Is Hollywood doing okay with Oklahoma?

there’s a moment in a hurry New Matt Damon drama “Stillwater” Which made me proud and a little disappointed too.

Damon’s character, Bill, is an unemployed Oklahoma oil-rig worker interviewing for a new job when he mentions my little-known hometown, Shawnee. exciting! But then he pronounces it wrong.

It’s a subtle difference that probably only an Oklahoman would raise the issue. He emphasizes the first syllable (SHAW-nee), but we emphasize both syllables. It’s the whole point of how the state’s various cities are pronounced in ways you might not expect: Miami, Okla., Florida sounds like the city until you reach the last syllable, which is “me.” Not “but”. The city of Prague rhymes with Craig.

My feelings about my Oklahoma roots are definitely mixed. Growing up there, I was deeply involved but not always invested, knowing even then that this would not be the right place for my future. There’s plenty of space in the state (maybe too much) and making friends was definitely easy. But I wanted more beyond its plains. Creative career options like film journalism were limited to say the least. I moved a year after graduating from college and haven’t lived there since, although most of my family still do. Nonetheless, there’s something about Oklahoma that I can’t shake, and I tend to be a little protective of it when it comes to the movies.

Probably your first cultural experience with the state was the Rodgers and Hammerstein music that bears its name. Oklahomans breathe that show and the 1955 film version as easy as air. For the many theater kids out there, it is a rite of passage to perform in its productions. I was in two, one in junior high, the other in high school. For Oklahoma “Oklahoma!” The trend of staging comes in 2020 Charlie Kaufman drama “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” Which is set in Oklahoma, but explores location and music more as a state of mind, rather than a real one.

Even if “Oklahoma!” Praises the wonderful smell of “Wheat Waving” and the joys of hawk-watching, a closer reading of those songs can give you a sense of a place where there isn’t much to do. Hollywood had probably realized this too.

When I started watching movies regularly as a child, there were only a few movies in Oklahoma. Tulsa was home to characters from “The Outsiders” (1983), which played a lot on cable. However the place in a stream of career-launching performances was assumed by the cast (Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon). And there’s a scene from the 1988 comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” that stands out in my memory: Steve Martin, playing a thug pretending to be mentally handicapped, Josh and shouts the name of the kingdom again and again While beating the dishes. Even if it was a trick, it was the most excitement I heard drumming for Oklahoma. Later came the 1996 blockbuster “Twister,” about a tornado chaser that couldn’t really be set in many other locations. And yet, the state was still affected by digital tornado impacts (and they sing)

Recent productions have focused on embarrassing episodes of history. The HBO limited series “Watchmen” made the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre a central, grim presence. And Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, “Killers of the Flower Moon”, also set in the 1920s, looks at the murders of members of the Osage Nation just as the oil boom was increasing their wealth.

“Stillwater” gets its name from the north-central home to Oklahoma State University and the popular restaurant eskimo jose. The title has a nice double meaning for a contemplative thriller (still waters running deep and all). While the film spends much of its time in Marseilles, France, where Bill tries to figure out how to get his daughter out of prison, Oklahoma’s moment with a perfect acquaintance captures a kind of working-class, no-frills environment. catch. And, city accents aside, Damon does a fine job with the Oklahoma accent, more than saying, Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘August: Osage County’. Damon definitely remains the kind of guy I know back home. To see him roam around Marseilles certainly feels like Oklahoma has landed on the southern coast of France.

I think “Stillwater” is using Oklahoma as a stand-in for Central America. It would have been nice if the film had spent a little more time on its name to portray it beyond a basic heartland location, but it also portrays Bill with a complexity that defies the assumptions that particular characters hold about him. make.

I’m hoping Oklahoma gets more opportunities to shine on the big screen. Perhaps one will approach the state again in the same spirit as Rodgers and Hammerstein and figure out how to present it, warts and all, in a genuine way and capture some of the sense of its simple, but earnest, character. Who knows, maybe Shawnee will finally get a close-up of this too.

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