When two filmmakers made a recent documentary about poverty and rural identity in Appalachia, the first thing they did was track down a man named Billy Redden. In 1971, a Hollywood casting director for the horror movie “Deliverance” discovered Mr. Redden, then a teenager, at his school in Georgia. The director was looking for someone to play a so-called inbred. Mr. Redden’s now-famous scene, in which he plucks a banjo while sitting on a back-porch swing, remains a reference point for how some people describe poor, rural America. “You can’t make a movie about media representations of Appalachia without telling the story of ‘Deliverance,’” says Ashley York, co-director of the 2018 documentary “Hillbilly.” Though the role brought Mr. Redden brief fame, he’s disturbed by the thriller’s lingering impression of mountain people as destitute rapists. “He wouldn’t have done it had he known that,” says Ms. York. Almost 50 years since “Deliverance,” Hollywood still exerts a powerful influence on perceptions of America’s countryside. Three recent movies – “Hillbilly Elegy,” “Nomadland,” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” – are provoking fresh conversation about their portrayals of the rural underclass. It’s a touchy topic. White, rural voters have been excoriated in some quarters of the media for voting for Donald Trump. Consequently, popular culture depictions of those in the countryside are often viewed through a political lens. Those living in small-town America worry about how they’re portrayed by filmmakers who’ve parachuted into a locale. Others argue that the outsider storytellers can bring fresh perspectives […]