Hollywood Dreams: Netflix’s Hollywood Reimagines Film History for the Better
Netflix’s Hollywood offers viewers a new take on the classic Golden Age of Hollywood, one that puts often-ignored minority communities at the forefront. The Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan helmed series reimagines post World War II Hollywood as a landscape in which history is revised and people of colour, the queer community and women reign. Letting Rock Hudson unashamedly live outside the closet, a woman run a film studio and allowing Hattie McDaniel garner some of the respect she deserved in a reimagined Hollywood that fulfils the dreamiest of American Dreams.
While the show is set in this luxurious era of glitz and glamour, it continues to touch on issues and trends that still exist in Hollywood culture today; the sliminess of the casting couch, the predominantly male run industry and the lack of representation of minorities, all of which are still present in the age of #Metoo and #OscarsSoWhite. Even the fact that there were no women nominated for Best Director at the Oscars this year can be linked back to the cultural norms of the male led studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Hollywood takes these cultural norms and turns them on their head, creating a Golden Age that implemented change and embraced all who wanted to be on the silver screen. Highlighting how one spark can become a catalyst, so to speak, and the profound effect this could have had on the whole industry.
That one spark is ‘Meg’ the fictious movie in the series, which is written by a black gay man (Archie Coleman- Jeremey Pope) directed by half Filipino man (Raymond Ainsley-Darren Criss), staring a black woman (Camille Washington- Laura Harrier) and greenlit by a woman run production company (Avis Amberg-Patti LuPone). While this is simplifying a lot of the plot of what Hollywood is about, ‘Meg’ is arguably the spark that allows for all of the series alternative history to play out and highlights how the course of actual history could have changed if this environment of acceptance and equality had started earlier on. From the changing of the original script to allow Camille Washington (to play the leading role, which had originally been written for a white woman), to lower ticket prices and widening distribution to allow more communities to watch it, ‘Meg’ made fictional history. A history that could have existing if there had been a dreamer that set this spark. We see the impact it has in the series as a young African American boy listens to Archie’s speech as he openly acknowledges his partner Rock Hudson, the boy with tears of joy streaming down his face as he finally sees and hears someone just like him succeeding. It’s the same feeling young people have when seeing Billy Porter walk the 2019 Oscars red carpet in a tuxedo gown or when Jonathan Van Ness pairs heels with typically masculine clothing, the subversion of norms and being unapologetically themselves. It’s just a pity that these things are only happening now and not sooner.
So, what would Hollywood look like if an African American woman had won the Oscar for best actress or if two men walked the red carpet together openly holding hands in 1948?
In reality, we certainly wouldn’t have had to wait until 2001 for Halle Berry to be the first black woman to win an Oscar for leading actress, or Kathryn Bigelow to be the first woman to win best director in 2008, while queerness wouldn’t be relegated to subtext or stereotypes in so many films. There would be more movies with more diversity, new stories to tell, more representation behind the screen- women and minority run studios and executives. Even more then we are currently seeing today, and they would have started earlier then the 2010s. Isn’t this what the American Dream is all about? All people succeeding and thriving to create a better industry and therefore world? I can’t even begin to imagine what the world of film would have looked like in the 60s and 70s or even now if the freedom to be yourself was recognised and not squashed down by cultural and industry expectations.
Not only is the series dreamy in look and casting (credit to the incredible trio that is Patti LuPone, Holland Taylor and Joe Mantello) but the idea of dreams is a reoccurring motif in Hollywood. Dreamland is where the customers who visit Ernie (Dylan McDermott)’s gas station ask to go when they’re after a hook up, it’s how Ernie himself describes Hollywood and it’s the last thing we see at the end of series as the team of ‘Meg’ start work on a new film, one that stars two men in a romantic comedy, aptly titled ‘Dreamland’. The characters in Hollywood are each looking to fulfil their dreams; of fame, recognition and love. These dreams are all inclusive, equally weighted regardless of race, sex or creed. These dreams are what the entirety of Hollywood is about, reinventing the American Dream in way that reflects more people’s dreams and not just the straight white men who have consistently controlled them. So, while Hollywood only borrows from history to create its own narrative, the dreams it presents are entirely real to many; the wish to see themselves on screen, to write stories about their communities, to make a profound change in this world through film. Whether these dreams are achievable right now, is a question I can’t answer but for Hollywood, anything is possible.
Louise Ryan is an English teacher who completed her Master of Arts and Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching at the University of Auckland. Her interests centre around film, television and history. All posts by contributing authors reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of the University of Auckland History Society.