Hooray for (Revisionist) Hollywood!

Posted: May 15th, 2020 by

Review of Hollywood on Netflix, by Jennifer Dumin

As a single person living and working from home during this pandemic, binge-watching television has become an important part of my new normal. I often devour hours of content per sitting, sometimes while having virtual watch-parties with friends who are doing the same. In these dreadfully uncertain times, I find myself continually seeking out quality content that is not only entertaining, but also that temporarily transports me to a different – and ideally a better – place. No show has met this need quite as well as the new Netflix series, Hollywood.

Set in the 1940s and featuring both fictional and real-life characters, Hollywood brings to life a reimagined history. The series suggests an answer to the question: What if those in power 80 years ago had demanded that women, people of color and LGBTQ people be given opportunities in the film industry?

The series features two interracial couples. Writer Archie (Jeremy Pope) is black and his boyfriend, aspiring actor Rock Hudson (Jake Picking), is white. Director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) passes as white, despite his Filipino heritage, and his live-in girlfriend, aspiring actress Camille (Laura Harrier), is black. Camille is fighting for the leading lady role in Archie and Raymond’s movie which, even in this revisionist world, is a controversial choice given that the leading man is a white actor.

In 1930, the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) expressly forbade the depiction of romantic relationships “between the white and black races.” At the time, anti-miscegenation laws prohibited couples of different races from marrying in the majority of the United States, including in California until 1948. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia decided that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional. And of course, it wasn’t until the 21st century that same-sex marriage became legal anywhere in the United States; national marriage equality finally happened in 2015, when the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges found that laws banning same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

In 1949, the movie “Pinky” was released, about a light-skinned black woman who, while passing as white, studies to become a nurse and falls in love with a white man. Given the premise of the movie, this would have been a perfect opportunity to cast a black woman in a leading role, but even though both Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne auditioned, the studio decided to cast a white woman, who went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for the role.

If you are looking for a show to binge-watch while you are stuck at home during this pandemic, and you relish the glamour and the salaciousness inherent in a Ryan Murphy production, check out Hollywood. Like me, you may find yourself asking, “How would a major motion picture written by a gay black man and starring a black woman in the leading role have changed our cultural and legal landscape many decades ago?”

I would love to hear what you think!

One Response

  1. Jules says:

    Great Review!!!! Hollywood was a fun, colorful, what if, if only, fairytale!