Murphy’s Hollywood 'is an insult to the real-life trailblazers It Overwrites'

“They show us how the world can be.” That line, spoken in the second episode by aspiring director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), isn’t just his pitch to a studio executive. Hollywood’s Hollywood, circa 1947, is a place where racial prejudice and homophobia run rampant and where fresh-faced young people arrive full of hopes and dreams only to end up turning tricks to pay the rent.  The project Raymond ends up attached to is the story of Peg Entwistle, the real-life 24-year-old actress who jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign and became a tragic symbol of the movie industry’s heartlessness. Raymond convinces Ace Studios, currently being run by Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone) in the place of her convalescing husband, to cast his girlfriend, Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) in the lead, despite the fact that theaters all over the South have threatened to pull the studio’smovies if release a film starring a black actress. Rather than being defeated by the obstacles that would have stalled any attempt to make a movie fitting Meg’s description—black star, black screenwriter, half-Filipino director—the series’ characters don’t take no for an answer, and they eventually convince Ace Studios to say yes. Dylan McDermott’s Ernie West, whose gas station is a front for a male prostitution ring, remarks that his business has dried up because gay men are no longer ashamed of their sexuality. Murphy has repeated in interviews the idea that Hollywood was motivated by the desire to give a happy ending to people who didn’t get one in real life: Hudson, whose homosexuality only became public after he was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s; Wong, who died of a heart attack before she could make her planned return to the screen in 1961’s Flower Drum Song; and theprogressives of Hollywood itself, which took decades to reach the milestones the series transplants to the 1940s. Hollywood pays homage to real-life pioneers like Wong and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah), who was the first person of color to win an Oscar. But the breezy, frictionless way the series’ protagonists plow through decades, if not centuries, of entrenched racism inadvertently suggests that their predecessors might have had the same success if they’d only just worked up thenerve. “I used to believe that good government could change the world,” Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) tells Ace’s top executives during a visit to the studio. Gallery: All the real people who appear in Murphy’s new Netflix series Hollywood (The Wrap) What rankles about Hollywood’s faux-progressive past isn’t the vision of a more equitable, more just society, but the ease with which it’s achieved. When Meg’s production is announced, Camille and Raymond are harassed on the phone and Avis awakens to a cross burning in her front yard, but no one is hurt, and the danger passes quickly. It’s an inadvertent but stinging rebuke to the trailblazers who struggled and sacrificed to win partial victories against almost impossible odds, even if the compromises they reached might now seem unacceptable. When Camille is nominated for an Oscar late in the series, McDaniel tells her the (not-quite-accurate) story of how she was barred from the ceremony and only allowed in to accept her award.