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Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood Is Flawed but Left Me Longing for a New Reality

Michelle Krusiec and Laura Harrier in A Hollywood Ending (2020)

So often in alternate universe/history, the norm is to go for the most extreme negative version of reality. What if Nazis won WWII? What if the South won the Civil War? Well in Ryan Murphy’s latest endeavor, Hollywood, he instead asks: What if Hollywood had been more progressive following WWII?

Hollywood gives us David Corenswet as Jack Castello, a generic straight white guy who served during World War II, but now has dreams to become an actor; Darren Criss as Raymond Ainsley, a half-Filipino aspiring film director who wants to break the industry’s conservative boundaries; Laura Harrier as Camille Washington, a Black actress who we are told is the most talented of her group, but is hindered by her race into just playing maids; Jeremy Pope as Archie Coleman, a screenwriter who is responsible for the project Peg/Meg that ends upbringing all the players together; and Jake Picking, who plays a fictionalized version of Classic Hollywood star Rock Hudson, a closeted gay man.

I know a lot of people have taken issue with the historical fictionalization of the events, and Slate’s Sam Adams argued that the show “inadvertently suggests that their predecessors might have had the same success if they’d only just worked up the nerve.”

I don’t think the show attempts to do that, although its flattening of the history might make a less informed viewer think so. I think Hollywood is a fairy tale, and it’s a fairy tale cowritten and created by a white gay man and a Black Hawaiian trans woman. It reflects a desire to illustrate what movies and television could have been like if there wasn’t always a struggle in being “the first”—if there had been this template for Asian women, Black women, gay men, and women that appreciated their humanity.

It is painfully optimistic, and while I do understand that perspective, I was also moved by Jeremy Pope’s speech as Archie, declaring himself to the world, because Jeremy Pope is a Black gay man, so he, of all people, would have an idea of what that representation would have meant.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest letdowns of this series is the acting. Laura Harrier is gorgeous and has the look down perfectly, but fails to deliver on being the best actress in the room. Even when Samara Weaving’s character throws the audition, it’s clearly a better performance. Camille Washington is clearly a fictionalized version of Dorothy Dandridge, who was the first Black woman to be nominated for a Best Lead Actress Oscar for Carmen Jones, but Dandridge was, well, excellent—she had to be. Harrier’s portrayal just pulls me out of the show often, as do Corenswet’s and Picking’s.

Jeremy Pope is the best of the bunch by a country mile, and he manages to make everyone around him seem endearing.

Thankfully, the adult cast—Jim Parsons, Patti LuPone, Joe Mantello, and Holland Taylor—are excellent and manage to elevate their material, but it doesn’t make up for just the really poor choices in some of these takes. If there’s anyone I think is miscast from the older crew, it’s Queen Latifah’s Hattie McDaniel. McDaniel was a 5’2”, dark-skinned, large Black woman, and Queen Latifah, while excellent, is not that. When I watched her scenes, I was reminded that there is a very limited pool of those kinds of actresses who are allowed to exist in Hollywood today. The only actress who comes to mind is Octavia Spencer, and she was likely busy with Self-Made.

It’s a sobering reminder that despite how sweet Hollywood’s message is, it’s just a dream. I understand the desire to create it, and I think all the people behind it did it not for self-contrary reasons, but because they all have felt that struggle to see themselves reflected in media. They wanted to make hope. It’s not perfect, and it certainly isn’t for everyone, but I also can’t find myself unhappy that an attempt was made.

(If you do want to find some excellent information about Anna May Wong or Hattie McDaniel, those links go to a video and podcast about them, respectively.)

For those who did watch Hollywood, where did you fall with it?

(image: Netflix)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.