It’s fascinating how many young people have never heard of Phyllis Schlafly and how many older folk have forgotten her grassroots opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s.
Svelte, ultra-conservative Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) was an ambitious, politically-savvy suburban Illinois homemaker, wife of a lawyer (John Slattery) and mother of six children, who vehemently opposed all aspects of feminism, pointing out its potential dangers – like unisex bathrooms, women being drafted into the military, and the eradication of the Girl Scouts.
Schlafly’s persistent lobbying led to volatile conflicts with Ms. magazine’s glamorous Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), outspoken Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), pragmatic Rep. Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and crusading Rep. Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), who lost to George McGovern in a trailblazing Democratic bid for the Presidential nomination in 1972.
In this nine-part mini-series, created by Mad Men showrunner/writer Dahvi Waller and co-directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Cate Blanchett (who also serves as executive producer) vividly embodies cleverly compelling Mrs. Schlafly as an impeccably tailored, influential female anti-hero with her blonde upswept bun, prim pearls and bread-baking skills.
“Love her or hate her, you cannot take away that she was extraordinary,” says Waller, extolling Schlafly’s cunning activism psychology. “And if you find yourself rooting for her and hate yourself for it, that’s also fun.”
Sarah Paulson plays Schlafly’s (fictional) best friend Alice Macray, who timidly serves as her conscience when they’re forced to work with and placate vocally racist Louisiana delegates. And Jeanne Tripplehorn is pitiful as Schlafly’s spinster sister-in-law.
It’s also dauntingly relevant to realize that – a century after female suffrage became the law of the land – there’s still no constitutional ban on discrimination against women. Just this past January (2020), Virginia became the 38th state to finally ratify the still-controversial E.R.A. – nearly four decades after the Congressional deadline.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Mrs. America is a sprawling 7, streaming on FX/Hulu with new episodes debuting on Wednesdays.