Some of the best shows and movies to come out of Hollywood are those that explore the glamourous world of Tinseltown itself. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” are only a couple of works that depict the harsh realities of actors, directors and writers set in different eras in the town’s history. Joining the timeline is Netflix’s original series “Hollywood” that takes viewers back to the 1940s — a time when the film industry’s prejudiced atmosphere ruled over any opportunities for stardom. Created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, “Hollywood” reimagines and, in fact, rewrites, history.
The show follows charming war veteran and Hollywood wannabe Jack Castello (David Corenswet) whose acting abilities need some work but whose looks fit the stereotypical Hollywood conditions perfectly — a dashing, clean-cut white male. His coworker, Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), on the other hand, is gay and black — two qualities which would ordinarily exclude him from a seat at any production table of 1940s Hollywood. However, Coleman’s talent as a screenwriter (plus a blind submission of his script) gets him a foot in the door. His script about the story of Peg Entwistle, the young actress who infamously died by jumping off the Hollywoodland sign in 1932, catches the attention of Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), an aspiring director looking to make movie history. He teams up with Ace Studios, newly owned by Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), and hires Castello to play Peg’s love interest, Sam, who attempts to stop Entwistle from her fatal decision. Coleman decides to change the script by giving it a new name, “Meg,” and rewrites a more inspiring and less discouraging ending. Ainsley’s girlfriend Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), a woman of color usually typecast as a maid, is ultimately cast as the leading lady role. Together they produce the movie with hopes for its success amidst media rage and discrimination against the group of diverse individuals.
Murphy takes an approach that’s unlike any other historical Hollywood drama. He blends fact and fiction by incorporating popular golden age figures and giving them a new narrative to suggest what could have happened if the industry’s racial and homophobic setbacks were lifted. The most notable alteration was given to Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) by making him an openly gay actor dealing with his stringent talent agent Henry Willson (Jim Parsons). The real-life Hudson was an actor in the 1940s whose true story suggests how Hollywood’s discriminatory environment made it impossible for him to be open about his sexuality amid his successful acting career. Although he and Willson consciously kept his homosexuality away from the press, Murphy reimagines him as if he were to come out at the start of his career. In the last episode, we can see Hudson holding hands with his boyfriend Archie on the red carpet of the Academy Awards ceremony.
The series not only explores issues of race and sexuality but also of gender discrimination by shining a light on the role of women as authoritative figures in the industry. Avis Amberg, whose late husband ran Ace Studios, is given the opportunity to become the new studio head — the role that gave her the power to greenlight “Meg” and all its groundbreaking glory. LuPone’s performance is riveting in the way she stands up against the ignorance shown towards her and displays a revolutionary role of women given a position of power.
Like many of Murphy’s other works (“The Politician,” “Glee,” etc.) this seven-part series revolves around the theme of various individuals fighting their way to the top and doing whatever they can to get there. When we first meet each character, they’re all struggling and most resort to desperate measures. Castello, in particular, is financially unable to support his wife and twins on the way due to the fact that he hadn’t yet landed any big roles. These hardships lead him to join a team of handsome young gigolos at the Golden Tip Gasoline Station run by Ernie West (Dylan McDermott).
Stylistically, Murphy lures audiences with vibrant camerawork, upbeat jazz interludes and outfits that make you wish 40s fashion would make a comeback. The plot is confusing at times with multiple storylines going on at once, but the star-studded cast make up for it with their spot-on portrayals. It stands out from any other meta Hollywood film by addressing issues still relevant in the film business but insisting that they have come a long way since the times of Rock Hudson and Jack Castello. “Hollywood” is a show that wishes things could have been different but leaves viewers with some hope for the years ahead.
Jacqui Pash is an Entertainment Intern for the 2020 spring quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.