Ryan Murphy’s ‘Hollywood’ – A Beautiful Mess

Featured image from The Hollywood Reporte

Spoiler Warning

I originally intended to write about the factual inaccuracies of Murphy’s Hollywood but decided against something so incredibly voluminous, it would undoubtedly be skimmed or ignored with at least one person repeating Murphy’s term for his work – “faction.” I pressed play knowing I was going to hate every second of what I was about to watch. And I did – to an extent.

First off, Rock Hudson is a bumbling idiot barely able to tie his shoes. The real Hudson was smart, driven and went to great lengths to cover his sexuality (something Murphy seems to hold against Hudson by forcing the caricature of Rock Hudson to come out before his career has even started).

Murphy portrays Hudson’s real life agent, Henry Wilson, as a sadistic bastard, willing to put anyone he’s helped out to dry if it can help him at the moment (not entirely unlike the real Wilson). The real Wilson could play hardball but also exuded charm, something Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) attempts – but ultimately fails – to capture.

Anna May Wong is shown as an alcoholic with a chip on her shoulder over losing the chance to play O-Lan in 1937’s The Good Earth. Wong apparently needs a savior, and Murphy believes he’s the perfect man for the job – awarding the actress a much-deserved posthumous Oscar 63 years after her death in a fictionalized hatchet job.

Vivien Leigh is portrayed as a neurotic nymphomaniac who is so utterly affected, it’s amazing she can even sputter out a sentence. Leigh dealt with mental health issues that contributed to affairs, but like Hudson, she was intelligent, ambitious and talented. She didn’t need a good dicking to get over “a spell,” she needed help – something coldly denied by Murphy even in his reimagining of Hollywood in 1947.

Around episode 5, I finally had to separate Murphy’s fantastical circle jerk from the realities of the stars he was dealing with. It was the only way to get through it. I suddenly realized I enjoyed the series when I focused on fictionalized people for a fictionalized world. If Murphy hadn’t included real people to give it some sort of credence, it might have been a nice love letter to a nostalgic time.

Hollywood is nothing more than Murphy’s fantasy about what could have been during a time when racism and homophobia were the expected norms.

Murphy plays around with racism in his mini-series but doesn’t go far enough to explore exactly how big of a deal Meg would have been if the film had actually been released. He shows an interracial Schwab’s (a white-only restaurant that wouldn’t allow POC to work behind the counter serving customers, let alone be patrons) and briefly flirts with showing racism on screen, but usually quick delves away from the topic in nearly every instance. His “Look at what could have been” is downplayed by Murphy’s apparent fear in showing what racism actually was. This was a time when African Americans still had to fear being lynched. Church burnings by the KKK in the South weren’t uncommon. Jim Crow laws ruled the land in most areas. Emmett Till’s heinous murder wouldn’t make headlines for another 8 years. Camille (Laura Harrier) couldn’t even get a cup of coffee at most establishments during this time, and her interracial relationship with Ray (Darren Criss) would have faced ostracization from the white community as well as many in the African American community at this time. But this apparently makes no difference to Murphy. Some once-in-a-while alluding is a lot less messier than actually tackling the history of race at this time.

Murphy is much more comfortable dealing with homophobia. Sexuality in 1947 (or at least, Murphy’s version of it) drives the entire series. Murphy is willing to be slightly more realistic with this struggle, having all characters tackle their sexuality in one way or another. But again, he misses the mark by some asinine need to avoid the messiness of the decade. Sure, there’s some audible booing when Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) is taken by Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) as a date to the Oscars, which we know is strictly due to their orientation because Camille and Jack didn’t face the same reception, but the hate exhibited towards anyone in the LGBT community is usually glossed over besides the occasional tossing in of the word “fag.” Luckily, all is righted in the end because Henry Wilson is going to film a love story between two men, written by Coleman, and America is more accepting now that they’ve seen an interracial couple, Camille and Jack (David Corenswet), on screen in Meg.

On a positive note, the series has glorious costuming and sets. Patti Lupone gives a marvelous performance as the fictional Avis Amberg (falsely claimed to be the first woman to own a production company which is pretty asinine – Hedy Lamarr made headlines for starting the Mars Company in 1945, as well as a number of women who owned companies in the 10s, 20s and 30s, but this is Murphy’s world) while Harrier just shines on screen. As always with Murphy’s series, the cinematography is gorgeous.

Final note, – If you disregard any use of real people in the series, as well as Murphy’s refusal to show a deeper approximation of American society during the late 40s, you might be able to enjoy the series. If not, it’s a dud.

I’ve decided not to give Scotty Bowers a platform in this piece. He’s ruined enough lives.

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