On this chapter of The Queerest Things I Watched Last Week, Ryan Murphy’s mini-series Hollywood, explores what could have been if people in charge chose to be on the right side of history.
- Hollywood – Season 1 [Streaming]
Full disclosure, I didn’t watch this last week (my wife and I binged it a couple of weeks ago) but it is relevant to what is happening right now so I wanted to write about it.
The mini-series, Hollywood, is a fictitious retelling of the showbiz industry in post-World War II 1940s. Some of the characters are real people like actors Anna May Wong, Hattie McDaniel, Rock Hudson and Tallulah Bankhead, and agent Henry Willson. Some are based on real people (Ernie West is based on real-life gas station pimp Scotty Bowers) and a few others are completely made up.
The story centers around young aspiring actors Camille Washington, Jack Castello and Rock Hudson, Camille’s filmmaker boyfriend Raymond Ainsley and Rock’s screenwriter boyfriend Archie Coleman. Raymond (played by Darren Criss) is trying to get ACE Pictures (based on Paramount Pictures) to green-light a movie called Peg based on real-life actor Peg Entwistle who committed suicide by jumping off the “H” on the famous Hollywood sign. Meanwhile, as a black actress, Camille is tired of only getting cast as servants and wants a leading role. Raymond has the idea to rewrite the movie under the title “Meg” so the lead actress could be anyone.
The movie written by Archie a black gay screenwriter and directed by Raymond who is half-Filipino has an uphill battle getting green-lit at ACE, but they are eventually able to get it done. Camille does an amazing job at auditions and winds up landing the lead role. Raymond also recruits Anna May Wong, a real-life actress for the movie and Rock Hudson gets a tiny part because his audition was really terrible.
Woven throughout the series is the story of Hollywood’s not so secret underground queer world. All of the folks rumored to have been queer are treated so as fact in the show. For example Hattie McDaniel (played by Queen Latifah) and Tallulah Bankhead.
What I loved most about the series was the exploration of how things could be if executives chose to do the right thing, actors were hired on merit, sexual predators in power were challenged and stopped and people were given the chance to be their real selves.
Hattie McDaniel was the first black Academy Award winner in history, but she had to sit at a segregated table in the back and did not get to celebrate afterward with the rest of the Gone with the Wind cast because the party was at a whites-only venue. Anna May Wong was the first Chinese-American movie star but got passed over for the lead Chinese role in The Good Earth when they gave it to a white actress instead. Countless queer actors had to remain in the closet while still being subjected to predatory agents’ (like Henry Willson) casting couches.
I know it was a fiction, but I loved seeing a Hollywood do-over in honor of the actors, directors, writers and other folks of showbiz past who were run over by racism, sexism, sexual assault and homophobia.
We all like to think we would have done the right thing during moments in history when people fought back against injustice. But when I see people criticizing protests and riots happening now while at the same time, praising the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders of the past, I’m like, “This IS the Civil Rights Movement. It’s happening right now.”
Equal rights progress has not been made when people remained quiet. Queer people rioted at Compton’s Cafeteria, Stonewall and the San Francisco City Hall riots in 1979. Police can not continue to murder black people without consequences and expect everyone to remain peaceful and complacent.
I know the mini-series Hollywood is a feel-good series about what could have been, but at this moment in history think about what could be. It is imperative all of us who wished we would have made the right choices in the past do the right thing right now.
PS. I had to include this Gif of Archie and Anna May Wong, because I felt very seen.
It is literally what happens every time a 100% Asian person finds out I’m half Asian. The ones I’m related to love to go on and on about how not Filipina I look. I’m like, “Yes, mom, you’ve told me that 1,000 times already.”
This week: The upcoming TV schedule looks pretty quiet. I think it will be another “Queerest Things I Saw in the Last Few Weeks” post next week.