Women across the world have been fighting for equal rights for several decades, and while some progress has been made on this front, we can agree that there’s still a long way to go. Gender inequality remains a pressing issue, and so, the FX series Mrs America, which follows the events of the women’s movement in the 1970s in the US, rings true even today.
Starring Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, John Slattery, Uzo Aduba among others, Mrs America is a nine-episode mini-series.
What is Mrs America all about?
Mrs America is loosely based on the historic movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that received an unexpected backlash from many political quarters. In this series, we mainly follow two points of view – one is led by Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), a conservative activist who spearheaded the nationwide campaign to stop the ERA from getting ratified. The other side comprises of women’s movement leaders such as Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) and many others, who are trying to start the dialogue of women’s movement among the masses and one of their big tasks is to get the ERA ratified.
As the show opens, we realise that while much of it is based on historical events, some liberties have been taken to dramatise the story, but that does affect the integrity of the series.
Mrs America is a fight of ideologies that have taken shape because of the oppressive nature of patriarchy that does not want women to be independent thinkers and decision-makers. Through the show, we see women like Schlafly who promote the suburban housewife life, but are living the working woman’s life which gets them some political clout. Her life as a homemaker is vastly different from the one she wishes to pursue, but like many others of her generation, she is also a victim of social patriarchy.
The show highlights the sacrifices made by women leaders who were instrumental in awakening the world to the unjust and unfair practices that women had to endure in their day-to-day lives. Through characters like Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks), we see women who are striving for a just society despite being conservative, and with characters like Eleanor Schlafly (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson), we see those who are on the cusp of a change.
What works for Mrs America?
Mrs America is a nine-episode series, and most episodes are designed in a way so that we follow the story of a single character. Through these episodes, we learn about their motivations, backstories and their political affiliations. The show is nuanced in the sense that it encourages a complex dialogue about gender and society.
The characters here are well-layered, and much of what we are told is in subtext. For someone like Schlafly, we see how she is treated in the political society which is predominated by men. Her allegiance to her cause also arises out of the will to gain a strong political ground so she can find a place for herself in the President’s staff. Cate Blanchett plays this role so well that it is almost impossible not to get infuriated every few minutes.
Uzo Aduba, who plays Shirley Chisholm, is excellent in the role of a politician who became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for POTUS. Uzo shines in scenes where her paranoia takes over her judgement as the system she is trying to be a part of is designed to be against her. Rose Byrne, Margo Martindale are exceptional as Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, respectively. Tracey Ullman plays the role of writer-activist Betty Friedan, and the scenes where she faces off against Cate’s Phyllis are electrifying.
In this mix of real-life characters, Sarah Paulson plays a fictional character called Alice Macray. She is the one who goes from being a conservative to a (sort of) liberal through the course of the show. Her performance in the episode titled Houston is simply stellar.
Mrs America gets most of its brownie-points because of its spectacular casting, but it leaves no stone unturned when it comes to creating compelling episodes. In my opinion, the eighth episode of the series titled Houston is probably the most moving representation of women’s movement that we have ever seen on screen. The scene where the women gather to sing “We Shall Overcome” gets you emotionally charged-up.
At the 72nd Emmy Awards, Mrs America was nominated for eight awards. Uzo Aduba won the Emmy in the Supporting Actress category for her role on the show.
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Mrs America is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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