New White Family Movie – Edification or Exploitation

Jesco White Jail This all really started when the new movie trailer for The Wild and Wonderful Whites documentary featuring Jesco White and other members of the family was released last week. Just the trailer itself stirred some controversy, making people wonder if this movie was going to attempt to accurately depict the White family, or just be one sensationalized scene after another, aka Jackass meets COPS: The Jackass label coming from producer Johnny Knoxville, and the COPS moniker for the violence and drug use depicted in the trailer.

I cautioned at the time that the point of movie trailers is to get people interested in seeing the whole movie, and may not be an accurate representation of what the final movie is. We’ll it apparently got the Po Po interested as well.

Last Monday night, Jesco was woken up out of bed by the police, and told he was charged with “felony delivery of a controlled substance and conspiracy.” According to police, Jesco and his sister Sue Ann “conspired” to buy cocaine. The police say that they found cocaine on Sue Ann, but from what I understand, Jesco was not in possession of any drugs.

MTV has subsequently bailed Jesco White out of jail.

The details on the story are sketchy at best. The journalism in West Virginia seems to be about as functional as the White family itself. It is also unclear what the White family thinks about the documentary. In THIS poorly written and generally unhelpful article, it says, “Members of White’s family said the film casts them in a negative light, and they say they have changed their ways since then.” But this quote isn’t attributed to anyone specifically, and may not be the views of the whole family. Jesco in the video above talks about how the were “paid to have fun,” almost implying that the whole movie is just one big act.

When I published a previous blog about this, a few of my readers to their credit were leery about how this documentary would turn out. Sure, the scenes are funny and all of that, but serious hardcore drug abuse, and specifically the effect on children is a real problem in that part of the country, but not for everyone, and that is why there is also concerns that this movie will help perpetuate negative stereotypes about people from West Virginia, Boone Couty, or the country and the South in general.

At this point, still very few people have seen this movie, including members of the White family, making the quote from the news story above even more ridiculous and misleading. The movie at this point STILL does not have distribution, so there is no release date or any idea how it will be shown: in theaters, at film festivals, in installments on MTV, etc. It did have a showing at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, a a girl named Gillian Grey wrote THIS BLOG about it, saying:

“When this movie was announced, I was afraid that the Whites would be portrayed negatively, exploiting their differences and making them the clown for us to laugh at. The director (Julien Nitzberg) felt the same way. The documentary Dancing Outlaw about Jesco White (D Ray’s son) from 1992 is cut toward comedy and he wanted this movie to be more respectful.”

I think that it is important to point out that Johnny Knoxville was NOT the director of this film. Yes, I’m sure he had say so in the direction the film took and such, but Julien Nitzenburg was the man in charge.

So all of this leaves me with a couple of questions:

1. Was Jesco framed by police that felt they were being mocked by the movie trailer?

I could certainly see this, but as all Jesco and White family fans know, you don’t need a movie trailer to know there are drugs swirling all around that scene. I wish the media out there would get off their ass and try to put all the facts together so that we all could come to some conclusions on our own. I guess we will know in due course.

2. Does the White documentary exploit the White family?

Again, I’m going to wait to see the movie myself to decide that and not rely on a 2 minute trailer, but from what someone who has seen the movie has said about it, and from what the director has said about it, it will at the least not be as exploitative as the trailer implies.

I also feel like just adding my two cents about why people like me, Hank Williams III, and others find Jesco and the White family’s life so “entertaining” and interesting.

Sure the wildness has some to do with it, but these people also have a beauty about the way they live their lives, their simple philosophies, their all too common struggles that can speak to all of us on a visceral level that rises way above just watching people making fools of themselves. I agree with the director of the new film, that at times the first White documentary made a mockery of them instead of trying to accurately portray their way of life.

Some people don’t understand what all the hubbub is about these stupid white-trash hillbillies, some watch them expressly for the car crash factor. But some, including myself, enjoy it because of the themes that speak to us through Jesco and the Whites on a human level that is very tough to explain to someone that doesn’t “get it.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the United States we have a rule: “Innocent until proven guilty.” I hope to God that this rule is applied with Jesco as he attempts to clear his name. And I think we all have an obligation to apply this rule to this new documentary, Johnny Knoxville, and the White’s themselves, until we see the documentary in full with our own eyes.