Cinematic Narrative should balance thesis and antithesis opinions. Rather than impose a judgment, it should give enough evidence to the viewers to weave their own judgment. In short, it should consider viewers as the Jury and not as mere spectators. Now, as a filmmaker and a screenwriter, I fail miserably to give away a political opinion but I can surely debate whether a particular narrative balances the opinions and delivers enough drama to support heavy boring facts. Mrs America underlines similar conflicted political opinion that would affect the lives of each American woman.
Created by Dahvi Waller, Mrs America showcases the strange and bumpy journey of the Equal Rights Amendment in the USA. It is wrapped in 9 episodes of approximately one hour each and showcases multiple women who had their share of contribution in ERA. The important question with this miniseries is, is it too much documented with facts? Or it facilitates an entertaining watch. Let’s figure it out.
‘Mrs America’ Summary
Mrs America fuels the differences of opinion between two sets of activists. On one side there are groups of prominent feminists, fighting a proactive battle for the ratification of ERA in 38 states. While on the other side, there is a conservative housewife, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) who hails to stop ERA. She feels it will rob American women of their necessary privileges if both men and women are treated equally.
The narrative, therefore, follows the struggles of both groups of women with different challenges they face in a man dominated political scenario. Through this wide subject matter in the background, Mrs America explores various themes related to woman harassment, corrupt politics, woman liberation, angry feminism, sexual preference and minority rights. These are the very subtle and hidden layers but each episode works on a variety of themes, that are prominently centred around women of America.
Narrative Structure & Character
As said earlier, the narrative is heavily glued with politics and underlining opinions. It is loaded with real-life facts which have been dramatized. My main concern as a writer is to highlight whether they were dramatised well or it falls flat.
Each episode maintains the grip on its viewers with major events happening constantly. The narrative gracefully captures the effect of those events on the lives of the central characters and how they are influenced by them.
For example, Let’s do a quick character study of Phyllis Schlafly played by incredible Cate Blanchett.
Phyllis Schlafly is a genius in defence strategy. When she talks about nuclear deals and treaties with Soviet, there is a certain spark in her eyes which cannot be missed. But she is a woman and a woman in defence is not very much pleasurable to men sitting in the cabinet. Hence, Phyllis Schlafly is often unheard or ignored. She has strong opinions but lacks enough ears.
When Phyllis learns about ERA, she decides to make a speech on it. The speech is well accepted and her popularity grows. But she doesn’t have a heart in it, her goal isn’t woman liberation. She just wants to be in the cabinet which is her greater goal and ERA is just a medium for her. She is a flawed character but her limitation is not entirely her own. She lives in a society where women defence strategists are still scarce. Phyllis is pushed by men to make her plea with topics that relate to women, rather than to nuclear weapons. But her ambitious nature doesn’t let her stop and accept fate, that is why she fights against the ratification of ERA to gain support.
Now there is a group of feminists that include Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus. These women are fighting for ERA because they are literally affected by patriarchy and sexism. For these women, it’s a personal battle, while for Phyllis it’s a battle for power and popularity. Any change in the course of ratification affects these two groups as they hit each other with verbal accusations and argumentative debates. The change in their character due to these incidents is where all the drama lies.
Phyllis jumps into the battle to STOP ERA without any prior knowledge in law. But through the course of the battle, she prepares herself and moulds herself to create a large impact. As said, it is not a personal battle for Phyllis, and thus, she isn’t good with emotional pursuit concerning ERA, but she is a great Orator. She can influence women into anything, and these are the small traits she learns about herself and polishes them in the course of time. Phyllis Schlafly is a character that jumps off the cliff and learns to fly in the air.
Emotionally, we are not much attached to Phyllis’ character. Only in the end, when everything falls apart, we get a bit sentimental for a character yearning for materialistic status but one who fails to grab it. Again, how this breakdown plays out has a strong influence of patriarchy and male politics. Her character shows a neat character arc and she has performed it well. It is not the lack of writing or performance that fails to create an impact, but it is the real character of Phyllis Schlafly that had issues. She literally sounded very dumb at some points because women liberation was never her forte.
Thus, whether it’s Phyllis or the feminists, both these groups of women are exploited by powerful political men like Nixon and Reagon. They used these women’s agenda to fuel their own campaign and left them deserted after the elections were concluded.
Some Important Subjects
There are many important layers throughout the series. However, the right to abortion is one particular layer which impacts you densely.
Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) was the star of the National Women’s Political Caucus. It was her battle to pass a bill in the assembly that would give women the necessary right to abort their babies. Like said earlier, Phyllis never had an emotional attachment with the whole movement, but Gloria had. Her backstory captures how she wanted to abort her child and she did but it led to unwanted consequences. For Gloria, it’s her personal battle to introduce the abortion bill and make a woman the master of their own body. It is the most liberating factor of that time. When Phyllis tried to counter-argue on this issue, her statement looked fragile and utter nonsense. If someone would ask me personally, who was the protagonist of the series, I would say Gloria without a second thought.
At one point, during the congress convention, a prominent member of STOP ERA movement, Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson) meets Gloria Steinem and other important feminists of the ERA. She captures the same feeling, that for these women, ERA is a personal pursuit and not something to gain popularity like Phyllis, who is always absent from the protest.
Alice verbalises her feelings saying,
“I’ve always supported Phyllis when things were simple and clear when it was about protecting our place at home. But somewhere along the way, it’s become about something else.”
Alice did understand that Phyllis is now not liberating women from men or from their household work but she is working for her own personal goals. The moment Alice is sure of this feeling, she leaves Phyllis instantly. Phyllis, though, wasn’t the antagonist in this drama. It was men, patriarchy and society who dictates their own terms on women. Phyllis was another woman who fell prey to the fake promises of political men.
In one of the striking scenes, the proactive feminists believe that politicians are in their favour but they are betrayed. The next day, each one of them hands over their resignation and leaves the office. This particular scene was the most impactful of the whole miniseries.
‘Mrs America’ Ending Explained
The miniseries ends with President Ronald Reagan winning the election in the 1980s, with the help of a mailing list arranged by Phyllis. However, Phyllis is not offered any position in the cabinet.
The ERA was never talked about after that and it evaporated from the political scenario, until 2017 when Nevada ratified ERA. In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify. However, the implementation is still under the house at the end of the miniseries.
Mrs America is a multi-perspective narrative that portrays the life of various women trapped in a male-dominated American politics. These women are fighting for the rights of women, and something against each other. The to-and-fro battle is worth a watch, but sometimes it gets really monotonous. If you are a fan of slow-moving drama and don’t have issues grabbing heavy political facts, then this miniseries might lure your attention. For Cate Blanchett’s fans, do not miss this one, she is incredible.
Mrs America is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
For more Quality Content, Do visit Digital Mafia Talkies.