(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Netflix’s “Hollywood” through the finale.)
Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan literally rewrote history for their Netflix limited series “Hollywood,” changing the events of the Golden Age of Hollywood so that the fictional film “Meg” — a biopic written by a gay, Black man, directed by a half-Asian filmmaker and starring a Black actress — became a box office hit that swept the 1948 Oscars.
Given the amount of revisionist history that takes place over the course of the seven-episode show, it’s hard to imagine what a 2020 version of the Hollywood in “Hollywood” would look like — but TheWrap asked the creative minds and stars of the show to give it their best shot.
See their answers below.
Ryan Murphy (co-creator/executive producer/writer/director)
I just think we would be in a much more progressive world. Hopefully, what would’ve happened is other movies would’ve been made with other voices. I think we would be in an age where Hollywood wasn’t so straight and white. There would’ve been other voices in that room earlier and other people at the table. I think that — I mean who knows. But what I imagined was that maybe if a “Meg” had been made every year, we would not have to suffer through the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. It’s shameful the number of women who are studio heads. It’s absolutely shameful. It’s shameful that there’s no African-American studio head. It’s shameful that there’s no– the list of atrocities that Hollywood continues to promulgate, it’s stunning. Because it’s still hard to make it if you’re not straight and white. It’s getting better, but I think that this movie would’ve been a big jump forward. I think it would’ve mattered. The thing that’s happened in the last five years, 10 years, I don’t think it’s the town that’s changed so much. The things that have changed is that a lot more people have started to speak out and say that this is not right. And I think that that battle call 75 years ago would’ve resonated deeply.
Ian Brennan (co-creator/executive producer/writer)
To my mind, it’s less about what Hollywood would look like and more about what the world would look like. There’s a reason why there’s a full political party that has really staked its future on bashing Hollywood, cause they know how powerful the moving image is and how we are a pop-culture future. And there are politicians who will say the reason why they are really nervous about movies and television and what stories are being told is because they know pop culture predates political culture by about 10 or 15 years — it’s that powerful. There’s a straight line between Ellen DeGeneres coming out on network television, “Will & Grace” showing gay people in a sort of family, not as criminals, not as perverts, showed them as people, and then 10-15 years later, marriage equality happened. That’s not an accident. So to me, what’s aggravating and exciting about rewriting history in 1947 Hollywood is less about what Hollywood look like, but what not only American culture would look like, but what the world would look like. Pop culture is America’s great export. There’s like crude oil and financial instruments, but the other big one is American culture. And I think that’s really where my mind went and that’s why it felt like such a profound question once it was asked. Well if it is, then what? If this happened, then what? I think it wouldn’t have taken till 1997 for Halle Berry to win the Oscar. It might not have taken till 2008 for Barack Obama to be elected. I don’t know the answer and it’s not like we sat down and talked a lot about that. It’s just that, as the show has finished and we wrapped up shooting, it was that question we kept thinking about. That we’d be living in a very different America if those events had taken place the way we rewrote them.
Janet Mock (executive producer/writer/director)
Maybe we would have more pictures that are more representative of the diversity that’s actually out there. That we’d have more inclusive storytelling, meaning that the people behind the scenes represent the people on screen, as well, and that they’re shaping the story together. My little pessimistic mind sometimes thinks that it would still be similar, we would have to still consistently justify that a colored picture or a picture with a woman of color at the center is still bankable, despite having an example in the ’40s, if “Meg” would have come out then. And even to this day, there are still conversations about whether a picture about all black people or an all Asian cast is bankable, despite having examples like “Crazy Rich Asians,” despite having films like “Black Panther.” I think, hopefully, maybe, if it had gone down the way we’d written it and it was our version of Hollywood in the ’40s, that today there would be less of that needing to prove that we’re bankable, and proving our stories are valuable and less of the need to prove that we should be the ones to tell them.
David Corenswet (Jack Castello)
Who can say? So many things would be different and so many things would be the same. People are still people. There are always the element of those who get power want to stay in power, no matter who they are. There are a lot of dynamics at work in complicated industries that rely on public opinion, like the entertainment industry does, and public opinion can shift real fast. But it would have been interesting to see. I wish there was gonna be a playing out of this timeline. I wish Ryan would write a novel of how this timeline plays out and how we get to 2020 with all the pieces falling into place. I would read that in a heartbeat.
