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Ryan Murphy's Hollywood is a self-congratulating fantasy that erases the real-life trailblazers

  • Murphy has said his motivation for his new Netflix series was a desire to give a happy ending to Hollywood figures who didn’t get one in real life, like Rock Hudson and Anna May Wong. "The trouble is that Hollywood isn’t making history; it’s rewriting it," says Sam Adams. "And when you rewrite history, you’re never starting with an empty page." For instance, Hollywood revolves around a diverse and progressive movie that triumphs at the expense of a real-life movie, Gentleman's Agreement, which was an indictment of anti-Semitism. "Gentleman’s Agreement was a box-office hit, earning back nearly four times its budget, but that success hardly portended the end of anti-Semitism in America, and two of its stars ended up on the Hollywood blacklist...," says Adams. "Hollywood pays homage to real-life pioneers like Wong and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah), who was the first person of color to win an Oscar. But the breezy, frictionless way the series’ protagonists plow through decades, if not centuries, of entrenched racism inadvertently suggests that their predecessors might have had the same success if they’d only just worked up the nerve." Adams adds: "What rankles about Hollywood’s faux-progressive past isn’t the vision of a more equitable, more just society, but the ease with which it’s achieved... The casual anachronisms strewn throughout the dialogue—an editor from the silent era refers to people as 'creatives'—are a winking acknowledgment of the show’s historical invention, but they’re also laden with smug presentism, the sense that people may not have known how to talk about those issues then but we do now. (Never mind how troglodytic the politics of 2020 will look in 70 years.) It’s an inadvertent but stinging rebuke to the trailblazers who struggled and sacrificed to win partial victories against almost impossible odds, even if the compromises they reached might now seem unacceptable."


    • Hollywood throws out an old lie and gives us a new one: "The miniseries wants to have its cake and eat it, too," says Joshua Rivera. "Hollywood shows the era for its ugliness — the homophobia, racism, and sexism that shut out marginalized talent for decades — and dreams a new dream where it wasn’t enough to stop our heroes. But its other goal of disabusing viewers of the wholesome myth embodied by the films of the era gets incredibly messy fast...It’s hard not to see the twin ambitions of Hollywood as utterly at odds with each other. The truth-telling of its nastier side inspired by the real version of history undercuts the earnestness of its wish-fulfillment, making it seem cloying and saccharine. In turn, that earnest part of the show makes its forays into Old Hollywood’s real-world underbelly feel exploitative and cheap. There is too much friction between the two for them to build a cohesive whole, and, as a result, the whole enterprise is compromised at best and condescending at worst."
    • Hollywood refuses to grapple with the ugliness that sometimes can coexist with great art: "Hollywood’s reliance on such stars (like Rock Hudson) reveals a fundamental contradiction," says Alison Herman. "(Ryan) Murphy is clearly infatuated with classic Hollywood, putting his sumptuous Netflix budget toward a meticulous re-creation of the era he loves. He’s also aware of how homogenous and unjust the world that produced his influences really was. So he attempts to have it both ways, forcibly rewriting the past until it adheres to modern-day standards of diversity and representation. But there’s a self-serving slant to this reversal, not to mention a self-flattering one. Rather than grapple with the ugliness that can coexist with great art, Hollywood simply replaces it with something more palatable."
    • Hollywood is a better version of the Hollywood fairy tale than Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: "For Tarantino, Hollywood’s golden glow is directly tied to the blonde hair and wide eyes of (Sharon) Tate," says Kristen Lopez. "Long cited as the angel of innocence whose brutal murder marked the end of the 1960s era of free love, it’s hard to watch Tarantino’s feature and ignore the white privilege presented in its depiction of Los Angeles. The Hollywood of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one where minority actors and their struggles are erased or just non-existent. And that is why Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series, simply dubbed Hollywood, feels more like a true entertainment fairy tale. It not only contains revised backstories for famous personalities; it presents a landscape where the dream is that the people sitting behind the desks at various movie studios actually care about diversity."
    • Hollywood is perfect escapism for these uncertain times: "The series offers several things so rarely seen on screen, including but not limited to women over the age of 60 being unapologetically sexual (71-year-old Patti LuPone has her first onscreen sex scene), depictions of sex work that aren’t demonizing, and multiple scenes in which historically marginalized people talk about what representation means to them," says Zeba Blay. "In this show, what would be subtext in another glossy period series about Hollywood is very much text."
    • How Hollywood re-created the 1948 Oscars: The actual ceremony was filmed at the Shrine Auditorium, which was being used in January for the SAG Awards. So Hollywood re-created the ceremony at Los Angeles' historic Orpheum Theater.
    • How Hollywood created its pool party orgy
    • Darren Criss says Hollywood was originally raunchier: "There's no f*cking numbers on the dial anymore for how raunchy it was," says Criss. "They dialed it back severely to focus more on the heart and the hope...There was sh*t I clutched my pearls at...The descriptions of stuff were uber-salacious. The vibe was super-charged sexuality. How you shoot a scene and how it's written, there's a margin of disparity. But it certainly did make the initial read-through a little terrifying."
    • How Joe Mantello, arguably Broadway's most successful director, ended up as an actor in Hollywood: Ryan Murphy wrote the role of the studio head of production Dick Samuels, the series’ most complex and heartbreaking role, with Matello in mind. Mantello's reaction: “Oh, you know, I honestly think you can find someone better...”
    • Laura Harrier leaned on executive producer and director Janet Mock in playing Camille: “Janet had a level of personalization. We were able to talk about it on a deeper level," Harrier said, adding that Mock "brought out levels of my performance that I didn’t know were there. And I think that’s because she can relate to Camille’s story and to the feeling of being an outsider in Hollywood, and being marginalized and having to push through so many barriers to where she is now."
    • Jim Parsons breaks down his wild Hollywood Dance of the Seven Veils scene
    • Jake Picking on researching Rock Hudson: “What was tragic was the fact that he felt that he had to hide or keep part of himself a secret,” says Picking. “I read somewhere that a secret isn’t real unless it’s painful to hold onto. And I feel like that’s the weight he was carrying.”
    • Here are the true Hollywood stories behind Hollywood
    • Inside the production design and set design of Hollywood: Production designer Matthew Flood Ferguson re-created the Hollywood sign for the Netflix series, while set decorator Melissa Licht tracked down the actual chairs from the Warner Brothers Studio commissary in the 1940s.
    • Ryan Murphy wanted to do Hollywood on Netflix because he was free of cable restrictions: "It’s an interesting thing," he says. "I’ve never in my career done full nudity before. I’ve always had the cable restriction. And sexuality is a large part of this story. It’s not everything. But I signed a deal there to create a lot of different shows and to be able to basically follow my interests. And everyone who works there instantly said 'yes' to this because it was a very fun, sexy and also hopeful idea." Murphy adds that he was "completely appreciative" of having to work with intimacy coordinators. "We had a couple of really great intimacy coaches," he says. "All of the scenes with the actors were very talked about, discussed and filmed on closed sets. And then in the case of the George Cukor pool party scene — where we literally, at one point, had 100 people walking around naked (laughs) — at first, you were shocked by it and then it was like, 'Oh, just another day at the office.' Everybody was very respectful and covered up between takes. I’ve always been that way with sex scenes."

    TOPICS: Hollywood, Netflix, Darren Criss, Jake Picking, Janet Mock, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Laura Harrier, Matthew Flood Ferguson, Melissa Licht , Ryan Murphy, Production Design, Set Dressing