WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, now streaming on Netflix.
Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series, Hollywood, seems to be a clear wish-fulfillment story about how LA should have been in its Golden Age. The show feels like rewriting the past, jumping in a time machine, and course-correcting things so that the entertainment industry would have been a better place to work in. And by extension, we’d have had movies encouraging viewers to look through a different and more accepting lens at race, gender, and, of course, sexuality. By the time the seven episodes of Hollywood Season 1 wrap, it’s perfectly obvious alternate history is now the ultimate fantasy for many creators out there, as it enables them to make much bigger sociopolitical statements.
Art was always meant to hold a mirror up to society. Whether or not we liked what we saw was irrelevant, as long as it’s the truth. That’s the purity of film and TV, and through these mediums, creatives like Murphy are now seemingly obsessed with showing what the world could — and should — be like. And a lot of that has to do with a tumultuous last couple of decades.
Looking back on the entertainment business, though, there were things that could have been easily fixed, which is what Hollywood does by detailing youngsters in Tinseltown working to change things. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, like Murphy’s Hollywood, looks at the entertainment business decades ago and the problems that have since persisted, so it’s obvious many people recognize there were flaws in the system at that time period.
And while Murphy only explores the Golden Age of Hollywood in seven episodes, other series go into serious, nuanced topics and for much longer. Frank Spotnitz’s The Man in the High Castle deals with the Axis winning World War II and America becoming a Nazi nation, exploring issues of white supremacy’s newest form in the real world in the process. Hunters actually has Hitler alive and well in South America, planning the Fourth Reich, while The Plot Against America looks at an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh became president and turned the nation toward fascism. Again, all of these have so many global parallels to certain governments that seem to endorse xenophobia, or at least, use it as a subtle political tool from the Americas to Europe to Asia to even the Caribbean.
Repurposing the past enables writers and directors to make long-form, artistic PSA’s that, yes, while they act as soapboxes, are platforms for messages of social justice. While some of these fantasy stories may be bleak and depressing, they encourage activism and for us to recognize what’s wrong with society today. Sure, fantasy is dragons, elves, monsters, aliens, and superheroes, but these grounded alternate history stories are needed now more than ever — more humanity and compassion than in the old days.
These properties show us the mistakes of the past, helping us chart a path to what we should have been doing years ago. After all, we’ll never know where we’re going until we can reconcile where we’re from. It’s why creators and viewers will continue to be attracted to and embrace stories that show us a fantasy that’s just adjacent to real life. This helps us to fix mistakes we’re seeing right now, even if just by speaking up to friends, family, coworkers when they say something that’s wrong. So many creators want to make a difference and leave their mark, and their work can inspire audiences to do their part. In that sense, alternate history is very real, because it’s just a stone’s throw away from being the harsh reality of tomorrow if we all sit by idly and do nothing.
Starring David Corenswet, Darren Criss, Jeremy Pope, Laura Harrier, Samara Weaving, Dylan McDermott, Holland Taylor, Patti LuPone, Jake Picking, Joe Mantello and Jim Parsons, all seven episodes of Hollywood are available on Netflix.
KEEP READING: Hollywood: Jim Parsons Is a Surprisingly Perfect Villain
Netflix's Hollywood shows alternate history is now the ultimate fantasy, because creators like Ryan Murphy believe in making art for social change.