EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Entertainment has emerged from an auction with the film rights to the J.D. Vance’s NY Times bestselling debut memoir Hillbilly Elegy. Ron Howard will direct and will produce the film with his Imagine partner Brian Grazer. Grazer spearheaded the pursuit of the book with president Erica Huggins, and she also will be a producer. The memoir, which told Vance’s struggle-filled coming-of-age story, became a symbol for the disenfranchised Rust Belt contingent that rallied behind Donald Trump in the presidential election.
Although the memoir was specific to Vance, it was embraced as a personification of the everyday struggles of America’s white underclass, and it shone a light on issues including race and privilege in America. Raised poor in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, OH, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, KY, Vance grew up among the working-class “hillbillies.” He and his family members endured struggles including drug addiction and social and economic hardship. The youth mostly was raised by his larger-than-life grandmother, Mamaw, and he developed a deep appreciation for education. That laid the foundation for him to rise out of poverty and its cultural restraints.
After enlisting in the Marine Corps and serving in Iraq, Vance graduated from the Ohio State University and Yale Law School. He became a successful venture capitalist, has contributed to the National Review and recently joined CNN as a political contributor. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 36 weeks.
“Hillbilly Elegy is a powerful, true coming-of-age memoir by J.D. Vance,” Imagine’s Huggins said. “Through the lens of a colorful, chaotic family and with remarkable compassion and self-awareness, J.D. has been able to look back on his own upbringing as a ‘hillbilly’ to illuminate the plight of America’s white working class, speaking directly to the turmoil of our current political climate.”
Julie Oh will oversee the project for Imagine. WME negotiated the deal on behalf of Vance with Imagine’s Steve Shikiya and Ziffren Brittenham attorney Logan Clare.