Arkansas in the Movies
by Guy Lancaster, editor of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
The recent Academy Awards celebration put me in mind of the many movies filmed in—or made about—Arkansas, if only because while the state has sent forth a number of talented people who have been nominated for—and won—Oscars, the state itself has taken home very few. Billy Bob Thornton received one for Sling Blade, filmed and set in central Arkansas, and John Wayne received an Oscar for his role in True Grit, a film that at least started out in Fort Smith, even if it went west from there.
But some Arkansas films at least had the honor of being nominated. Although coy about its Arkansas connections (being based loosely upon the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton), the film Primary Colors received two Academy Award nominations. Clinton also looms large in The War Room, a documentary about his presidential campaign which was nominated for Best Documentary. Brubaker, based upon a cont movie A Soldier’s Story was actually filmed entirely in Arkansas and received three Academy Award nominations. There had been some early discussion among critics that the 2018 film Boy Erased, based upon a memoir by Garrard Conley (who grew up in northern Arkansas), might be recognized by the Academy, but it didn’t make the cut.
Granted, there are plenty of Arkansas films that were never made with a thought of competing at the Oscars, such as the Roger Corman movies Bloody Mama, Boxcar Bertha, and Fighting Mad, though the last two helped to launch the careers of their directors, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme, respectively, who went on to take that statuette home. And we can also forgive the Academy for overlooking The Day It Came to Earth, Pass the Ammo, or The White River Kid. But the real snub was A Face in the Crowd. If ever the Academy decides to institute a “Best Picture We Overlooked at the Time” category, this one takes it home, hands down.