While I disagree with the suggestion by Louis Proyect over at Counterpunch that Out of the Furnace, like "Nebraska" is condescending class snobbery cinema, and just a rehashed action movie from the 1980s--the skeleton and structure may be similar; the artifice and resulting story are very different--I learned a bit more about the social context of Braddock, Pennsylvania, the community in which the film is set.
Like we are seeing in many other American cities, the forces of gentrification and invading hordes of hipsters are threatening the cultural integrity of these communities. Proyect calls this out here, while also offering up a harsh critique of the film:
And getting back to today’s Braddock, there’s little in common with the way it is portrayed in “Out of the Furnace”. If you take a close look at Russell Baze’s neck, you will see the tattoo of a number there: “15104”. That’s the zip code for Braddock, the same one that Mayor John Fetterman has on his arm.
Fetterman has been trying for a number of years to turn Braddock into a haven for artists looking for cheap loft rentals, just as happening in Detroit now. This has antagonized the largely African-American population of the town that feels left out of this gentrification experiment. They were far more interested in preserving the local hospital, a struggle that Braddock long-time resident Tony Buba has documented in “We are Alive! The Fight to Save Braddock Hospital”. That is a film that is much more honest about American social reality than “Out of the Furnace”.Louis Proyect is correct in that the "hillbillies" and "mountain people" in Out of the Furnace are one dimensional villains designed to channel anxieties from 1970s exploitation flicks such as The Hills Have Eyes, or even more mainstream horror movies such as Deliverance (yes, the latter is horror film). As depicted in Out of the Furnace, the "Mountain people" are "white trash". Moreover, with Woody Harrelson as their "leader", they are white trash that will kill and murder outsiders on a whim.
In 2010, New Yorker magazine offered a very compelling essay on the people who live in the Ramapo mountain region. There, Ben McGrath suggested that this anxiety about those "mountain people" may be tied to racial miscegenation, a counterculture spirit, and desire to exist independent of the State and its coercive power.
I knew something about the "WIN" tribe of Virginia: they are a group of "white-Indian-negros" as categorized by the United States Census and eugenicists at the turn of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And in my memory banks, I recall reading about mining communities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in which (then) free blacks and whites lived together in relatively integrated communities.
Ignorance is a blessing that we can embrace if it leads us to learning new things. To point. The following story of how race is made and formed is a fascinating one:
“Mountain people” is a euphemism for what locals used to call “Jackson Whites”—a racial slur that the referents equate with the word “nigger.” They call themselves Ramapough Mountain Indians, or the Ramapough Lenape Nation, using an old Dutch spelling for the name of the river that cuts through the Hudson and North Jersey Highlands, although suburban whites tend to think of them as racially indeterminate clansfolk. The Ramapoughs number a few thousand, marry largely among themselves, and are concentrated in three primary settlements: on and around Stag Hill, in Mahwah; in the village of Hillburn, New York, in the hollow below Stag Hill’s northern slope; and, west of Stag Hill, in Ringwood, New Jersey, in the remains of an old iron-mining complex. The settlements span two states and three counties—a circumstance with socially marginalizing consequences—but they are essentially contiguous if you travel through the woods, by foot or A.T.V....
The Ramapough Mountain Indians incorporated in 1978. The galvanizing event, for a group that had always been characterized by outsiders as disorganized and indifferent, was the publication of a book, “The Ramapo Mountain People,” which investigated the sources and validity of the folk legends, and concluded that they were mostly bunk: no Jackson, no hookers, no Hessians. Using baptismal and census records, the book’s author, a Rutgers professor named David Cohen, attempted to trace the movement of free “coloreds,” like Augustine Van Donck, from near the Collect Pond in lower Manhattan, in the seventeenth century, to the Hackensack River Valley and then to the Ramapo Mountains.
Cohen granted that individual Native Americans might have married into the new mountain families, but his thesis was that the people of the Ramapos were essentially “Afro-Dutch,” as he put it, and he suggested that their collective identification with Indian traits was itself a kind of internalized racism; not wishing to be black, they preferred to think of themselves as something rarer—as, indeed, the mainstream culture had always insisted they were. Still, he saw himself as an advocate for the people, and tried persuading them—“naïvely,” he now says—that they ought to embrace this new identity with pride: pioneering black landowners, among the first in the New World.Out of the Furnace is a great film precisely because it lingers in the mind after you leave the theater while also inspiring additional reading, research, and investigation. Most popular culture is disposable. Such is the nature of that type of cultural product. By comparison, Out of the Furnace leads the careful viewer to ask questions. For me, that is the highest praise which I can offer to a film.