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The new movie ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ on Netflix is sparking major controversy

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Hillbilly Elegy Netflix

Above: Photo Courtesy of Netflix “Hillbilly Elegy”

…To Stream or Not To Stream, that is the question? 

Hillbilly Elegy, now on Netflix, is a movie based on the 2016 book, a memoir written by J.D. Vance, that tells his story of the difficulties growing up with his drug-addicted mother in a small working-class town in the Appalachians. As rings true in the book, Vance’s character preservers, through hard work, ultimately to take on a better path that leads to his acceptance into Yale. 

The book became a best-seller, somewhat unexpectedly, with Harper Collins only initially running 10,000 copies, but then found themselves quickly having to  reprint.  Released during the time that the 2016 election was beginning to build steam, it was said to have gained its popularity, by giving both Democrats and Republican readers a better understanding of Donald Trump’s voter base.

Soon after the debut of book and massive success, Ron Howard’s production company bought the filming rights, in 2017, and then Netflix won the bidding war to finance the movie, a $45 million deal. The film is directed by Ron Howard and executive-produced by the author. 

After the release of the movie on Nov. 24, 2020 many critics had mixed reviews. Ranging from Oscar worthy to “worst movie ever”.  

The source of the controversy, no doubt, stems from how the movie plays out the “hillbilly” aspect of the narrative.  Some say that the depiction of the characters, while based on Vance’s life, only serves to further reinforce stereotypes of poor white America. 

Other critics note that the movie tries to sell the “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” type of made-for-film-fantasy while ignoring the very real hardships of addiction and systematic inequalities.  

The star-studded cast includes Glenn Close as J.D’s Mamaw (grandmother) and Amy Adams as Bev (his mother). The film is said to be a mostly straightforward adaptation of Vance’s book. The movie is now available to stream through the Netflix platform.   

Below is some additional information from the publisher about the 2016 book adapted to the new released film.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis 

Hillbilly Elegy
Click to see “Hillbilly Elegy
and help Independent Bookstores.
Also available on Amazon.

Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.


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