Jeremy Pope (Archie Coleman)
My mind wants to blow when you ask that. I think, magical? I don’t know. I just think this world where– what I’ve learned about our show and just working in this process is how much media and TV and film informed the world. A lot of times what we see informs what we think is possible. So I think had we seen that everyone is equal and everyone should be given opportunities, who knows what stories and stars and artists we would have seen in 2020, had more people felt like they didn’t have to be so vulnerable just to share their art with the world and that it wasn’t going to be such an uphill climb. That they too were worthy of being movie stars and directors and screenwriters and sharing their gifts and experiences. So if anything I just think this 2020 version of our fantasy would have just been more colorful, would have been more interesting, would have been more loving and accepting because we would have seen decades of just art evolving and people sharing from their heart what they felt and all kinds of representation. I do think we’ve progressed since the ’40s, but in 2020, we’re still having some of the same conversations. It’s interesting, I don’t have the perfect answer for you. I just think it would be a more colorful, interesting, hands-on world of art.
Darren Criss (Raymond Ainsley)
It’s part of that monologue that [Raymond] gives at the beginning where he says that he believes movies can change the world. It is true. And I think more than religion or politics or any of these other huge constructs of the human experience, I think culture is, to me, the most powerful force of change in the world. It doesn’t happen overnight but things like “Meg”– in the past few years it’s been an incredible renaissance, a resetting of the dial. Regardless of whether you like those movies or not, those mean significant changes for a number of people you can’t even count right now. Who knows how many little ones are going to grow up with those movies as their guiding principle? So he’s right. The show starts with somebody saying, I think we can show the world not as it is but what it can be, and he set off to do that. And it’s not the end, it’s the beginning. It really makes you wonder how different the world would be now if those people were able to do what they did.
If we’re going to be really lofty about it, it’s the Dr. King quote, the arc of justice bends toward morality and it’s really long. It doesn’t happen quickly but one can’t help but feel the weight and burden and also victory and triumph of the people before. when I see a person of color who is not my gender or sexual orientation succeeding in my industry, I feel not only the trials and tribulations of decades’ worth of prejudice being changed by that person’s success, but I feel a responsibility for men and women who are adversarial to that. Being part of this industry, I feel the actions of all of our descendants and I take responsibility and celebrate those that got over it, so that we can all continue to move forward. When I watch the show, I wonder how many people there were like Raymond, that were like Archie, that were like Camille, who we don’t know about because they were written out of history. Either they were chewed up and spat out or they were defeated by the walls that were put up. It makes you wonder how many people we don’t know. And how many people in history who have done small things, won small victories that have added up to the grand successes of things like Halle Berry being the first woman of color to win Best Actress. How many people who weren’t necessarily in the spotlight really carried the weight for so many people?
To answer your question, I can’t say what it looks like, but when you watch a show like this, you realize how far we’ve come in some respects and how not far in other ways. You say it sort of idiomatically, but I think we’d be remiss not to recognize the leaps and bounds we’ve made in the last five years alone. And it is really inspiring. The bad guys will always be there and evil will always rear its head in new and different ways that we will always be fighting, but I’m such a bleeding heart idealist that I truly believe that there are so many more people in this world fighting the good fight than not. I think people are really trying to do things that are more representative of the world we live in and you know we’ve seen just how beneficial that is for the world. It’s not just meeting a quota. Representing the world as it is is not only fun and interesting, but it makes film better. We get to hear more stories. Think of the human experience as one comic book universe with millions of different characters. If for the better part of a hundred years, you only focus on the Batmans and the Supermans, you’d get really excited when you get to explore those less-told about characters. And they’ve been there the whole time. They’re part of the whole tapestry of what makes the universe interesting in the first place. So I think people are recognizing, through Ryan Murphy and these other trailblazers, just how valuable it is to make sure everyone’s story is heard.
Samara Weaving (Claire Wood)
That’s the million dollar question. What if what’s happening today happened back then? And I’m not sure, but I would hope that what we’re fighting for now would be redundant and everyone would have a place in Hollywood if they wanted one. And that everyone had the same opportunities. If you’re talented and hardworking and want it, you’d be welcome. And that your private life didn’t overshadow your professional accomplishments. But there is also a sort of cynical side of me that wonders, well maybe the pendulum would’ve swung back. I don’t know. I hope that we keep fighting the good fight and that Hollywood changes and there is no backlash. I don’t know. It’s a really philosophical question that I probably am not educated enough in social economics to answer.
Michelle Krusiec (Anna May Wong)
I don’t know. I’ve thought about this for maybe 20 years of my life? I’ve thought about it millions of times. Every time I watch an awards show I think about it … So who knows, maybe this world that Ryan has created will create some change. I think the fun of the show is that someone has envisioned it and put that out into the world, and hopefully the next generation of people will be able to benefit from that.