Critics are divided on Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy’s straight-to-series Netflix release, Hollywood, which shows the grisly side of finding fame and the long climb to the top. Hollywood is part of Murphy’s $300 million deal with Netflix which is believed to be one of the most lucrative contracts in the television industry spanning TV series, features film and documentaries.
The series follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers, some based on real stars, in their quest to make it big in la-la land. The series boasts a plethora of storylines for its talented cast, tackling tough themes including racism, sexism and homophobia in the Golden Age, though some critics have coined it ‘Fantasyland’.
Whilst there is some historical accuracy in its characters, the premise of the series focuses on the development and production of the fictional biopic “Meg”, a film based on the life of the very real Peg Entwistle. Entwistle was a white, Welsh-born actress whose lasting legacy in the industry is being the woman who jumped to her death from the H of the Hollywood sign.
To combat the ingrained prejudices of post WW2, Peg Entwistle is transformed into Meg, a black actress disillusioned by show business who climbs to the top of the H before seeing the light and eventually setting her feet back on the ground. Laura Harrier (BlackkKlansman and Spiderman: Homecoming) plays the actress Camille Washington, the only black actress on contract at Ace Studios, who fights tooth and nail to secure the role of Meg. This is, of course, not without huge backlash from executives, theatre chains, and the general public eliciting threats and violence.
“While racism is arguably at the heart of the miniseries, misogyny, homophobia and ageism play their parts, as almost all of the main cast are beaten down by the oppression forced on them by a largely young, white, straight, male industry.”
The B-plots of the miniseries focus on a host of real-life people who rose to stardom in the 40s and 50s, including Anna May Wong, Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. Wong, played by Michelle Krusiec, was famously passed over in favour of white actress Luise Rainer for the lead in Good Earth, and was eroticised in her career as a dragon lady or slave girl.
Queen Latifah likewise stars as Hattie McDaniel, the first person of colour to win an Oscar, whose win was overshadowed by the fact she couldn’t sit at the same table as her co-stars, due to the segregated hotel’s “no coloured” policy. She took on over seventy roles as servants, maids, and cooks, a narrative that Camille Washington’s storyline follows closely before she is cast as Meg.
Rock Hudson’s real-life story isn’t quite as hopeful as Jake Picking’s portrayal in the series. The actor was gay, but not publicly, for fear of ruining his sex-symbol reputation after he became an overnight star, following his role in 1954’s Magnificent Obsession. Talent agent Henry Willson is played by Jim Parsons, and fans of The Big Bang Theory may be surprised to hear the most common word coming out of Parsons’ mouth being “fuck” – and he doesn’t stop there. Willson was known for grooming young, attractive men (such as Hudson), who would perform sexual favours in return for Willson furthering their careers.
While the series is by no means perfect, and does brush over some of the harsher sides of the film industry, it combines the stylised visuals of classic Hollywood with the production values of the 21st century – making it an extremely pleasing story to watch, while the script allows the actors to play some truly emotional scenes throughout the whole series. Though with the story neatly wrapped up at the end of the seven episodes, it’s likely that this will be our one-and-only glimpse at Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood.
Hollywood is available on Netflix
Words by Kate Goodyer