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Is Hillbilly Elegy based on a true story?

is hillbilly elegy a true story
Glenn Close and Owen Asztalos in Hillbilly Elegy. Pic credit: Netflix

The movie Hillbilly Elegy is the latest story brought to life by Ron Howard. It stars acclaimed actresses Glenn Close and Amy Adams.

Hillbilly Elegy recently arrived on Netflix, giving viewers a new film to watch just in time for Thanksgiving.

Those who have seen it, or plan to see it, are wondering if the story told in Hillbilly Elegy is one that was created for the screen or if it truly happened.

Hillbilly Elegy shows family history

In the movie Hillbilly Elegy, a Yale law student receives an urgent phone call that brings him back to his Appalachian hometown in Ohio. Once he’s there, he reflects on three generations of his family history, as well as where he’s heading in his own future.

Two Golden Globe-winning actresses head up the Hillbilly Elegy cast in Amy Adams stars as the troubled Bev Vance and Glenn Close portrays her mother, Mamaw Vance.

In the role of J.D. Vance is Gabriel Basso, with Owen Asztalos portraying the younger version. J.D. is the son of Bev and the grandson of Mamaw Vance. Also starring in the film are Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, Stephen Kunken, and Sunny Mabrey.

The movie, which was written by Vanessa Taylor, was directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind). It carries an R-rating for violence, language, and drug content as it showcases the struggles that J.D. Vance encounters and recalls being part of with his family in Ohio.

Hillbilly Elegy checks in at just under two hours and has mostly a positive audience score so far on Rotten Tomatoes at 79 percent. The official trailer released by Netflix is shared below.

Is Hillbilly Elegy based on a true story?

Director Ron Howard has brought several biographical and historical dramas to the screen, including A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, and Cinderella Man. So is Hillbilly Elegy a true story?

The movie is actually based on 2016’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance. He’s 36 years old and from Middletown, Ohio, which matches up with the movie.

In his book, he wrote about his own upbringing, which included Appalachian values and how they related to social problems in his hometown. Vance’s book was a New York Times Best Seller in 2016 and 2017 and also a finalist for the 2017 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

However, it also received criticism from some Appalachians who believed Vance wasn’t a true hillbilly and that he wasn’t really someone who represented the white working class. That’s because Vance spent some of his summers as a boy with his hillbilly grandparents, and critics believed he had combined that experience and identity with his own.

In terms of Vance’s story, he was born as James Donald Bowman to parents Donald Bowman and Bev Vance. Vance also had just one sister, Lindsay, whom his mother had at age 19.

Bowman’s mother and father divorced when he was just a toddler, and his mother’s third husband then adopted him.

However, his mother began to have prescription pain issues and developed a heroin addiction that lasted through Bowman’s childhood. Due to this, his mother was unstable and had several different husbands; it meant he and his sister were raised by their grandparents.

This is where Vance drew the experiences from that he detailed in his 2016 memoir and what the Hillybilly Elegy movie brings to the screen in dramatic fashion.

J.D. Vance and Ron Howard appeared as part of a video conversation hosted by the Library of Congress and Netflix. In the 34-minute video (below), they discuss the creative process involved in bringing Vance’s memoir to the screen.

Hillbilly Elegy is currently streaming on Netflix.