Arkansas on page and screen


Need more entertainment during your quarantine to flatten the curve of the coronavirus? Here are some Arkansas related books, movies, television shows and documentaries to enjoy. They not only entertain, but also provide a glimpse of Arkansas landscapes, culture and history that you can visit in the future.

True Grit

The late Charles Portis, an El Dorado native, is perhaps best known for his bestselling 1968 novel True Grit, a portrayal of Arkansas culture and the Wild West in the late 1870s. You can read and watch this one.

The story involves Rooster Cogburn being hired by Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl from Dardanelle, to track down her father’s killer and return him to Fort Smith to be hanged by Judge Isaac Parker. Cogburn is the famous fictional Deputy U.S. Marshal made popular by John Wayne in the movie of the same name some 50 years ago. Other cast members included Arkansas’ own Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. In 2010, a new film adaptation directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen was released nationwide.

When life gets back to normal, consider a drive along the True Grit Trail. You’ll find signage along the Ark. 22 route between Dardanelle and Fort Smith.

True Detective

The critically acclaimed HBO crime drama True Detective is macabre at its heart. In its third season, the show depicts the lives of two detectives following a trail of missing children across Arkansas’s small towns and backroads.

The landscape it’s filmed in becomes a beautiful character in the story, despite the heavy subject. It’s easy to see why the show’s creator and director, Nic Pizzolato, wanted it filmed in Northwest Arkansas. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and knows this territory well.

Calico Joe

Mixing fact and fiction, Calico Joe is John Grisham’s first baseball novel. It’s about a nearly fatal pitch and its implications 30 years later on both the batter and the pitcher. The batter is Joe Castle, known as “Calico Joe,” because he is from Calico Rock, Arkansas. His hometown plays a role in the story since it’s where he ends up after his baseball career is over.

A Soldier’s Story

Shot completely in Arkansas, including scenes filmed in Clarendon, Little Rock and at Fort Chaffee, A Soldier’s Story was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It co-starred a young Denzel Washington. The movie is about Capt. Richard Davenport, who is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black Army master sergeant in 1944.

Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hangin’ Judge

Larry Foley’s latest documentary, Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hangin’ Judge, tells the story of the wild and violent frontier days in and around Fort Smith, Arkansas and Indian Territory, when Judge Isaac C. Parker sentenced more than 100 men to die on the gallows.

Visit all the sites mentioned in the documentary with a future trip to Fort Smith. Hot Springs, Fayetteville and a trip to iconic Buffalo National River are detailed in other documentaries: The First Boys of Spring “The Buffalo Flows,” and “Up Among the Hills-the Story of Fayetteville.”

For more Arkansas book and movie ideas go to

Jill Rohrbach is a travel writer for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.