Mrs. America is an American historical drama television miniseries produced by FX and originally aired on the sister streaming service FX on Hulu. Created and co-written by Davhi Waller and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Amma Asante, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Janicza Bravo, the series details the unsuccessful political movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and the unexpected backlash led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in the 1970s. It features a large ensemble cast led by Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, Margo Martindale, John Slattery, Tracey Ullman, and Sarah Paulson.
The nine-part series premiered in the United States on April 15, 2020, to widespread critical acclaim. At the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, it received ten nominations including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Writing, as well as acting nominations for Blanchett, Aduba, Martindale, and Ullman, with Aduba winning Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. In January 2021, the American Film Institute named Mrs. America one of the ten best television shows of 2020.
Mrs. America is based on and dramatizes the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and the unexpected backlash led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, played by Blanchett. Through the eyes of the women of that era – both Schlafly and prominent second-wave feminists including Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, and Jill Ruckelshaus – the series explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the 1970s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and permanently shifted the American political landscape.
Every episode contains an opening message which acknowledges that some scenes and characters are fictionalized for creative purposes.
Mrs. America was created and co-written by Emmy Award winning Canadian writer Dahvi Waller, who previously had writing credits on acclaimed television shows such as Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire. The head of FX, John Landgraf, had become interested in the reappraisal of historical events "embedded in America’s collective consciousness" after Ryan Murphy originally sketched out the plot of American Crime Story. Landgraf saw Mrs. America and its portrayal of the battle surrounding the Equal Rights Amendment as having a "direct bearing on the political climate in which we find ourselves today." He also commented that, "It's a wonderful thing when any creator, any broadcaster can sort of find that place where it’s not homework to watch something, yet it has an enormous amount of artistic or educational value."
Waller said that, while researching and developing the series, she realized that (in relation to equal rights) the U.S. had not progressed as much in the last 50 years as she initially thought. She commented that Mrs. America serves "as an origin story of today’s culture wars — you can draw a direct line from 1970 to today through Phyllis Schlafly and really understand how we became such a divided nation." Cate Blanchett, who served as an executive producer on the series as well as starring as Schlafly, also echoed the sentiment and the timeliness of the series, saying, "In the process of developing it — like with Roe v. Wade — there were questions with 'Is this really relevant, do we really need a whole episode about this?' It seemed that every passing day in the development process and certainly during shooting, right up to Virginia debating the ERA right now, it became like Groundhog Day; the literal discussions that we were having during 1971, 1972 going through the series were constantly popping up in the media."
Waller also desired to highlight the beginnings of intersectional feminism within the series through the character of Shirley Chisholm, played by Uzo Aduba. Chisholm was the first black female candidate in history to run for the U.S. presidency. Waller commented, "One of the great things about this period is you have the birth of a lot of things, including intersectional feminism and LGBTQ rights. In episode 3, Shirley is really the beginning of the birth of intersectional feminism, and it's a messy beginning. I think the women's movement was really growing in this time period and learning lessons."
On October 30, 2018, it was announced that FX had given the show a series order. The nine-episode miniseries was written by Dahvi Waller, Tanya Barfield, Boo Killebrew, Micah Schraft, April Shih, Sharon Hoffman, and Joshua Allen Griffith and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Amma Asante, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Janicza Bravo. Waller also served as an executive producer alongside Stacey Sher, Cate Blanchett, Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, and Coco Francini.
The first official images of the series were released on August 6, 2019. In November 2019, it was announced the show would premiere on Hulu instead of FX, as part of "FX on Hulu". In January 2020, it was announced that the series would premiere on April 15, 2020.
Alongside the series order, Cate Blanchett was announced to star in October 2018. In May 2019, Uzo Aduba, Rose Byrne, Kayli Carter, Ari Graynor, Melanie Lynskey, James Marsden, Margo Martindale, Sarah Paulson, John Slattery, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tracey Ullman were added to the series. In June 2019, Elizabeth Banks was cast to star while Bria Henderson was set to recur. Niecy Nash was cast in a recurring role in August, with Olivia Scriven cast in October.
Principal photography for the series took place from June 19 to November 1, 2019, in Toronto, Ontario.
The musical score was composed by American composer Kris Bowers. The opening theme, "A Fifth of Beethoven", was chosen by the show's music supervisor, Mary Ramos, because "It represents both sides of the story. Phyllis and her conservative friends listen to classical music most of the time, so it’s that, combined with the sexiness and freedom of the feminists, all epitomized in one song — the disco version of Beethoven’s Fifth."
The series also prominently features many hit songs from the 1970s, including tracks by Donna Summer, Golden Earring, Burt Bacharach, The Kinks, Linda Ronstadt, and The Runaways.
In the United States, the first three episodes premiered on Hulu under the FX on Hulu label on April 15, 2020. In India, the series started streaming on Hulu and FX's corporate sibling Disney+ Hotstar on April 16, 2020. In Australia, the series debuted on April 21, 2020 on Foxtel's Fox Showcase network, and was available on demand via its Foxtel Now and Binge services. However, as Disney now fully owned the FX titles following their output deals with Foxtel has expired, the series has been pulled out of both Foxtel and Binge and has relocated to Disney+ via Star content hub. In the United Kingdom, the series aired on BBC Two and was available for streaming on BBC iPlayer beginning on July 8, 2020.
According to Whip Media's TV Time, Mrs. America was the 2nd most anticipated new television series of April 2020. In January 2021, it was reported that Mrs. America was one of FX on Hulu’s most-watched series to date, surpassed by A Teacher.
Mrs. America received widespread critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the miniseries holds an approval rating of 96% based on 96 reviews, with an average rating of 8.29/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Mrs. America captures the complicated life and times of Phyllis Schlafly with poise and style to spare, brought to vivid life by a superb ensemble led by another masterful performance from Cate Blanchett." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100 based on 41 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
James Poniewozik, writing for The New York Times, praised the series, calling it "breathtaking" and "a meticulously created and observed mural that finds the germ of contemporary America in the striving of righteously mad women." Poniewozik also praised the performances of the cast, singling out Cate Blanchett ("Her final scene, wordless and devastating, might as well end with Blanchett being handed an Emmy onscreen"), Tracey Ullman ("Ullman is tsunamic as Friedan, the outspoken Feminine Mystique author now raging for relevance in the current wave of feminism"), and Margo Martindale ("a tornado in a hat, a piquantly funny force of personality").
Judy Berman, writing for Time, reviewed the series positively, writing "Creator Dahvi Waller, whose history as a writer for Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire is evident in Mrs. America's vivid, complex depiction of our country's recent past". Berman also praised the show's writers, stating "This degree of moral, political and philosophical complexity is what differentiates Mrs. America from so many other recent dramatizations of women’s movements past".
Inkoo Kang, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, called the series "a tremendously executed balancing act" and stated that "there's no denying that Mrs. America makes history come alive, in thoughtful and achingly real detail", whilst also praising the performances of the central cast.
The series was criticized by Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal who called it ridiculous and described it as lacking in historical accuracy. They argued the series portrayed the fight for the ERA as a catfight between women instead of showing that lobbyists protecting the financial interests of insurance and other companies affected by the change were far more influential in preventing the law from being passed. They believe this affects women's ability to believe they can effect change. Steinem and Smeal's comments were later disagreed with by fellow second-wave feminist Brenda Feigen, who called the series "extraordinary" and stated that, in her view, the nuance of the characters were portrayed very accurately. The show was also accused of being one-sided and inventing details to present Schlafly in an unsympathetic light.
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