WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, now streaming on Netflix.
Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood is a thought-provoking bit of revisionist history. It deals with Los Angeles in the Golden Age of Hollywood in the wake of World War II and reshapes things involving feminism, gays, and minorities being given big breaks in the business.
This leads to landmark decisions at the Oscars in the finale with the movie Ace Studios made, Peg, about a black woman struggling in the City of Angels as an actor, cleaning house. And most notably, it makes a big statement on how Hollywood, and the world in general, would be a better place if it were run by women.
Now, women being kept down plays a major role in this story. Camille (Laura Harrier) isn’t initially seen as the lead in Peg because she’s black, but it’s the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) who insists the studio be pioneers and give the voiceless a voice. She’s a stark example of female politicians or influencers advocating social change, equality, and representation.
This encourages Avis (Patti LuPone) when she takes over the studio for her sick husband Ace (Rob Reiner) to shake things up. She greenlights the film, not caring about hate, protests, and the studio going bankrupt. She even endorses ticket prices being reduced so more minorities could see Peg, which bears fruit when its director Raymond (Darren Criss) wins Best Director, his girl Camille wins Best Actress, and Best Writer goes to Archie (Jeremy Pope), sweeping the Oscars and painting a true kaleidoscope. It wins Best Picture too and Avis tells reporters if you want something done right, let women do it. She even extends Archie, a gay, black man being persecuted for being open, a lucrative deal to ensure her cosmopolitan world stays intact.
And from Hollywood, you can see the public’s receptive to this message more than reality in the ’40s and ’50s. Murphy takes liberties but pays homage to women who ran parts of the industry back in the day. In his eyes, there should have been more of them, and it’s seen when Avis convinces the bigoted Ace before he died this was the progressive movement the industry needed as women evolve the business. Luckily, Avis had the opportunity, as well as exec Ellen (Holland Taylor), which most women don’t have, and Murphy reminds us if they did, we’d have had more inclusive movies. The world would have been more inclusive a long time ago too, as we’d have understood the messages, layers, and love within the art.
In the real world, as seen in the book, Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood, there were many women making strides in the industry between the ’30s and ’50s, but not in roles of power like Avis. Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino broke barriers as directors and producers, but most were editors, costume designers, talent agents, screenwriters, producers, Hollywood union heads, and behind-the-scenes workers. They had influence but not as much, with some being executive secretaries to limit them when their titles should have been bigger. It’s why scripts focused on highlighting talents like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, to show there was indeed a theme of rising woman power but again, it needed men to give them the spotlight more and to be brave in taking a backseat.
Now, we’re seeing the likes of Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, Ava Duvernay, Chloe Zhao, and of course, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, making waves and really pushing the big machine forward. And Avis is the embodiment of these women, just transposed to a time of misogyny and chauvinism.It shows when Ace sent her home when he came back to work, and again when his lawyers also tried to burn Peg’s film reels, and in just about every decision every white male made at the studio. Women were to be kept out the boardroom and in costume, or at the dinner table, at best. But when they do get control, as Michelle Krusiec’s Anna May Wong highlighted when she won Best Supporting Actress, women produce an unstoppable deluge that can change the world. It didn’t matter their age, background, or ethnicity. They were simply more compassionate, filled with empathy, and believed in a more unified tomorrow, which is why Peg won so many hearts and also, broke multiple box office records along the way.
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 us how the entertainment industry, and the world, would be a better place if women ran the show and made big decisions.