The following contains spoilers through all seven episodes of Netflix’s Hollywood.
In Netflix’s Hollywood, Ryan Murphy envisions a major studio production that never existed in the 1940s: A black gay writer and a half-Asian director make a film starring a black actress—a film that becomes a box-office hit and the Best Picture winner at the Oscars. What if, the series asks, Hollywood had been a haven for marginalized voices rather than a club shutting them out?
That thought exercise leads to fun results—at first. Alongside his co-creator, Ian Brennan, and co-executive producer, Janet Mock, Murphy, one of TV’s biggest provocateurs, puts some tantalizing spins on the classic Hollywood fairy tale. During the first half of the season, an aspiring actor gets his big break by joining a male escort ring, unlikely performers score chances to screen-test for lead roles, and the aforementioned director serendipitously plucks the writer’s script out of a pile, jumping at the chance to work with another person of color.
But that fantasy curdles into delusion by the time the fourth episode ends. In a baffling scene, Eleanor Roosevelt (played by Harriet Sansom Harris)—one of many real-life figures who pop up throughout the series—rushes to the fictional Ace Studios to encourage a group of executives to cast a black actress rather than a white one. “Think about it,” the former first lady begins, “what it might mean to a dirt-poor little black girl living in a shanty in some cotton town … What you do, the three of you, can change the world.”