Premiering on the streaming service Netflix on 1 May 2020, Hollywood is a six-part limited series from Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. It marks the first time that Luise Rainer has been portrayed in any media.
The series follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers in 1940s Hollywood, with occasional flashbacks to the 1930s, and treads a similar path to Murphy’s previous miniseries, Feud: Bette & Joan. Whilst that series was based, on the whole, on true events, Hollywood features fictional characters and settings alongside real-life figures from Hollywood’s Golden Age. This juggling of fact and fiction throws up a number of anomalies within the timeline, creating a re-vision of the period rather than an exact representation of true events. This artistic licence proved controversial for many critics and viewers who questioned whether it was a case of rewriting history, or have Murphy and Brennan simply created an alternative fictional Hollywood universe? Despite some backlash from film historians, Hollywood received 11 nominations at the Primetime Emmy Awards in 2020.
One benefit of this decision is the rediscovery (or first-time discovery for some
viewers) of Anna May Wong, who plays a significant part in the proceedings. Famously, Wong was over-looked for the lead role in The Good Earth (1937), a part which went to Luise and for which she won her second Oscar. This sequence of events is alluded to in the second episode of the series, Hooray for Hollywood: Part 2, in a flashback to the Oscar ceremony, with Camille Natta playing Luise as she receives her award. This section, at least, seems based on the available footage with hair, costume and Natta’s performance echoing the real event.
It has always been a surprise to me that Luise has not appeared as a character on screen before, even on the periphery, considering the number of biopics of stars from the era when she was a star. Five years after her death this is another ‘first’ for Luise.