Story at glance
- Netflix is releasing the film adaptation of the best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy” in November.
- The response on social media to the trailer was mixed.
- Critics feel the memoir paints an unflattering picture of Appalachia with too broad a brush.
Not long after Netflix released the trailer for “Hillbilly Elegy,” Amy Adams — who plays the main characters’ mother in the film adaptation of the memoir — was trending on Twitter.
The campaign for Amy Adams to win the Academy Award has started. pic.twitter.com/Q8eSxhFwg6
— Sebastien (@sebdgallagher) October 14, 2020
Her performance as Bev Vance in the roughly two-minute trailer captivated many fans eagerly anticipating the film’s release on Nov. 24. But those familiar with social media know that no matter how quickly compliments come in, criticism can equally flood it out.
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In this case, it wasn’t necessarily Adams or her performance that critics had an issue with, but just the entire premise of the movie itself.
Amy Adams finally winning her Oscar for conservative poverty porn pic.twitter.com/UqYs9Q7EyY
— cassidy xcx (@olsencassidy) October 14, 2020
Published in 2016, “Hillbilly Elegy” rode a wave of interest in rural America after voters stumped the pollsters by electing President Trump. Author J. D. Vance, a venture capitalist, wrote a memoir about his childhood in Middletown, Ohio, that touched on issues of poverty and drug abuse. But natives of the region questioned Vance’s self-proclaimed “hillbilly” identity, assumed via his Appalachian grandparents.
I’ve heard there’s a Hillbilly Elegy trailer and it’s a good day to remember that JD Vance is a hedge fund millionaire who has never lived in Appalachia
— John Ray (@johnlray) October 14, 2020
The book also blames “social rot,” or the culture of Appalachia, and a lack of personal responsibility for the region’s conservative politics. Vance has identified as a social conservative and is critical of some of the Republican party’s economic policies, but economics takes second chair to work ethic in his memoir.
There are Appalachian stories worth telling. Hillbilly Elegy isn’t one. Give movie deals to actual Appalachians, or at least to someone who doesn’t use my people as an allegory, so he can throw his hands up and say systemic poverty is based in personal laziness. Bless his heart.
— Nick Morroweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge (@NRMorrow) October 15, 2020
Critics accuse Vance of looking down on these communities and profiting off of a one-sided portrayal of their lives. To remedy this, several writers published “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’” edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, in 2019. The anthology includes poems, photographs, memoirs and even comics — some kinder to Vance than others.
An Ohio Democrat named Betsy Rader wrote, “Vance’s sweeping stereotypes are shark bait for conservative policymakers. They feed into the mythology that the undeserving poor make bad choices and are to blame for their own poverty, so taxpayer money should not be wasted in programs to help lift people out of poverty.”
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