A Controversial Documentary: Oxyana

A controversial new documentary focused on the drug problem in a small Appalachian town has raised the ire of locals and area advocates.

The film is Oxyana, a film that purports to tell the story of Oceana, West Virginia. The premise: prescription medications and drug use have turned the town into a wasteland, which is indicative of a larger problem with small town in America.

The film has garnered great praise from film critics and festivals.

The problem: the state, regional, and local population say the depiction of the city isn’t an accurate portrayal of the town. Although the initial outrage has subsided a bit, within the criticism you can still feel 150 years of anger directed at outsiders who attempt to portray Appalachia with simplistic, stereotypical brush strokes.

“I hate to label media outlets, because there’ve been outsiders that have come in and done really good pieces in Appalachia,” Morgan said. “But there’s a feeling that he came in for three weeks, and, well, if you have me any neighborhood in America to shoot a documentary in for three weeks, I can make that neighborhood look as good or as bad as I want, and he chose to portray our community as bad as he could.” — from the New Republic

In 21st century fashion, the townsfolk have started a Facebook page meant to dispel the myths in the film.

Created to dispel the myths of the film “Oxyana” this page now represents the communities efforts to fight the drug problem in Oceana, Wyoming County and Southern West Virginia. — the Anti Oxyana Facebook page

The problem is those towns people have little recourse against a corporate media machine bent on selling a very specific type of story — the story of the Appalachian Other — to America.

After criticism rained down upon him for the inaccurate depiction of the town, the director said this wasn’t meant to be a portrait of the town (even though it’s labeled as such.) In Appalachian papers, he’s tried to make that point.

To the media at large, he’s said something different.

  • The Wall Street Journal review takes the film as truth with little discussion about the controversy.
  • Fox News review highlights that “few Oceana residents who have managed to stay sober appear shaken by the impact the drug has had on their area.”
  • The Daily Beast takes aim at the residents of Oceana by highlighting threats made about the filmmaker while ignoring the controversy at large..

My last aside:

One item I found interesting in the New Republic piece was the depiction of the town members. Faced with the growing epidemic of drug abuse, the citizens and government lamented a lack of social services available to combat the problem and the police lacked the authority to require pharmacists to track cash-only purchases.

These are the very social safety nets that would, in normal times, be considered heresy.