‘Blood on the Mountain’ digs into coal’s corruption
Tommy Anderson | Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Imagine a region in this world where the air you breath is poison, the water you drink is ghastly and the land you live on is subject to utter destruction. Cancer rates are 50 percent higher than the anywhere else and birth defects are 43 percent higher than the rest of the country you live in. This place not only exists in the world, it’s right here in the United States: the Appalachia region of West Virginia.
To begin discussing the issues in Appalachia first means addressing its existence. Coal mining is undeniably woven into the blood of West Virginia’s history, and the estimated three trillion dollar exploitation that has happened there is often pushed under the table because of large corporations’ control over all outlets both politically and in the media. Filmmakers Mari-Lynn C. Evans and Deborah Wallace confront the grimy situation head-on in their documentary “Blood on the Mountain.” Their film aims to fill in history textbooks that simply skip over the polarized topic because, according to West Virginia’s governor, “it would make them look bad.”
The Battle of Blair Mountain occurred less than a century ago, but it is covered up and removed by local schools. The event is West Virginia’s version of Tiananmen Square. With no internet, cell phone towers or communication with the world outside their own, citizens are left uneducated, dehumanized and uninformed of life beyond coal’s grasp. Problems with yellow journalism and corporate malpractice dates back to the times during Lincoln’s presidency when coal companies started flexing their control over the region. Without any ability to voice their opinion, workers are left either dead from the black lung or silenced. The hopelessness in the eyes of the people that live in Appalachia crowns these sorrows. In an interview, Evans discussed the feudal living that these workers experience, victimized by the large coal companies. The coal mines are the only places to work and the air is “so thick it can be cut with a knife,” says one of the workers that has silicosis, which is an extremely common disease among mine workers. Tens of thousands of these workers have contracted silicosis and the black lung, leaving them unemployed and without healthcare or pensions. The miners have suffered tremendously throughout the years, with nothing being changed.
When asked about the release of the film being timed with the election, Wallace commented that “sometimes the release date is set, other times it sets itself.” Evans said that American politics is in a tricky state, and big changes are coming, for better or for worse. Undeniably, however, something must be done. The coal industry is dying, and to deny this denies the possibility of change. The last decade has witnessed the death of coal’s influence, and to allocate money back to coal would be to deny helping the situation of Appalachia. For too long, the coal companies have been able to buy politicians, but the hope for this film is to bring national attention to the need for change for the region in West Virginia.
The film is extremely well made, voicing opinions across the entire issue. From ongoing rallies to archival footage, the film is as much a historical lesson as it is a riveting political picture. Evans and Wallace happily relayed to me that the film has begun the discussion between important political leaders to address this polemic on West Virginia. Before this film existed a divide across the political spectrum existed that halted progression and even discussion about Appalachia. The film aims to pay its respect and acknowledge what has happened while also encouraging action to rectify the injustices that have plagued Appalachia.
Evans warns that what has happened in Appalachia is happening, or can happen, in other parts of the country and the world. The American culture is under attack from large corporations, who devalue human life and happily exchange natural resources for quarterly earnings. Evans claims the film is “Heaven-sent and Hell-proof,” and this is as good of a selling point as any, for the excitement of change around changing Appalachia is gaining momentum, and the film has not even been officially released yet.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.