Ron Howard Should Not Be In Jail

You don’t like J.D. Vance? Well, it’s not Ron Howard’s fault

I was on my regular post-screening Wednesday night doomscroll through culture Twitter when one post really jumped out at me: “Ron Howard should be in jail.”

Ron Howard? Richie Cunningham? The man who directed Apollo 13, the last great astronaut movie that didn’t depict men crying in space? He should be in jail? Why?

And then I did a little search. Apparently, a lot of people on Twitter think that Ron Howard should be in jail. Or face a public tribunal, or worse. His crime? He made the movie version of Hillbilly Elegy, the disingenuous “out of Appalachia” memoir that launched the political career of now Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance.

There was no “Red Wave” on Tuesday. And most of the Republicans who did win big weren’t any surprise. With Donald Trump disgraced, at least for the moment and possibly forever, the commentariat needed to find a new big bad. That big bad is J.D. Vance. And across the board, filmmakers, critics, and novelists cursed the publishing industry and Ron Howard for bringing Vance into the light.

Let us make our position clear: Ron Howard should not be in jail. When Hillbilly Elegy came out on Netflix in 2020, Ron Howard took to the highly partisan airwaves of CBS This Morning to defend his good name in the face of lots of criticism:

“What I saw was a family drama that could be very relatable. Yes, culturally specific, and if you’re fascinated by that, I hope you find it interesting. If you’re from the region, I hope you find it authentic, because that was our aim and effort. But I felt it was a bridge to understanding that we’re more alike than we are different.”

Did he succeed? Not really. Most critics savaged Hillbilly Elegy, including the one from this publication. It’s one of those cultural trainwrecks that happens from time to time. But it’s absurd to say that Ron Howard has anything to answer for because J.D. Vance is now a Senator. Maybe Howard, who hasn’t been broke in a long time, if ever, was trying too hard to get down with the poors, and maybe he picked the wrong source material. But he also made Parenthood, and the DaVinci Code, and Splash, and Cocoon. He directed A Beautiful Mind, for pity’s sake! Ron Howard has contributed more to global culture than all his critics on Twitter ever will.

To be clear, this is not just one random person saying that Howard should pay. Quite a few people online, some of whom have tens of thousands of followers, are saying that a director should go to jail, or “pay for his crimes” in some unspecified way, because the author of a book that he turned into a movie ran for office as a Republican and won. These people are only being semi-ironic. In the ongoing tribunal that is their discourse, they truly believe that Howard has done something wrong.

You will never “forgive” him because some random puffy knob-man became a Senator? You should be begging him to forgive you. Ron Howard is not a traitor to America, or even a Republican.  The only former member of the Happy Days cast who’s now a card-carrying  MAGA is Scott Baio. Howard produced and narrated Arrested Development, the ultimate satire of Bush-era excess. Scott Baio was never getting that gig.

Let’s turn to Ron Howard’s own Twitter feed on election week to see how much of a traitor he is. His most ideological tweet was posting a news article concerned about Republican rhetoric about Social Security cuts. That’s political content worthy of the AARP Bulletin, not Rush Limbaugh. He also seems somewhat concerned that Republicans are plotting to steal the next election. Or look at this horrifying Tweet encouraging people to get out and vote:

Ron Howard is a real American. A Great American. One of the greatest Americans. OK, maybe Solo wasn’t so great, but that wasn’t all his fault. He took over that project mid-stream. No one is to blame for J.D. Vance being in the Senate but the millions of people in Ohio who voted for him. Ron Howard is faultless in all things.

Ron Howard will never bask in heaven’s light? Like hell he won’t! If heaven exists, it was made for people like Ron Howard. And he should not be in jail.

Narrator: He didn’t go to jail.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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