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“Movies don’t just show us how the world is,” says character from Ryan Murphy Hollywood. “They show us how the world can be. This line, made in the second episode by aspiring director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), is not just his argument for a studio director. This is the pitch of the Netflix series to its audience. The show, which Murphy created with Ian Brennan, spends some breathtaking episodes on the glamorous facade of Tinseltown’s heyday. HollywoodHollywood, around 1947, was a place where racial prejudice and homophobia raged and young people with fresh faces arrived with hopes and dreams, and ended up turning tricks to pay the rent. The project Raymond is linked to is the story of Peg Entwistle, the 24-year-old real actress who jumped from his Hollywood sign death and became a tragic symbol of the film industry’s insensitivity.
But halfway, the stories at once Hollywood and his characters tell begin to change. Raymond convinces Ace Studios, currently run by Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone) instead of her convalescent husband, to put his girlfriend, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) in the lead, despite the fact that theaters in the South have threatened to release them films from the studio if he releases a film with a black actress. Since Entwistle was white, they change the protagonist’s name from Peg to Meg, but, as studio production manager Dick Samuels (Joe Mantello) points out, changing the character’s race changes the whole story. Ending the first studio film about a black woman with this woman jumping to death in despair sends a terrible message. So what does Samuels’ version presuppose, and if it wasn’t?
Hollywood itself follows a similar arc. Rather than being overcome by obstacles that would have blocked any attempt to make a film montage MegThe description of – black star, black screenwriter, half Filipino director – the characters in the series don’t take no for an answer, and they end up convincing Ace Studios to say yes. Dick overcomes reluctance of racist theater owners to book Meg by inventing wide circulation, the film becomes a box office success, and it continues to triumph at the Academy Awards, winning for the photo, the director, the actress and the script, as well as for the support of actress Anna May Wong, the Asian American star whose Hollywood career was interrupted by his refusal to play stereotypical “dragon lady” roles. As if that were not enough, Archie uses his acceptance speech to come out of the closet, publicly declaring his love for his boyfriend, a still unknown Rock Hudson (Jake Picking). There are a few disgruntled mumbles in the audience, but in a coda in the series defined a year later, we are told that Archie’s proclamation has had a dramatic effect. Ernie West, of Dylan McDermott, whose gas station serves as a front for a male prostitution network, notes that his business has dried up because homosexuals are no longer ashamed of their sexuality. A single act of defiance is enough.
Murphy repeated in interviews that Hollywood was motivated by the desire to give a happy ending to people who did not have one in real life: Hudson, whose homosexuality did not become public until he was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s; Wong, who died of a heart attack before being able to return to screen in 1961 Flower Drum Song; and the Hollywood progressives themselves, who took decades to reach milestones for the series’ transplant in the 1940s. “When I was growing up, I had no one to look at in terms of someone who was like me, “Murphy told an interviewer. He hopes Hollywood begins to correct this wrong and demonstrate the power that cultural representation has to change society as a whole.
The problem is that Hollywood does not make history; is to rewrite it. And when you rewrite history, you never start with a blank page. The film that Meg replaces the winner of the best film of 1948 Gentleman’s Agreement, an indictment of anti-Semitism that also won the Oscars for the director and supporting actress the show gives his fictional message film. It sounds like an intentional choice; Gentleman’s Agreement was nominated for eight Oscars that year, and five other nominations went to Crossfire, a film noir that also takes anti-Semitism as its subject – an indication that the film industry of the time was pushing for change, if not genre Hollywood has in mind.
When you rewrite history, you never start with an empty space page.
But it’s also important to note that neither of the two films had the kind of effect the series envisions. Gentleman’s Agreement was a box office success, earning almost four times its budget, but that success hardly predicted the end of anti-Semitism in America, and two of its stars ended up on the Hollywood blacklist, with the director and producer of Crossfire. Hollywood pays tribute to real-life pioneers like Wong and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah), who was the first person of color to win an Oscar. But the airy, frictionless manner in which the protagonists of the series plow decades, if not centuries, of ingrained racism inadvertently suggests that their predecessors could have had the same success if they had only worked the cheek.
In Hollywood, the world is already ripe for change, and it’s just looking for a reason to take this last step. When Meg is released, viewers of all races flock there without hesitation (never mind that in 1947 a good portion of them should have sat in the “colorful” section). As one news reporter put it, “Racial protests of all kinds simply melted away as the audience rushed to see a new type of film.” Hollywood, the non-italic entity, has long been dealing with inspirational stories about determined individuals who overcome social injustice – so long, in fact, that it’s weird to Hollywood, the series, to suggest that the film industry was still adamantly resistant to them. But these stories tend to reflect cultural changes as much, if not more, than they inspire, and for Murphy and co. to suggest that there is a foolproof causal relationship between progressive mass entertainment and profound social change is … well, exactly the kind of story that the industry has always loved to tell for itself. “Before, I thought good government could change the world,” Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) told senior Ace executives during a visit to the studio. “I no longer know that I believe him. However, what you do … can change the world. “When you take into account that art Hollywood speak understands Hollywood himself, self-congratulation borders on the obscene.
About what HollywoodThe false progressive past is not the vision of a fairer and more just society, but the ease with which it is realized. When MegThe company’s production is announced, Camille and Raymond are harassed on the phone and Avis wakes up on a burning cross in his front yard, but no one is injured and the danger passes quickly. The occasional anachronisms scattered throughout the dialogue – a publisher of the silent era calls people “creative” – are a flashing acknowledgment of the historical invention of the series, but they are also charged with sufficient presentism, the feeling that people may not have known how to talk about these issues then, but we do now. (It doesn’t matter what the 2020 troglodyte policy will look like in 70 years.) This is an involuntary but scathing rebuke to the pioneers who struggled and sacrificed to gain partial victories against almost impossible chances, even if the compromises that ‘they have reached may now seem unacceptable. When Camille is nominated for an Oscar at the end of the series, McDaniel tells her the story (not entirely accurate) of how she was excluded from the ceremony and only allowed to accept her award. Camille arrives at a similar time, but when the security guards try to keep her away, she stays put until they give in. If only Hattie McDaniel had thought of it.