Actress Anna May Wong was a big star in silent films. When the sound era came in, Hollywood pretty much treated her like a second class citizen. The Chinese-American actress was denied the opportunity to audition for the female lead in Pearl Buck's THE GOOD EARTH (1937). MGM gave the role of the peasant Chinese wife to the white European import, Luise Rainer. She won the Best Actress Oscar for it. In 1942, the powerful Hollywood studio would have a hit with WHITE CARGO, a steamy drama set in Africa. The role of beautiful Congo temptress went to ... Austrian-born actress, Hedy Lamarr covered all over in "exotic" make-up.
If you watch HOLLYWOOD, when the decision to change Archie's screenplay from PEG, the story of a disillusioned Hollywood blonde, to MEG, the story of a young Black actress trying to beat the odds, the extra info may give the HOLLYWOOD storyline of Archie and Camille (the actress) a bit more weight. Hollywood had a history of whitewashing, if you will.
Hattie had a supporting role and a musical number in Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH. There's Hattie, her screen charisma undimmed, playing a plantation maid. She sings a song with Uncle Remus. That Disney musical/fantasy was the top grossing film of 1946. Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS was second. Wyler's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES was third. Coming in at #8 was a charming comedy about a teen girl in the 1920s. It was called MARGIE and starred Jeanne Crain. In what is basically a bit role as the maid who answers the door, we see Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel.
Even today, Hollywood seems to pat itself on the back by telling you that Hattie McDaniel was a trailblazing, groundbreaking actress who was the first Black person to win an Oscar. However, it does not go into how it continued to restrict and limit her as an actress and, at times, treat her like a bit player when she was the only one in the cast who'd won an Oscar. Ryan Murphy's script didn't tell us that Hattie was an Oscar winner before we saw her in the form of Queen Latifah. There was no mention that she starred in Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH. We see her as a bisexual star having an affair with Tallulah Bankhead. Her congratulatory call to Camille sounds like dialogue Latifah would've had in SET IT OFF: "You show them muthafukkas!" I love Queen Latifah but she seemed miscast initally as Hattie and her first appearance was a brief role, awkwardly written.
Then came the final episode, Episode 7. The last chapter made up for the bits of dissatisfaction I felt in middle episodes. In fact, I did not expect to sit through the finale with tears streaming down my face. We are now in 1948. We know this because Oscar nominations are soon to be announced and Rosalind Russell is favored for win Best Actress for 1947's MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA. Ryan Murphy repeats the same mistake he made in his Bette Davis versus Joan Crawford miniseries in that he had a Hollywood player up at dawn to hear the Oscar nominations. In those days, nominations came out in mid afternoon. The crack o' dawn Hollywood practice started several decades later. That aside, most of the final episode takes place at the Academy Awards. Murphy's alternative history gives us an episode ripe with gratitude and redemption. Hattie McDaniel reappears to give support and advice to MEG star, Camille Washington. Queen Latifah is in fine form dramatically as Hattie telling Camille about her Academy Awards night experience, the behind the scenes hotel discrimination and her disappointment with the work Hollywood offered her afterwards. Hattie stresses to Camille that the most important thing "is being in the room."
That last chapter really landed on my heart.
I loved the HOLLYWOOD episodes in which the Patti LuPone and Holland Taylor characters are the top power players at the studio. Oh! There's an episode in which $25,000 is needed for the production of the film to star the young African American actress. Where can the money be raised? The guys call in a favor to Ernie at the gas station. He comes through by bringing in some extra help for assignments. Two luscious babes are sent over to the Hollywood home of a woman who closely resembles -- in physical and wardrobe appearance -- Hollywood's groundbreaking 1930s and 40s movie director, Dorothy Arzner.
The finale of Ryan Murphy's HOLLYWOOD made me feel that Hattie McDaniel, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong would look down on it from Heaven and smile, smile, smile with celestial joy.
For those new to my posts, here's a sample of my VH1 talk show work.
Here's a sample of my post-VH1 TV work.