*THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES SPOILERS*
Ryan Murphy has built an impressive career for himself. He's the mastermind behind hit shows such as "Nip/Tuck," "Glee," and "American Horror Story." His new limited series, "Hollywood," premiered May 1 on Netflix. The show takes place in Hollywood post-World War II.
The aim of the series is to rewrite history so minority groups gain representation and acceptance in tinseltown. The series focuses on racial equality, women's rights, and the LGBTQ community. While this concept certainly deserves applause, other aspects of the show deserve boos.
David Corenswet plays Jack, a veteran who moves to Hollywood with dreams of being an actor. His character gets a job at a gas station and learns it's actually a prostitution ring. This is actually based loosely on the story of Scotty Bowers. Bowers became a famous escort to closeted gay celebrities, as profiled in the documentary, "Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood." Jack objects at first, claiming he moved to Hollywood to be a movie star. Once he hears how much he would be making, however, he changes his mind.
His character meets Avis Amberg, played by Patti LuPone. She pulls into the gas station asking to be taken to "Dreamland," the code word used for sex. Avis is a former actress who is married to the head of Ace Studios. At the hotel, Jack reveals his dream to Avis before she tells him of her acting past.
After their first encounter, Avis requests Jack's services again in the second episode. When Jack tells her his upcoming screen test is at Ace Studios, Avis informs him that her husband is the studio executive. She then tells him she will take care of him as long as he "takes care" of her.
Here lies my main problem with this encounter. It is a clear power imbalance. The character of Jack doesn't go into prostitution willingly, he's lured into it. Furthermore, Avis' treatment of Jack is strikingly similar to casting couch stories of the time. Unfortunately, it has continued to this day. Many women have been rightly calling out their abusive treatment from figures like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.
However, when it happens to Jack, it doesn't seem to be represented as a bad thing. LuPone's character isn't portrayed as a villain. If anything, she's portrayed as a hero.
"[Ryan Murphy] pitched it by saying that she was the wife of a studio head…and she only makes movies for women, gays and minorities," LuPone told E! News. "What's not to love?!"
Murphy himself elaborated on his positive view of the character when speaking to the press.
"This piece also deals with women and how they are treated. It also is interested in showing the sex lives of two women over 70, Patti and Holland Taylor, and that idea of women feeling marginalized. This is a piece that says, 'No, we're not going to marginalize you physically, spiritually, emotionally.' That was really an amazing thing for those women to play," he said.
We're also made to feel sorry for this character. "What I do know Jack, is you have a strong light inside you," Avis tells Jack right before their first encounter. "Shine that light on me. Make me feel like I matter, even if it's a lie."
Not only is a power imbalance misrepresented as something empowering, but excuses are made for the one abusing her power. Avis' insecurity about her age and history of marginalization as a woman shouldn't excuse abusive behavior. If the genders in that scenario were switched, the man would be called everything from a slime ball to a pig. But in this show, a woman can abuse her power and get away with it.
Surprisingly, it's a double standard we see in the show itself. Jim Parsons plays Henry Willson, a talent agent who also abuses his power. He exchanges sexual favors with actors for career access. Henry has a story line with Rock Hudson, who is one of the actors he takes advantage of.
The difference, however, is the way Murphy portrays Henry compared to Avis. "He was one of the biggest monsters in the history of Hollywood," Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter. "Arguably, the gay Harvey Weinstein. He was that person."
Murphy also said, "I feel like a #MeToo story is a #MeToo story. It doesn't matter what sex it is, it doesn't matter what gender it is." Based on his seemingly-ignorant double standards, he's clearly applying this to the victims, not the victimizers.
Are we supposed to believe men are the only ones who can be guilty of sexual harassment? Murphy certainly gives that impression. His rewriting of history to give minority groups representation is admirable. But his writing of the societal consequences attributed to the gender of those who abuse their power is anything but.
Sexual assault, harassment, and abuse of power from women towards men is a real thing. In 2018, allegations surfaced against actress Asia Argento. Actor and musician Jimmy Bennett claimed Argento sexually assaulted him in a hotel room when he was seventeen. This show, despite it's good intentions, encourages terrible stereotypes that prevent male victims from coming forward. Many still believe men always want sex and are tough enough to handle these sorts of violations.
Gender equality won't happen when these sorts of double standards are the norm. Believe it or not, there is a way to sexually empower older women without portraying them as selfish abusers. The series deals with minorities gaining much-needed representation. Ironically, it fails to accurately represent a side of abuse that is needed at this moment.