Where can we hear the worst southern accent of all time? Is it Tom Hanks as the lovable but stupid Forrest Gump? Is it SNL alum Dan Akyroyd in Driving Miss Daisy? How about the mess present in Django? Often, British, Irish or Scottish actors will nail a southern accent before Hollywood even thinks of hiring a southerner (see Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind or Kelly Macdonald in No Country for Old Men).

Any way you cut it, a southern accent in a Hollywood movie is bad news. Either the accent is designed to portray stupidity, slovenliness and/or poverty (see Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) or it’s ready to spout a bunch of racism under the guise of Old South (see North & South). [1]

Hollywood does not hesitate to use the beautiful architecture and scenery of the South. Covington, Georgia has been the filming location for In the Heat of the Night, the Accountant and other award-winning performances.[2] Yet the local Georgia accent remains elusive to Hollywood executives.

The history behind a southern accent would make anyone stop short. With French boulevards heard in a Louisiana Creole accent, and British fox hunts heard in a Virginia accent, while Texan accents contain Mexican inflections, every southern accent is unique. It may be this originality that Hollywood struggles to grasp.

Moreover, accents are not unique to the American south. Rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland have their own dialect, as do Pennsylvanians in Lancaster. Old timers in California speak differently than cattlemen in Idaho, and none of these American accents ever cross the screen except maybe in a podcast or two.

When given the opportunity to honor a southern man or woman, Hollywood can’t get out of dodge fast enough. For example, with Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, filming took place in Australia! Moreover, press releases talk more about Baz Luhrmann’s stars posing with Bombay Sapphire gin than the legendary southern crooner, so famous no one dares name their child Elvis again.[3]

While the South remains elusive to Hollywood, this is a strength. The true nature of the South remains out of reach of a money-making machine, less concerned with accuracy than image. So the South remains hidden. She does not reveal herself on camera. And she certainly wouldn’t think of doing so to a group that could not say “hey y’all” with any authenticity.


[1] The Best and Worst Of Hollywood Southern Accents – One Country

[2] Chris Queen, Hollywood’s Terrible Southern Accent Syndrome, Hollywood’s Terrible Southern Accent Syndrome – PJ Media July 16 2013

[3] Baz Luhrmann on Elvis and an Expansive View of Creativity | Vanity Fair

Sara Sass

Sara Sass is an attorney in Virginia.


  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    Well said.

  • Rudy Panko says:

    “Moreover, accents are not unique to the American south. Rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland have their own dialect, as do Pennsylvanians in Lancaster.”

    Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon Line, and was once considered Virginia’s closest sister. Lee considered it a Southern state. While it has urbanized, and the culture has shifted, please do not lump the state in with Pennsylvania and the North.

    • Meade Skelton says:

      Maryland is definitely Southern influenced, but it’s a text book border state, and I feel the same way about Kentucky, which many people regard as the South, but Kentucky borders on Ohio. Ironically, most people don’t hesitate to include Kentucky as part of the South, yet Virginia- which was the birthplace of Southern culture and the Capital of the Confederacy gets lumped in with the “Mid Atlantic”. If Virginia is “Mid Atlantic” then Kentucky is the Midwest

  • Lee Kramer says:

    Before I even read this article my first thought just from the title was ‘Hell or High Water’. The reason being I cringed every time Jeff Bridges (Texas Ranger what a joke) said “Brazos” in that movie! In Texas ‘Brazos’ could be used as a shibboleth. I overlooked Chris Pine (California) and Ben Foster (Massachusetts) playing Texans but I draw the line on the butchering the name of my river. I was born in Waco, and I grew up in Rosenberg-Richmond and West Columbia, Texas all on the Brazos River. You always knew an outsider if they pronounced it with a long ‘a’ and ‘o’ rather than with the correct pronunciation short ‘a’ and ‘o’. It still drives me to distraction every time I hear it in movies and TV shows.

  • Lee Kramer says:

    I forgot how years ago upon learning of all of the British, Irish, and Scots playing southerners. I thought they were native Southers up to that point. Then one day it occurred to me when pondering this phenomenon how that the northeasters consider southern dialects to be uncouth gutter accents. Yet British, Irish, and Scots don’t seem to play yankees nearly as well in those rolls. Example ‘Chappaquiddick a.k.a. The Senator’ Australian actor Jason Clarke did a rather poor ‘New England-Massachusetts cockney’ accent which all of the Kennedy family has have. I say ‘Massachusetts cockney’ based on a conversation I one had with a woman I meet at a homeschool get-together at my home. I had always assumed she was a Midwesterner (Illinois) from her accent. I explained how my ex-mother-in-law who is from Maine sounded like she came from south Boston. She bristled at any association with that very common accent. She then explained that that accent in New England was looked down upon by anyone who used it. Just as cockney is frowned upon in England. As a matter of fact, my ex-wife always had to interpret what her mother said to me because I rarely understood her when she spoke. Since then, I have always referred to it as the New England-Massachusetts cockney accent. My ex-wife always joked about the way her mother spoke, (pac the ca)(park the car) they drop the use of the letter ‘r’. It occurred to me that the Southern accent is much more like the original English and is therefore easier to portray. Jason Clarke (Australia) and Tom Hardy (England) were in ‘Lawless’ and played very believable Southerns.

  • Joyce Bennett says:

    The lovely Southern dialects of Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore are not heard as much these days drowned out by the unpleasant speech of Yankee carpetbaggers. Southern speech is the preserved language of the ancient British Isles. A Brit portraying a Southerner is preferable to a Yankee trying to do so.

    • Joyce Bennett says:

      I neglected to say that, though I disagree with what the author said about The Old Line State, this essay made many good points and that my vote for the worst Southern accent is Burt Reynolds’ cringe-worthy attempt in the movie Deliverance.

  • Larry says:

    Interesting article . This Northerner(I don’t consider myself a “Yankee”) says ya’ll sometimes. I hope that’s ok. Interestingly enough, I live in Western,NY(about 400 miles from NYC) and some people I’ve known that lived “in the country”(I’m in a suburb) about 40 miles from me speak with their own accent and sound sorta Southern(to me) including saying “hey ya’ll”.

    • Meade Skelton says:

      It’s a country accent, but definitely not Southern. I have been to Upstate New York and they got those hard “rs”. In Virginia the r vowel is way softer, and there’s a cadence up there that is different too- almost like a mix of Canadian and Midwest sounding.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    The last time I paid to see a movie was 1989. I make it a point not to give money to people who hate me. I have not owned a tv for decades but I have learned to play guitar with all the free time and money I’ve saved.

    As far as HELL OR HIGH WATER goes, there is much truth in that movie…it was made to make the statement WE’RE ALL SLAVES OF THE BANKERS…and makes it well.

    “Well, that looks like a man who could foreclose on a house.” One of the many great lines in the movie…and yes, they should have hired me (or someone who has actually been to Texas for more than a movie shoot) to play the role of the Ranger.

  • Lynn Dowless says:

    If you notice, any individual, group,or nation that stands up to the banking dynasties and tries to break away, is slandered and demonized. The South did just that, and was persistent about producing its own coin backed in gold, up until the very end. It was a war against enslavement by the centralized banks and the corporations. The intent by these forces of corporation and central bank, was to exchange slavery from the individuals hand over to their own. I know all about this. I’ve heavily researched the history. I wrote two books on this. One is called Reflections on the Loss of the Free born American Nation, and the other is Stairway to Tyranny. Get both on Amazon now.

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