And the Oscar Ought to Go to…

[imgbelt img=ree-and-siblings530.jpg]Women like Ree Dolly don’t come from the cities of America


Roadside Attractions

Jennifer Lawrence (center) plays tough young heroine Ree Dolly, who struggles to protect her young sister and brother, played by Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone, in Winter’s Bone.

Of all the things that make those of us in west-central Iowa what we are, being rural is the most defining. Inspired by my friend Bill Bishop with the Center For Rural Strategies’ Daily Yonder I find myself increasingly viewing politics, business and issues of the day — and even pop culture — through a rural-vs.-urban lens.

And with the Academy Awards on Feb. 27, we in rural America have a rooting interest in the “Best Actress” category.

In the urban corner, we have a mesmerizing performance from Natalie Portman in Black Swan, a film about a ballet dancer, the fictional Nina Sayers, who takes a toxic blend of ambition and perfectionism to the cliff’s edge of insanity — and then Evel Knievels off before our eyes. Set in New York City this is an urban film with citified sensibilities and a main character engaging a very metro-like naval-gazing. The urban-dominated Academy, I’m guessing, is drawn to this role: you have to make Portman the favorite.

But she shouldn’t win. The prize should go to Jennifer Lawrence for creating, in Winter’s Bone, a rural heroine for the ages.

Poverty in America is often given an urban black face. It’s a stereotype, also visible in any metro area, from Des Moines and Omaha, to Chicago and New York City.

Rural white poverty is very much alive and well, too, although not always easy to spot, as it hides around the mountain or off a country road, in an apparently abandoned trailer that is, surprisingly, a home.

We don’t see it, or we don’t want to.

Winter’s Bone grabs us by the hand and leads us into this world, punching us in the face with its realities.

Set in the Missouri Ozarks, Winter’s Bone chronicles the heroic efforts of Ree Dolly. Amid the squalor of off-grid living and the danger of the methamphetamine trade that convulses her entire extended family, 17-year-old Ree, played brilliantly by Lawrence, raises two younger siblings.

Winter’s Bone won the grand jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Lawrence’s performance is the best performance I’ve seen in some time.