the best books, movies, and shows about the south

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When I lived in Brooklyn, I suddenly found myself craving biscuits and sweet tea more than I ever had in my life. As much as I love the city, I found myself desperately missing even the smallest things about the South like how it actually smells good outside and the architecture even at highway rest stops tends to be pretty. This homesickness resulted in trips to Sweet Chick and watching Hart of Dixie on Netflix, something I never would have expected myself to do but it helped!

Even since moving back to the South, I’ve still been devouring lots of books and movies about the area. I gave up on Hart of Dixie because it wasn’t necessarily my thing, even though I’ll still recommend it on the list. So, whether you’re homesick for the South or just wanting to understand it a little more (which I highly suggest), here’s some recommendations:

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Dispatches From Pluto by Richard E. Grant
This is such a great memoir that I tore through and have not stopped thinking about. It follows Richard Grant, a British writer living in New York, who moves with his girlfriend to the Mississippi Delta after visiting a friend’s family compound and buying one of the houses. This is an excellent portrait of how wonderfully weird the Delta is and how/why life in the South is so different than anywhere else for reasons both good and bad.

Whiskey In a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon
In her lifestyle book, Reese shares everything from southern recipes and party ideas to stories from growing up in Nashville and lots of cute little details to inspire. I lover her grandmother’s sweet tea recipe, which I’ve made about a million times.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Perhaps the most well known Southern novel in which six-year-old Scout is living in the 1930s in a small Alabama town with her brother and single father. This is a story about judgment and prejudice that tells of the South’s dark history, and sometimes present.

Florida by Lauren Groff
These short stories capture the wild and bizarre side of the South from alligators and hurricanes to sinkholes, snakes, and so many other things relating to Florida’s climate, history, landscape, and state of mind but told in Groff’s beautifully creative way.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
This is a beautifully done novel version of Zelda Fitzgerald’s biography, starting from her late teen years in Montgomery in 1818 through her marriage to Scott Fitzgerald which takes her from New York City to Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera during the Jazz Age. I especially recommend this as an audiobook because the narrator does the Alabama accent and captures Zelda’s spirit so well.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This is the story of a murder at a mansion in Savannah and the people surrounding the mystery, including high-society women, rednecks, recluses, and voodoo priestesses.

 

Steel Magnolias (1989)
The magnum opus of Southern pop culture, in my honest opinion, this movie follows the lives of a group of women in Louisiana from southern weddings and the iconic beauty shop to the state fair and everything in between. It’s such a staple and features an all-star cast including the iconic Dolly Parton.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Another classic based on the novel by Fannie Flagg, this is a story about a woman who visits the local nursing home and hears from an older woman about her past as the owner of a small café in Alabama in the ‘20s.

Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
This movie is like a comfort food to me. Every time it’s on TV, I watch it because it gives me the best feeling and is actually hilarious. The story follows Melanie (Reese Witherspoon), a New York fashion designer, who has to return to her small hometown in Alabama when she discovers she isn’t actually divorced from her childhood sweetheart.

Selma (2014)
This gorgeous and haunting story is a necessary primer on race in the South and while the story of voter suppression and police violence may seem representative of the South’s past, I think we can all agree it’s just as relevant to the entire United States as it is today.

Gone With the Wind (1939)
If Steel Magnolias isn’t the magnum opus of southern culture, it’s Gone With the Wind. This Civil War drama is about a sassy-as-hell southern belle (I swear I did not mean or want to rhyme) Scarlett O’Hara, her affairs with Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes, and her life on the plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
This movie has a wonderfully heavy dose of magical realism and is set in the Mississippi Delta, following six-year-old Hushpuppy whose father is preparing her for the end of the world. As climate change and prehistoric beasts engulf her community, Hushpuppy is sent to find her long lost mother.

Forrest Gump (1994)
There was a fascinating interview with the author of the book that inspired this movie in Garden & Gun recently, which prompted me to rewatch it. It’s one I’ve seen a million times but each rewatch brings something new. Forrest Gump is the story of a disadvantaged man who doesn’t see his own disadvantage and manages to become hilariously successful, traveling the world and getting into all sorts of new ventures. The scenes in Savannah are, of course, my favorite.

 

True Blood
This is a rather silly, campy take on the South which is exactly why I love it. It’s about Sookie Stackhouse, a small town Louisiana waitress who gets wrapped up in a love affair with a vampire and all that comes with it.

Hart of Dixie
A New York doctor moves to Alabama after her distant father passes to take over his practice. The small town is super quirky and she has to contend with its equally quirky residents including Southern belle Lemon Breeland.

Friday Night Lights
A classic story about a football team in the kind of small Texas town that really only cares about football, so the players are treated like royalty yet behind-the-scenes, they have less than desirable home lives.

The Andy Griffith Show
Set in small town North Carolina, the town sheriff raises his son. This is a classic show that has a certain nostalgic charm about it with all of the lessons about morals without being preachy.

Atlanta
I wish there were more shows and movies like Atlanta that features black Southerners that aren’t slaves or struggling through the Civil Rights movement, but are contending with modern life. This show, created by Donald Glover, is about an aspiring rapper in the Atlanta music scene.