Hollywood is not a show about recreating history. It’s a show about rewriting history.
It’s a show about telling the stories that were there all along, and about what it might have looked and felt like if people had been successful.
Those untold stories, and their “what could have beens.” The hushed-up diversity of identities in the history of American media, which is an absolute reality, not just present-day wishful thinking retroactively inserted for woke points.
People like us - queer people, people of color, and those few true allies who see us as the complex and emotional human beings that we are - have always existed, and will always exist.
Our histories are painful. They’re filled with slow, difficult progress, with violence and cruelty and endless obstacles.
But what if it hadn’t been that way?
What if we’d been able to overcome so many of those obstacles during the Golden Era of Hollywood?
Golly gee, isn’t that a dream?
That’s the story Ryan Murphy wanted to tell, and he does so brilliantly.
Are the characters accurate representations of who those people were in history? No. Much like with most of Ryan Murphy’s work, Hollywood is a fictionalized version of reality, a hyper-vibrant and clever and smooth representation of real events. It’s far from the first time he’s taken liberties with “the truth” - anyone who’s seen his American Crime Story series or even certain fictionalized representations of real people in American Horror Story will already be familiar with the way he inserts real-life figures in order to root his fantastical stories in reality. It’s a hallmark of his work (and part of why I personally am drawn to so many of his stories, but I digress.)
Unlike many of Murphy’s past works, however, Hollywood is far from the bleak, dark tale one might expect it to be. It’s one of the most inspiring and emotionally fulfilling pieces of media I’ve seen in a long, long time.
This is not a story about the dark, depressing, real history of the slow march towards diverse representation in media. Rather, it’s a wish-fulfillment style fantasy that asks the question -
What if - instead of being beaten down, of being pushed over the edge, of having to suffer in silence - what if those who were most oppressed and least represented in media at this time (and to this day) had risen up? Had been able to become the stars they should have been all along? What if they’d known recognition, representation, and accolades way back at the dawn of the Golden Era of Hollywood?
And it asks this question to make us know how it would feel. Not to show us what would’ve happened, and how it would’ve changed the world. We already know that. No, this story exists purely to give us that incredible warmth and pride that fills you from your toes to your scalp when you see people like you succeed, and it lets us glimpse, for a moment, how it would feel if that had happened when it was already long overdue, 70 years ago.
As it turns out, it feels fucking incredible. And it hurts so goddamn much that it isn’t real.
Many viewers have commented about crying throughout the final episode, so I was bracing myself for some horrific and tragic twist - but it never came. You can trust the title of the final episode - “A Hollywood Ending” - to deliver exactly that.
What makes it special and important and unique is who that happy ending is for.
Black men, black women, Asian women, gay men, and the elderly. Every dream they could ever want - success, love, acceptance, bravery, joy - all of it was delivered to them, without caveat within the story. It isn’t too late for anyone. Nobody is ever brutally punished for being true and honest about themselves. The show ends in a black-and-white shot and the words “The Beginning.”
Within the story, it’s perfect. It’s Hollywood. A happy ending.
But it’s still a Ryan Murphy story. The setting is intentional, because the late 1940s were such a pivotal time for American media and for American culture. The heartbreak, the real-world caveat, comes when you wake up from “Dreamland,” and remember reality.
I had to pause and cry for a good five minutes when Hattie McDaniel says to Camille: “They let me in the room this time.” As far as I know, that never happened for her.
Or when Ava May Wong got her Oscar. That didn’t happen for her.
Or when Roy and Archie walked the red carpet hand-in-hand, an interracial gay couple in 1947. Obviously, that never happened for anyone.
But god, do you know how good it felt to imagine? To see it? To dream?
And not only did we get to see those huge, satisfying moments - we got to see an in-world context of how it might’ve affected people alive back then. A poor immigrant Chinese family; a solitary black gay writer; a black family, particularly a little black girl - we get to watch them all explode with joy and happy tears and acceptance as they’re seen, for the first time, by America at large.
That didn’t happen in 1947. It has barely even happened now.
That’s why Hollywood is intentionally “unrealistic,” why it rewrites history. Why the opening credits sequence shows all of this downtrodden people working together to lift each other up the Hollywood sign, to catch each other when they slip, to watch each other when they take the leap - and to enjoy the gorgeous, golden glow of the city together when they reach the top.
It’s about community, bravery, and fighting the good fight. And it’s about winning.
This is the first piece of escapist media I’ve seen in a long time, and it is a tenderly written love letter to queer, elderly, and poc creatives.
That’s worth a million times more than so-called realism ever will be.