Mrs America (2020) - Hulu/BBC

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Watched all this over a couple of days and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

It’s about the Equal Rights Amendment, Phyllis Schlafly, and the American women’s liberation movement in the 70s. Cate Blanchett is Schlafly, Rose Byrne is a delightful Gloria Steinem, the cast is tremendous. The costumes were gorgeous and people might be in it for Blanchett’s pristine look but I couldn’t take my eyes off Rose Byrne’s Steinem - the shirts, the glasses, the loose beautiful hair.

Every episode covers different people’s perspectives, so besides Steinem and Schlafly, you get Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm.

I am not terribly well educated on this period of history so many of these people were new to me and I can’t comment on the accuracy of the portrayals, but since I finished watching I’ve been fascinated reading up on their individual histories.

The messy nature of politics is on full display here. The compromises, the backstabbing, the heartbreak - it’s all in there. Time and time again the show draws parallels between past and present. Betty Friedan goes from being a trailblazer and unquestioned icon of the movement to being seen as embarrassing due to her opposition to gay rights. Steinem and Abzug are the foremost progressives, until they are exposed as being painfully inadequate when it comes to supporting black women. (Seriously, the scene in the Ms office where Steinem questions a black colleague is painful). And most tellingly of all, Jill Ruckelshaus goes from being the face of Republican feminists to being sidelined by the extremists. All of this is nothing new, and activists can never rest on their laurels, but it is depressing how familiar it feels.

I wouldn’t say the show is sympathetic to Schlafly, precisely, but it tries to flesh her out a bit and show the conflicts at play in her own movement. Sarah Paulson is great as the fictional Alice, and an amazing foil throughout.

What the show left me with were questions. Were the conservatives right in their approach? They had a single minded goal, they accepted support regardless of who it came from - and instantly you know how this story ends - and they coalesced around a single figure. But I could not look at the progressives and think that they were wrong either; the price of inclusivity is perhaps multiple messages, or multiple representatives, but it is necessary in an intersectional movement.

It’s a really fascinating show, and even though the goals of STOP ERA were awful, they still got what they wanted. Revanchist movements never take a day off and it was good to have that message spelled out so clearly.

But enough about my thoughts on the matter, what did those of you who’ve watched it think?

let them microwave their rice (gyac), Saturday, 1 August 2020 14:37 (one week ago) link

I liked it.

jaymc, Saturday, 1 August 2020 14:46 (one week ago) link

I posted about this on two other threads (even got chastised for picking an unsuitable Cate Blanchett thread). I thought it was generally very good; a couple of episodes lagged, but I thought the structure of hooking each episode to a specific character (except the last?) worked well. My favorite was "Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc."

I liked Rose Byrne, although based on old clips I've seen of Steinem, I thought there was kind of a hippie spaciness to the performance that didn't jibe with the piercing sharpness of the real Steinem. Agree about Paulson, thought Margo Martindale was excellent too. (Her little speech when she relented on the same-sex plank was a highlight.)

Music was great throughout, notwithstanding that they didn't come up with a memorable series-ending song in the tradition of Mad Men, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. Which was almost made up for by the inspired Jeanne Dielman image of Blanchett at the kitchen table.

I was very surprised to learn that states were still passing the ERA amendment fairly recently.

clemenza, Saturday, 1 August 2020 15:11 (one week ago) link

this was good indeed. this could’ve easily suffered from biopic syndrome, where a long and complex life is reduced to some key moments, but it avoided it, imo, by focusing on the interpersonal relationships between the feminists and by animating the conflict between their ideals and expectations of society.

favorite eps: shirley, bella, the one where alice got lost in the houston convention

that last one was a special episode of television, particularly how it animated how it must’ve felt being a fly on the wall for the convergence of all these disparate women’s movements—and for the last gasps of the hippie movement in general.

mozzy star (voodoo chili), Saturday, 1 August 2020 15:21 (one week ago) link

My wife watched it with one of my daughters, and they both liked it a lot.

Josh in Chicago, Saturday, 1 August 2020 15:48 (one week ago) link

Thought this was really good, educational too for me. From what I've read it's pretty accurate to events - when you're making a historical drama about intellectuals and activists, you have the advantage that they all wrote a lot down. There was criticism from Steinem and others that it overplayed Schlafly's importance - STOP ERA didn't kill the ERA, men did - but idk it was clear we were only seeing a slice of events, e.g. the president and his staff was clearly doing a lot of other stuff in the 364+ days each year they weren't on screen engaging with the women's movement.

Loved spending time with all those amazing people - Flo Kennedy should have had her own episode too.

Also found this contemporary account from the NYT interesting, even if it hits a weird snarky tone in parts: https://www.nytimes.com/1977/12/25/archives/that-week-in-houston-it-was-said-that-the-womens-movement-was-in-a.html

mise róna (seandalai), Sunday, 9 August 2020 22:53 (three days ago) link

Schlafly definitely overplayed but women visible at the forefront of regressive movements always help in increasing their visibility and credibility.

let them microwave their rice (gyac), Tuesday, 11 August 2020 11:05 (yesterday) link


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