Hollywood: Ryan Murphy’s Love Letter to Tinseltown
A rewrite of Hollywood’s controversial story
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, a revisionist piece highlighting the late ’60s where cult leader Charles Manson and his “family” flourished, prevailed during Awards Season. Here we are, listless citizens in prolonged quarantine, awaiting another Netflix release to entertain us. Enter Hollywood.
Ryan Murphy is behind the 2020 release set in post-World War II showcasing the glamour and controversy in Tinseltown. It follows a group of creative hopefuls hoping to make a name for themselves in show business, no matter the cost. As a self-professed American Horror Story and The Politician fan, I have such great expectations.
There’s No Business Like Show Business
After returning from war, Jack Castello (David Corenswet, The Politician)—honest-to-God thought he was Superman—aspires to be a movie star, trying to make ends meet for his pregnant wife Henrietta (Maude Apatow, Euphoria). From a supernumerary (an extra), he begins to fraudulently earn extra money as a gas attendant at a sketchy gas station-slash-escort service owned by Hollywood then hopeful Ernie (Dylan McDermott aka the Leslie Jordan’s #KingDaddyRuler). He believes in the power of movies, after all. “What I know is this: every time I leave the picture show, I feel better than I did walking in,” he says.
Jack meets Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope, The Ranger), a struggling screenwriter. He pitches the idea of Peg, a film about Peg Entwistle, an ambitious British stage and screen actress who jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign after facing rejection. (Unfortunately, this tragic event gave her the title “Hollywood Sign Girl.”) He wrote the screenplay to “prove that my writing wasn’t limited by my race.”
Up-and-coming director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss, American Crime Story) who highlights his Asian-American descent (I didn’t realize he’s half-Pinoy with a mother hailing from Cebu!), advocates for representation in Hollywood. He singles out the story of Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec, Hawaii Five-O), considered the first Chinese-American Hollywood movie star yet snubbed for her talent, constantly being given predictable Oriental roles. Mr. Ainsley fights the plight by declaring, “Movies don’t just show us how the world is, they show us how the world can be. If we change the way that movies are made, you take a chance and you make a different kind of story. I think you can change the world.”
Raymond and Archie collaborate to produce Peg-turned-Meg. After much conflict—protests, the Ku Klux Klan, burning crosses and all—the controversial film gets greenlighted by Avis Amberg (the Tony Award winner Patti LuPone), wife of Ace Pictures head. This stars an African-American actress, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier, BlacKkKlansman), during a period where their roles are limited to servants and the likes. They then make history.
Fact From Fiction
Before you fall into the bottomless pit of the Internet and go on a Googling frenzy, let me be of assistance. A lot of historical Tinseltown references like Cecil B. Demille, Judy Garland and Lana Turner are mentioned in the series. With lead cast members like Jake Picking as Rock Hudson (a secretly gay silver-screen star), Queen Latifah as Hattie McDaniel (the first Academy Award-winning African-American actor) and Katie McGuinness as Vivian Leigh (a legend in Tinseltown), Ryan Murphy did a splendid job in crafting fictional characters while staying true to Hollywood’s real story.
A huge shout out to Jim Parsons who plays the loathsome talent agent and producer Henry Wilson, a dig at the Harvey Weinsteins of the industry. He plays the detestable role so well that you forget that he once played an Emmy-winning, endearing nerd on Big Bang Theory for 12 seasons. For more “Who’s Who” of the cast of Hollywood, click here.
A Hollywood Ending
People of color can carry a picture. Interracial and same-sex relationships are commonplace in 2020. It’s hard to imagine that decades ago, this was considered taboo. Hollywood shows just how far we’ve come. Just this month alone, Netflix released Never Have I Ever and The Half of It, which both star young Asian female leads.
The show does have the assurance of a happy ending—an actual “Hollywood ending”—staying true to its core. This was created as a miniseries, after all. This leaves me, in many ways, content yet suspicious. Then again, who expects a happy ending from Ryan Murphy?
Stream Hollywood only on Netflix.
Art Alexandra Lara