OPINION | Hey Hollywood, Southern Accent depends on ‘where y’at’

Faith McLean, Associate Arcade Editor

Graphic of top 5 movies with worst Southern and Louisianan accents (Maggie Pasterz)

What does the South sound like to you? Does it sound like Tom Hank’s character Forrest Gump or Adam Sandler’s character Bobby Boucher Jr.? Well, that is what Hollywood wants you to believe Southern people sound like. 

When in actuality, that’s just a singular stereotype of the many different accents you will hear in the South, particularly in Louisiana. In Louisiana, the southern accent is a blend of Cajun, Creole and Yat dialects from the French, Spanish, African and American Indian roots that tie many Louisianian families together over hundreds of years of history. 

As an Acadian native, sometimes, my accent occasionally slips into conversation, and I’ll say things to my friends like, ‘where y’at.’ But, never, do I occasionally slip into the stereotypical, dimwitted accent that many Americans have associated with a southern drawl. 

The offensive characterizations and stereotypes, seen in films, of Southern people, are apparent through the inaccurate and offensive portrayals of the way people from the South speak. 

Here are the top five worst Southern and Louisiana accents depicted in cinema reinforcing toxic biases of Southern culture and people in mainstream media.

  1. Bobby Boucher Jr. and Farmer Fran from “The WaterBoy”

I am only able to muster through a few minutes of this movie before my rage escapes me, and I throw my remote control at the TV. Most of the time, I can appreciate Adam Sandler’s comedic timing, funny voices and parody-style movies, but that’s until he makes fun of my own people. Adam Sandler, a New Yorker, born and raised, truly shows his lack of understanding and unconscious bias of Cajun culture and people, as he purposefully uses our accent to poke fun at us. Making us out to sound and behave, as if we are stupid, uneducated and uncivilized. One of his characters, Farmer Fran, impersonates an unintelligible bayou-hick, a blatant insult to Cajuns. 

  1. Mammy from “Gone with the Wind” 

Played by Academy Award-winning actress Hattie McDaniel, Mammy from ‘Gone with the Wind’ is a Hollywood-made, sugarcoated depiction of slavery in the South during the Civil War. Not only is the movie’s interpretation of her Southern accent, an offensive cliche of Southern colloquialism, but her character’s personification, as a seemingly content slave in the South, is repulsively misappropriating the true, cruel history of slavery in America. BIPOC should be the creative vision and voice behind their own narratives in film, not white Hollywood. 

  1. Shelby and Ouiser from “Steel Magnolias”

Now, this movie always makes my mother and I cry, every Saturday morning when it’s playing on TV. However, this film overuses stereotypical Southern jargon with its characters Shelby, played by Julia Roberts, and Ouiser, played by Shirley MacLaine. Then, the Louisiana-set film takes two steps forward and five steps back by type-casting country-singer and Tennessee-raised, Dolly Parton, as the hyper-sexualized Southern darling, Truvy Jones, also making me cry. As a woman from the South, I loudly advocate against Hollywood’s cliche Southern belle, who somehow always has her tits, but never her wits, out. I applaud Parton’s representation of a true, authentic Southern accent in the film, but I am disheartened that the directors used her Southern-sounding charm, and beauty, as a trivialized archetype of Southern women. 

  1. Delmar from “O Brother Where Art Thou”

Again, Hollywood, did we really need another satirical parody of the South and how we speak? I think my father has watched this movie at least 56 times, so I have heard him say, at least 56 times, “I do not sound like that.” Delmar’s character, specifically, exaggerates the Southern draw and relies heavily on movie-watchers’ connection to finding the expression of how he says his lines, as the main laughing factor and not his actual lines. This crime-comedy film, starring George Clooney, would be nothing without its endless use of recycled Southern clichés and misappropriation of Southern rhetoric.

 

  1. Bud from “Urban Cowboy”

Not only does John Travolta butcher names during award shows, but he also butchered a Southern accent for his role as Bud Davis in the 1980 movie “Urban Cowboy.” Trying to capitalize off of the 1970s and 1980s honky-tonk bar and country music scene in Southern Texas, the movie was successful in trailblazing the Wrangler Jean and cowboy hat All-American fashion frenzy. However, the casting of Travolta as the small-town Texan, after his hit movie “Saturday Night Fever,” shows Hollywood cares more about making a blockbuster hit than using a skilled actor who has practiced, studied and perfected a proper Southern accent to accurately represent a Southern cowboy. No, instead we get a choppy, mushy version of a Southern Texas accent.

Hollywood needs to accurately portray the diverse and culturally-rich South, instead of popularizing and monetizing off of stereotypes and tropes by using southern accents, as a medium, for their humor and biases.