Jason Voorhees. Michael Myers. Freddy Krueger. None of these iconic movie monsters can hold a candle to the terror Phyllis Schlafly evokes in FX and Hulu’s Mrs. America. Played by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, the centerpiece of the limited series is a snake draped in pearls and striking fear with venomous rhetoric. The fact you don’t absolutely hate the character by the end of Mrs. America is a testament to the brilliance of Cate Blanchett.
Mrs. America recounts the complicated journey of the Equal Rights Amendment (which still hasn’t passed into law, by the way), focusing on key players who were instrumental both in fighting for and in fighting against the amendment back in the 1970s. Leading the charge on the anti-ERA side is Phyllis Schlafly, an intelligent, ruthless, power-hungry wife and mother who believes women don’t need to be deemed equal to men. Women shouldn’t work. They shouldn’t challenge men in or out of the bedroom, and they definitely do not need an amendment added to the United States Constitution that would allow them equal footing with men in all arenas.
Phyllis Schlafly embodies the description of a perfect housewife. Her appearance is always spotless, the house is neat and tidy, and dinner is promptly served each night at the same time. However, despite the fact she claims to despise women in the workplace, she’s constantly craving the spotlight for herself and in fact is often away from home working as a public speaker.
Phyllis’ Stop ERA movement draws in the upper crust of society. The women who gather around Phyllis are the epitome of ladies who lunch. These married women are fine with being completely dependent on their husbands. Phyllis’ anti-feminist movement also draws in racists who not only want to continue the treatment of women as second-class citizens but also want to trample the rights of African Americans.
Each episode of the nine-part series is named after the activist who will be spotlighted in that particular one-hour episode. Series creator Dahvi Waller has filled out the pivotal players in the equal rights fight with an incredible collection of talent. While Cate Blanchett’s character is by far the most memorable of the lot, Rose Byrne’s take on feminist icon/founder of Ms. magazine Gloria Steinem is some of her finest work to date. Byrne’s Gloria is a sympathetic figure who has a complicated relationship with other pivotal players within the equal rights movement.
The impressive ensemble also includes Sarah Paulson as Alice, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug, Tracey Ullman as Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus, and Melanie Lynskey as Rosemary Thomson.
You don’t need to be aware of the battles behind the scenes to know Mrs. America’s not going to end on a celebratory note. It’s both a frustrating watch as it presents both sides of the ERA battle and a must-see series in that it should provoke conversation and, hopefully, might prompt viewers to become more involved in political activism.
Mrs. America manages to successfully weave a tapestry of complicated storylines into coherent and entertaining viewing. Obviously, the history of the ERA is complex, but the snapshot shared via Mrs. America is a solid, condensed version of the fight for women’s rights.
Mrs. America premieres Wednesday, April 15, 2020 on FX on Hulu.