Netflix’s Hollywood gives history a rewrite



Poster for Netflix’s ‘Hollywood’, a miniseries created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. The show was released on the streaming service May 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of ComingSoon.

Haley Maser, Views Editor

Contains spoilers for Netflix’s Hollywood

Hollywood’s Golden Age, an era that introduced films that shaped modern entertainment, is a beloved time for many. However, despite the glitz and glamour of the 1940s, segregation and bigotry defined the period. Netflix’s new series Hollywood dives into this time and tells an important story with an optimistic flair. 

From Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, the creators of popular shows such as Glee and The Politician, came Hollywood, a new miniseries that follows aspiring actors and established filmmakers as they grapple with making it in the discriminatory business. The show stars Darren Criss, David Corenswet, Jeremy Pope, Laura Harrier, and Samara Weaving, alongside classic icons including Patti LuPone, Holland Taylor, Dylan McDermott, and Joe Mantello. Along with its many fictional characters, the miniseries also tackles the stories of real-life people, including Jake Picking as actor Rock Hudson and Jim Parsons as the talent agent Henry Wilson. Hollywood was released on Netflix May 1, 2020, and became their third-ranked show in the U.S. two days after premiering.

The series takes on the recent trend of documenting history with alternative outcomes, similar to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s portrayal of Hollywood in 1969. Many of the characters in Hollywood are minorities trying to break free of the stereotypes and hardships forced on them by the industry. Despite the realities of the 1940s, many of these characters succeed in their pursuits by the final episode, “A Hollywood Ending”. After successfully creating a movie that breaks down racist boundaries and paves the way for diverse filmmakers, Laura Harrier’s character Camille becomes the first African American winner of the Academy’s Best Actress in a Leading Role. In reality, the first and only African American recipient of Best Actress was Halle Berry in 2001, nearly sixty years after Hollywood takes place. Additionally, characters Archie Coleman and Rock Hudson walk hand in hand in an openly gay relationship at the 1947 Academy Awards, but the real-life Rock Hudson never publicly came out. The historical revisionism found in the series gives its fictional and real characters happier endings.

Despite positive reactions from viewers, Hollywood and its history rewrite have faced substandard reviews from critics. In a review from The Federalist, Paulina Enck writes “the series is focused on a self-congratulatory look on how the movies are the only real avenue of social change, and that racism and homophobia in the 1940s could be cured by making movies.” The New York Times, Variety, and many other news outlets have faulted the series for similar reasons.

Although these reviews address an indisputable fact that show business was not as inclusive as Hollywood makes it out to be, the point of the show is not to be completely factual. The creative liberties taken throughout the series were included to convey a greater message, the universal impact of representation. “I was not interested in making a biopic,” stated Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator. “I just really believe that idea that if those people had been allowed to be who they were… our world would be a different place.” Murphy’s outlook gave the show powerful meaning, especially in scenes in which viewers get to see the direct effects of the character’s unlikely successes. In episode seven, Archie Coleman, a character who identifies as African American and gay, won an Academy Award. The attention is then placed on an unknown, young African American listener who is deeply moved by the news. Seeing the impact representation had was unrealistic to the time, but a powerful piece of the series’ conclusion. Hollywood’s intent was not to make a period piece set on depicting the intricate details of the time, but rather use an adored setting to convey a universal message.