Popular discourse has decreed that Donald Trump’s shock election victory in November 2016 was a triumph for the ‘left behind’ white working-class. Suffering at the hands of deindustrialisation, globalisation, automation, voting for Trump was akin to a cultural revolt. The problematic tendency to assert that this rebellion came from nowhere belies the fact that there is, and has been, in American visual culture a concerted attempt to take them seriously. American independent cinema has in the past decade challenged prevailing tendencies in mainstream film and television to denigrate, undermine or demonise the white working-class as unsophisticated rednecks or bloodthirsty psychopaths.
Independent filmmakers such as Kelly Reichardt, Jeff Nichols, Andrea Arnold, Courtney Hunt, Debra Granik and Taylor Sheridan have shone a light on the disenfranchised people of white America, their struggles and their disenchantment. Set in what are often uncharitably described as the ‘flyover states’ (Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, Ohio), films such as Wendy and Lucy (2008), Certain Women (2016), Shotgun Stories (2007), Mud (2012), American Honey (2016), Frozen River (2008), Winter’s Bone (2010), Hell or High Water (2016) and Wind River (2017) expose the desolation at the margins of American society. This paper will demonstrate, through close analysis of narrative structure, visual style and characterisation, how these films represent ‘The Real America’ in ways that depart from the caricatured image of the ‘Trump voter’ to locate the origins of white working-class America’s angst.