There are few close encounter cases as famous as the story of Betty and Barney Hill, the interracial couple who in the 1960s became the first publicly known case of what would later be called “alien abduction” — classically described as a type of close encounter in which the entities take the witnesses aboard their craft against their will (usually subjugated by some sort of mind control) to perform a series of painful medical procedures (even though no two experiences are exactly alike).
In fact, over the years the popularity of the Hills case has only been matched by the controversy surrounding it, and the numerous attitudes taken towards it by people on both sides of the UFO camp; ranging from people who believe everything about the experience as retrieved from the memories of Betty and Barney, both consciously and throughout the hypnosis sessions conducted by psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon (an expert in trauma who used hypnosis in his practice to alleviate the stress of war veterans), should be taken literally; to those who think the Hills suffered from a shared delusion triggered by a sighting of Jupiter while they were returning from their delayed honeymoon in Niagara falls (about one mile south of Indian Head, NH) which was furthered fueled by Betty’s dreams over the course of weeks after the sighting took place —never mind the fact that the Air Force did confirm their radars had indeed tracked an unidentified object around the time the Hills claimed to have had their otherworldly detention.
Which is why the recent announcement that streaming giant Netflix is planning to release a movie called White Mountains about the Hills case fills me with reserved elation:
The movie will be written by the screenwriting partners of Becky Leigh and Mario Kyprianou. The writing duo also penned the 2014 movie, The Republic of Rick. What’s on Netflix also reports that the feature will be produced by Higher Ground Productions, the production company of former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama. Netflix had formed a partnership with the former first couple, and this film will be a new addition to their growing roster of films after titles like Kevin Hart’s Fatherhood and Michael Keaton’s Worth.
The logline for the film reads, “After an interracial couple in the 1960s has a horrifying encounter with a UFO, they set out to discover if it actually happened, or if it is just a case of folie à deux–madness for two.“
First red flag for me is that the movie is produced by the Obamas. Throughout the years I’ve written on several occasions on how former president Barack Obama has always treated the UFO subject as a comedy punchline, even after the phenomenon lost some of its stigma and he was forced to admit that Yes, there are things out there that reputable witnesses like Navy pilots report from time to time which escape mundane explanations. Will White Mountains signal a total 180-degree on his attitude toward UFOs, now that they’ve gotten a new shiny coat of paint and a flashy new acronym —Unidentified Anomalous (née ‘Aerial’) Phenomena, or UAP— which increases their respectability?
Maybe… But it still feels like exploitation for personal gain.
Another aspect of this project that gives me pause is that Angela Hill, the granddaughter of Barney who is a known UFC fighter, is also involved with the production. Now, I have absolutely nothing against Angela (and for the interests of disclosure, I am not a fan of mixed martial arts) but I seem to recall that when she began to talk about his grandfather and the UFO case he was famous for (this was on a podcast broadcast seven years ago) she distinctively gave the impression that members of her side of the family did not fully believe in the story, and in fact it was their opinion that Barney had somehow been ‘bewitched’ by his wife Betty. From the looks of more recent interviews though, it seems she either changed her claims somehow or she clarified it more:
“When I was in art school I did a whole documentary about it. I went to Philly where all my dad’s family is and talked to all the close relatives about my grandfather. They kind of recall when it happened, they all believe it.”
“My other grandmother’s the only one who’s like ‘Him and that witch are crazy,’” she laughs.
The “other grandmother” being Barney’s first wife, with which he fathered two sons (before she divorced her and married Betty) who have never been interviewed by the media about the case as far as I know.
Incidentally, in that old podcast interview Angela makes it clear her side of the family wanted nothing to do with her grandfather’s UFO story, “unless money was involved;” I guess a Netflix deal would definitely change that… Yet it still seems odd that Kathleen Marden —Betty’s niece who is a prominent UFO researcher and co-wrote the book Captured! With Stanton Friedman about her uncles’ experiences— doesn’t seem to be involved with this project.
Why wouldn’t the producers want someone who actually knew Barney (unlike Angela, who was born in ’85) involved in a movie about him?
So, once again, I eagerly await the release of White Mountains with some trepidation. No doubt it will be a top-notch cinematic production that will explore racial tensions in the United States in the mid-XXth century, and the implications thereof within an interracial couple who also happened to be heavily involved with the civil rights movement. But how the UFO component —which is the sole reason Betty and Barney are remembered outside their family circles— will be treated, here it is hoping it will at least not be just regarded as another cheap joke.
Oh, and good luck to whomever is charged with trying to outperform James Earl Jones!