Trigger Warning: this article contains a mention of suicide and sexual coercion. This may be triggering for some.
In May 2020, the limited series, Hollywood, dropped on Netflix. The show is set during the Golden Age of Hollywood and it follows a group of people from various aspects of the film industry trying to make it in the world. But unlike other cheesy representations of the entertainment business, Hollywood includes barriers such as racism, sexism, and homophobia that keep the protagonists from following their dreams. Fictionalized versions of notable Hollywood figures such as Rock Hudson, Anna May Wong, and Hattie McDaniel are involved in the plot as well. Almost a year after its release, I finally got to watch it. And let me tell you, the show had me in a tight grasp and had a profound, lasting impact on me.
To give you a taste of how the show reels you in and entices you, here’s a quick synopsis of each main character’s backstory: Jack Castello is a World War II veteran who moves to Los Angeles to accomplish his dreams of becoming an actor. Raymond Ainsley is a white and Asian aspiring director who hopes to direct a film that tells Asian stories without portraying Asian characters as stereotypes. However, his hopes are interrupted when he gets the opportunity to direct another film. Camille Washington is a Black actress, and Raymond Ainsley’s girlfriend, who hopes to land a leading role. Claire Wood is also an aspiring actress and Camille’s competition. Dick Samuels is a studio executive who deals with the fact that he’s a closeted gay man. He works closely with another studio executive, Ellen Kincaid, who is also an acting coach. Dick and Ellen work closely together in changing the course of history with a film. Ernie West is the owner of a gas station, a place he also uses in the sex worker business. The fictionalized version of Roy Fitzgerald, later known as Rock Hudson, is an aspiring actor who is also gay, but is only open about it to a few people. One of those people is his boyfriend, Archie Coleman. Archie is a Black and gay screenwriter, whose story revolves around him about Peg Entwistle, the white actress who committed suicide by jumping off of the “H” of the Hollywood sign (back when the sign spelled out “Hollywoodland”). The fictionalized version of Henry Willson is an acting agent, who also happens to be Rock’s agent, and is not a very nice person. Avis Amberg is a former actress who receives two opportunities to be in charge of Ace Studios; her role as a chairwoman is central to her story.
You get to know these characters in the first two episodes of the miniseries. As you watch, you see that they are continually confronted with barrier after barrier after barrier. These obstacles are what make you itch to find out what happens next. For example (and avoiding spoiling the show as much as possible), in the beginning of the miniseries, Archie explains what he had to do in order for Ace Studios to express interest in reading his script. Since you know that Archie is Black and wrote a script about a white girl, you can already imagine what kinds of issues he’ll be confronted with. The struggles and the conflicts that the characters must encounter while navigating Hollywood is what keeps the audience engaged throughout the show, and eager to find out what happens next. Thankfully, intensity calms down in the end, and leaves you satisfied.
I could totally give this show a 10/10, but there’s one aspect about it that I do not like. That aspect is Hattie McDaniel not having an almost accurate physical portrayal. Hattie McDaniel was the actress known for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind. She became the first Black person to win an Oscar. In Hollywood, she is portrayed by Queen Latifah. This is where it gets problematic. Queen Latifah is light skin and 5’10”. Hattie McDaniel was dark skin and 5’2”. Having an actress portray a famous individual who was eight inches shorter than her is not really right and does not pay true homage. Furthermore, casting someone that is light skin to portray a notable figure that was dark skin just reinforces the colorism that is rampant in Hollywood. We are currently working to eradicate colorism in Hollywood and this casting is setting back the process. I am pretty sure there were many short, Black, dark skin women who could’ve done an impeccable job portraying Hattie McDaniel. My disappointment in this casting is what makes me give the show a 9.5/10 rating.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show. I can’t stop thinking about it and would totally rewatch it whenever I am in the mood to rewatch something. Following the journey of these characters was really enjoyable and impactful. Make sure you go check out Hollywood on Netflix; it is so worth your time. Fair warning though, this show contains mention of suicide and sexual coersion, and this may be triggering for some.
P.S. Ryan Murphy, I know you said that Hollywood was created with the intent of just being one season. But that is where you get it wrong.