MOVIE NEWS

Mrs. America Deserves Some Emmys Love

It’s impossible to know for sure which direction the Emmys will head in, but there’s always some sense of where sympathy may lie; and this year, Watchmen is the safe bet. Not only did the HBO limited series come from a tried and true creator, it was also timely, star-studded, widely watched, and is already racking up awards. But for all of Watchmen‘s clear strengths there’s another limited series that should be demanding more awards attention. Thanks to its insightful and carefully crafted portrayal of ’70s America, Mrs. America is not just one of the most harrowing series of the year… By examining our past, it magnified the unacceptable problems we’re still grappling with in our present, transcending its central issue to become one of the most blisteringly honest depictions of our nation’s current problems.

At its core, Davhi Waller’s perfectly cast nine-episode series is an examination of the Equal Rights Amendment. Though the ERA has been a proposed amendment since 1923, the closest it came to passing was in the 1970s. In the midst of the women’s liberation movement that ERA was adopted as one of the movement’s biggest issues, an actual political policy that had the potential to cause real world change. The amendment calling for the equal legal rights for all Americans regardless of sex was almost ratified, too.

That was until Phyllis Schlafly entered the picture.

As a period piece Mrs. America is a wonderfully constructed examination of a point in history that should be common knowledge, but upsettingly isn’t. Cate Blanchett excels as the tight lipped and ever-prim Schlafly, a woman so blinded by her own influence and ambition that she’s incapable of realizing that the very issue she’s fighting for is also repressing her. Yet its true merits rest in not-so-subtle ways the limited series calls out the same systematic problems and hypocrisies that still plague our modern world.

MRS. AMERICA -- Pictured: Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX
Photo: FX

That’s most clearly seen through the women’s libers, as they’re so fondly called. Composed primarily of Rose Byrne’s Gloria Steinem, Elizabeth Banks’ Jill Ruckelshaus, Margo Martindale’s Bella Abzug, and Tracey Ullman’s Betty Friedan, it would be simple to cast these legends as the undisputed heroes of this gender war. Instead, Mrs. America never takes that easy path. Entire episodes revolve around the exclusionary nature of the movement, using figures such as Uzo Aduba’s Shirley Chrisholm to call out how this “inclusive” movement is still prejudiced toward race and sexuality.

Today, these same problems often emerge in conversations about intersexuality and are flippantly criticized as “white feminism.” These critiques feel progressive. But that’s the depressing lesson behind every one of Mrs. America‘s empowering speeches or heated phone calls. Society hasn’t evolved in the way that we hoped it would. Instead we’ve been trading the same small-minded and restrictive arguments for decades. Life may be more tolerant than it was in the age of radical America, but all of that progress has been hard won and has come at a much slower pace than anyone expected.

And then there’s the sinister evolution of Phyllis Schlafly’s counter-movement, one that Mrs. America argues may be the model for modern Republican party. Schlafly’s recruitment of the housewives and mothers who would go on to spearhead her ideas and block the passing of the ERA stems from half-truths. Throughout the series Schlafly and her cohorts downplay the aspects of the ERA that would actually benefit housewives such as equal footing during divorce, more flexible rights in owning property, and financial independence. Rather they instead boil down this complicated amendment to allowing abortion and requiring women to be drafted, two digestible points specifically chosen to enrage middle America.

There’s even a hint of Trump’s America in the series’ final two episodes. While attending a rally for the ERA, both Schlafly and her longtime friend Alice (Sarah Paulson) repeatedly dismiss the polls against them as fake news. They then go on to create some fake news of their own, releasing a press release that claims the crowds against the ERA were just as large as the ones in support of the amendment. Even Alice uncomfortably notes that was a lie. This routine dismissal of facts and rewriting history to suit a selective argument is a challenge that has all but defined modern American politics. Yet the echos of these bold claims can be traced back fifty years in the past.

During one of the most tumultuous times in the recent history, two shows emerged about America’s depressingly forgotten past. Watchmen offered us hope that we can rise from our mistakes and possibly find redemption. But Mrs. America left us with a far more harrowing and honest lesson. By rehashing the past, it reminded us that we haven’t changed that much over the past five decades. The racism, sexism, and homophobia that defined revolutions in the 1970s still very much exist today. Mrs. America scolded us, reminding us that we can be better and fight harder. If that’s not worth a sentimental golden statue, what is?

Watch Mrs. America on FX on Hulu

.

Tags

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close
Close