The Problem With Netflix's 'Hollywood' Fantasy Is That It's Just That—a Fantasy
[There are spoilers ahead for Netflix’s Hollywood.]
Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix show Hollywood has arrived, finally, after literal months of hype. The show follows a group of up-and-coming Hollywood talent and their industry veteran counterparts as they work together to make a movie that breaks literally all the barriers in 1940s Hollywood (some of which still exist today). While Murphy was probably aiming to create an inspiring series that demonstrates what Hollywood could be, it’ll actually leave you with a pit in your stomach, and a deep existential dread about what it all means. At least, if you can peel your eyes away from the plethora of hot dudes long enough to actually pay attention.
Each character in the show represents a minority group, and they all pose the question, “How can you really make it in Hollywood if you’re a [blank]?” But then, for all of them, they do make it, and they end up creating a wildly successful movie that gives a false sense that the industry is now fixed. The head of the studio responsible for financing the movie is a woman, for example. The lead actress is a woman of color, and the screenwriter is a Black man. The director is half Filipino. One of the actors in the movie is openly gay. The rosy tint the show puts on Tinseltown and the potential it has to make progress works for a while, until it doesn’t.
The finale is where things get tricky. [I warned you, there are spoilers ahead!] The characters attend the Academy Awards, and you’re supposed to watch the episode and think of them all as the victors. They did it! They won a record number of awards! It’s post-WWII Hollywood, but yes, two gay men can walk a red carpet together as a couple! And yes, Camille, the Laura Harrier character, can take home the top prize for actors! A movie made mostly by members of minority groups can win Best Picture. It’s fun for a minute, until you find yourself looking at your screen and muttering to yourself, “This would have never happened,” which defeats the whole point of the show. It’s such a stretch that it’s hard to get past the barrier of believability to actually enjoy what you’re watching and think critically about what it all means.
By showing the characters seemingly overcoming all the obstacles put in their way, the show’s creators undercut the very real struggles of the stories they’re trying to tell. It almost asserts that if you could just make the right movie, hire the right writer, pick the right lead actor and actress, you could win all the awards and solve all the representational problems. Not only is that false, but it’s a dangerous idea that gives too much power to systems that don’t deserve it, like, IDK, the Academy Awards. The solution to Hollywood’s problems doesn’t come in the form of a little gold statue, and it can’t be summed up in a seven-part miniseries for Netflix.
So my question is, what is the goal here? Is the show merely a way for Murphy and his collaborator Ian Brennan to tell Hollywood to do better now, in 2020? Is it supposed to make us all feel guilty for the way the industry functioned in the 19040s even though none of us were alive when that happened? Is it purely a thought exercise? And for those of us who don’t work in Hollywood, and don’t green light scrips, and don’t make casting decisions, what are we actually supposed to take away from this?
The fantasy of Hollywood is just that—a total fantasy. At the end of the day, the message it’s sending is that in a fictional world, you can break all the glass ceilings if you just try hard enough. Real life, as we know, is a very different story.
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