Hollywood is a hit for Netflix. It keeps the art of the big screen glamourous while also representing earlier and less desirable times — it serves a purpose and recognizes the social aspects that used to hinder diversity in movies.
Netflix series Hollywood season 1 will be released on the platform on May 1, 2020. This review contains no spoilers.
With the current crisis pitting a genuine debate between streaming platforms and cinema chains, it feels purely audacious for Netflix to release a series based on early Hollywood, post World War II. A time where the big screen was the only viable option to watch the big-hitters. It’s oddly ironic that Film Twitter embraced the trailer, especially after snooty tweets suggesting that cinema rules and streaming is secondary. Well, who’s laughing now.
Netflix’s Hollywood reeks of early cinema where talkies were seen as redundant and expressionism was replaced with naturalism. It bands characters desperate to be a star in their “own picture” with the glitz, glamour, and money. Hollywood presents simpler times in terms of production crews routinely on longer contracts and constantly placed in a flurry of films with the same studio. The Netflix series is a dazzling effort to place the audience in that time period — putting in sly nods to Vivien Leigh, and surfacing a lead character in the form of Rock Hudson (played by Jake Picking). There’s a true appreciation of the early days of the industry.
But at the same time, and more importantly, Hollywood defines a time where diversity was seen as a violent hindrance rather than normality — the main plot to the Netflix series is the production of a new movie, written by a black man named Archie (played by Jeremy Pope) that will be directed Raymond (Darren Criss), who is of Asian heritage but is seen as white based on his skin complexion. The Netflix series encapsulates a time where a man like Archie or an actor like Rock Hudson faced ferocious adversity daily by the violent South, facing prejudice over their race and sexuality. Hollywood defines a “white” world, with some of the white characters conflicted in whether to give their discriminated friends a helping hand.
Hollywood season 1 provides a careful balance; there was a fear with this Netflix series of re-writing the history of movies, with the white lead characters seen to be the champions of bringing in diverse groups on to the big screen. The series does that to a degree, but it’s then countered with characters grabbing the torch themselves and fighting for what is right. Creators Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy clearly understand the importance of this balanced approach and do not make it a whitewashing heroic narrative splurge.
As well as tackling race and sexuality, Hollywood acknowledges and puts into action the unmerited gap between men and women in the industry. The owner of the studio in the Netflix series makes all the decisions, while the wife of the owner is expected to stay at home, cook, and have sex with male prostitutes to keep herself satisfied. The story really is a mixed emotional bag, entwining social issues that are still apparent in modern society.
With additional performances from Jim Parsons (who plays Rock’s agent Henry) and Samara Weaving (who plays Claire Wood, the daughter of the studio’s owner and aspiring actress), Hollywood season 1 is propelled by an impressive cast, brought into the times with their dramatic rhetoric and glamourous-sounding dialogue. Netflix has rolled in a new hit, ironically on the red carpet where snooty individuals will wonder what the purpose of streaming platforms is.
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