Most Shared
Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

If you're a woman and you want to be a CEO, you should probably think about changing your name to "Jeffrey" or "Michael." Or possibly even "Michael Jeffreys" or "Jeffrey Michaels."

According to Fortune, last year, more men named Jeffrey and Michael became CEOs of America's top companies than women. A whopping total of one woman became a CEO, while two men named Jeffrey took the title, and two men named Michael moved into the C-suite as well.

The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Netflix

How much of what we do is influenced by what we see on TV? When it comes to risky behavior, Netflix isn't taking any chances.

After receiving a lot of heat, the streaming platform is finally removing a controversial scenedepicting teen suicide in season one of "13 Reasons Why. The decision comes two years after the show's release after statistics reveal an uptick in teen suicide.

"As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one," Netflix said in a statement, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

At Trump's 'Social Media Summit' on Thursday, he bizarrely claimed Arnold Schwarzenegger had 'died' and he had witnessed said death. Wait, what?!


He didn't mean it literally - thank God. You can't be too sure! After all, he seemed to think that Frederick Douglass was still alive in February. More recently, he described a world in which the 1770s included airports. His laissez-faire approach to chronology is confusing, to say the least.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy

Words matter. And they especially matter when we are talking about the safety and well-being of children.

While the #MeToo movement has shed light on sexual assault allegations that have long been swept under the rug, it has also brought to the forefront the language we use when discussing such cases. As a writer, I appreciate the importance of using varied wording, but it's vital we try to remain as accurate as possible in how we describe things.

There can be gray area in some topics, but some phrases being published by the media regarding sexual predation are not gray and need to be nixed completely—not only because they dilute the severity of the crime, but because they are simply inaccurate by definition.

One such phrase is "non-consensual sex with a minor." First of all, non-consensual sex is "rape" no matter who is involved. Second of all, most minors legally cannot consent to sex (the age of consent in the U.S. ranges by state from 16 to 18), so sex with a minor is almost always non-consensual by definition. Call it what it is—child rape or statutory rape, depending on circumstances—not "non-consensual sex."

Keep Reading Show less
Culture