WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A group of actors and filmmakers in post-World War II Hollywood (1947-1948) try to make their dreams come true despite the circumstances. Intermixing real-life personalities from the Golden Age of Hollywood with fictional characters, Hollywood takes a unique look at a 'what if' version of history. What if performers were allowed to be openly gay? What if a black woman could play a lead in a blockbuster movie with a white romantic lead? What if the head of a major studio could be a woman?
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Pillow Talk was the first Rock Hudson film that I saw. The beautiful technicolour, the witty script and the chemistry between the two leads (played by Hudson and Doris Day) drew me in. In my pre-teen naivety, this was the epitome of what romance should be – good-looking people, stunning costumes and of course, excellent banter. It caused me to go down a spiral of camping in front of the TV watching the TCM channel on DStv and consuming the films of Old Hollywood.
From the violet eyes of Elizabeth Taylor to the sly grin of Clark Gable, I enveloped myself in a world that seemed so much like a fairytale that I didn't even notice that there was no one that looked like me onscreen. And it was only once I educated myself about what was happening behind the scenes that I realised how less than perfect this world truly was.
Perhaps it was a similar nostalgia that attracted creators Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, and American Crime Story) and Ian Brennan to this romanticised and stunning story of a ragtag group of misfits in 1947 trying to make a movie made that goes against what is allowed.
The main cast of characters is led by David Corenswet as Jack Costello, a war veteran and aspiring actor, with a pregnant wife, who accepts a job at a gas station where the cars aren't the only things that he is servicing. The other characters include Camille (Laura Harrier) a black actress based on Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne, her boyfriend Raymond (Darren Criss), a half-Filippino aspiring director and Archie (Jeremy Pope), a gay, black scriptwriter.
Interspersed with the original characters, are some historical figures like Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) who lived most of his life in the closet until he died of an AIDS-related illness in 1985, and Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), who is considered to be the first Chinese-American movie star. Both Rock Hudson and Anna May Wong are regarded as figures who deserved better than the cards that they were dealt. From Wong being overlooked for white actresses in roles about Asian characters, and Rock forced into sham marriages or to live in secret, Hollywood attempts to give them the recognition and happy endings that they deserved.
And that is the entire premise of the miniseries, to show the audience how things might have been different. Maybe if the studio executives had taken a chance on more people who are different, we wouldn't have had to wait until 2002, until Halle Berry, for a black woman to win a Best Actress Academy Award, or until 2017 for Moonlight to be the first LGBTQ film to win Best Picture.
Hollywood is admirable in that gives honour to many who never got their place in the spotlight because of censorship, racism, and prejudice. From people, we know like Hudson, Wong, Hattie McDaniels, Dorothy Dandridge and others to the countless other nameless people who could've contributed greatly to the film industry. And as a die-hard Old Hollywood fan, and a woman of colour, this resonated with me, and I felt swept up in this beautiful world where all things were possible. The Netflix model also worked well, and I saw it less as a seven-episode show and more like a 7-hour movie, similarly to the glamour and prestige of film of that time.
However, because you can tell that the writers are big fans, they focus too much at times on giving everyone a happy ending, that it seems slightly too much of a fantasy and there doesn't feel like there is any real risk. There are some boycotts, strikes and threatening phone calls regarding the film within the series, Meg starring a black actress. But by the time the Academy Awards comes around (episode seven) it seems as if the critical and commercial success of Meg has made that null and void, and Meg sort of solved racism and homophobia. This almost makes it seem as if Hollywood exists in some sort of utopia when the reality is that 18 years after Halle Berry historically became the first black woman to win the Best Lead Actress Oscar, there hasn't been another black winner since.
The performances from the actors are excellent though, with special regard to Joe Mantello as Dick Samuels, a closeted film executive struggling to live his truth. Mantello puts so much nuance and heart into the role that each scene he was in felt weighted and just the right amount of crisp. Jim Parsons, who many know as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, takes on the role of Henry Wilson, notorious agent of Rock Hudson. Parsons gives his all in the villainous role which is bound to get him nominated for many awards. He plays the role nefariously, but he still has you feeling pity for the character, despite all the problematic things that he does.
But the problem with the original characters was that the writers saw them as substitutes for too many people, so they seemed more like caricatures and shells than actually fully-fleshed characters. Instead of trying to squeeze in as many happy endings as possible, it would have been interesting to see the individual stories of the original characters, what brought them to where they were, and their motivation. We only truly got to see that with the character of Jack Castello.
However, none of the criticisms I had while watching it prevented me from enjoying Hollywood. Ryan Murphy really knows how to tell a story and to keep you interested. It's easy to get caught up in the glamour of Hollywood, so if you're looking for a feel-good story with gorgeous costumes, beautiful people, and a few tears along the way, you should check out Hollywood.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: