Ryan Murphy's Hollywood: A review of the good and the bad in the Netflix miniseries
A handful watch
Let's set the scene. It's post-World War II in the 1940s and everyone from aspiring actors to filmmakers in Tinseltown wants a slice of the Hollywood pie. Small roles, side roles, lead roles, cameos, appearances, type-cast — anything to make it into the movies. Anything. There's a variety of players: gays, straights, people of colour, and across ages. All the diversity boxes ticked.
The series exposes the dirty side of the film industry. Each character offers its own glimpse behind the gilded curtain of Hollywood's Golden Age, spotlighting the unfair systems and biases across race, gender, and sexuality, as well as the decades-old power dynamics. Nothing new there. But the show does attempt to portray what the entertainment landscape might look like if it had been dismantled. This idealism to make the world a better place is hopeful, for some, and sickening, for others.
Take Rolling Stone magazine, for example, that said, "Ultimately, Hollywood errs on the side of dreaming, but who doesn't like to dream about a better world than the one we have?" Hopeful.
Whereas BBC was less than kind to the lack of complexity in the show: "...in its lack of jeopardy, the show is really quite boring, it is also pretty anger-making, and its 'inspirational' narrative morally questionable, however good the intentions of Murphy and Brennan." Ouch.
Other good intentions are the input of some real-life character inspirations. Anna May Wong (played by Michelle Krusiec), considered to be the first Chinese American film star, exposed the industry's Orientalist stereotyping. There are also "appearances" by Hattie McDaniel (played by Queen Latifah), the first person of colour to win an Oscar; Tallulah Bankhead (played by Paget Brewster), an unabashed actress rumoured to be involved with Hattie; and Ernie (played by Dylan McDermott) who is based on Scotty Bowers, author of Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars. And that's only a few real-life characters mentioned. Murphy went all out in mixing fact and fiction.
If TV is your escape from the real world, this is a good series to indulge in. Its idealism has nostalgic sprinkles of Glee but without the breaking-into-song, of course. There are some hand-over-mouth moments, some wide-eyed encounters, and, for some super-straight folks, scenes and insights into what may be deemed as "alternative lifestyles". If nothing else, the eye-candy episode of George Cukor's infamous party is worth a watch just for the chiselled Greek god-like body types walking around, naked. Yes, naked. Welcome to Hollywood, darling.
Hollywood is now on Netflix.