We continue recaping and reviewing Hulu’s Mrs. America starring Cate Blanchett. This week we tackle episodes 4 and 5 dealing with Betty Freidan (Tracey Ullman) and Brenda Feigen Fasteau (Ari Graynor) debating Phyllis Schlafly (Blanchett). Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest staff writer at Backstage, Casey Mink.
What is the show about?
Official Synopsis: “Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” Through the eyes of the women of the era – both Schlafly and second wave feminists 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 70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape.”
Who does Cate play?
Ep 4 – Betty
Official Synopsis: “As Stop ERA grows and gains media attention, Betty Friedan, the mother of the Feminist movement, makes it her mission to take down Phyllis.” Written by Boo Killebrew; Directed by Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom).
- The parallels between the personal lives of Betty and Phyllis showing them both with their daughters. Great scene with Betty’s daughter and her ex-husband’s new wife.
- The ending – Gloria thanking Betty for her leadership – brought me to tears. This show has great episode endings.
- The race question comes up again – John Birch Society “I think you should just keep that to yourself.”
- ‘Tokenism ” scene with Bria Samoné Henderson as Maragaret Sloan.
- Episode brings into forefront the fractions in the women’s movement both between Betty and Bella/Gloria and within the black women’s movement as evidened by the Sundays at Flo’s scene.
- Phyllis’ prep scene with her husband.
Ep 5 – Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc
Official Synopsis: “Phyllis and Fred Schlafly debate superstar Feminist couple Brenda and Marc Feigan-Fasteau on television.” Written by Micah Schraft & April Shih; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere (The Mustang).
- The title is homage to the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice which closed also with “What the World Needs Now.”
- The debate scene led to a big fraction in the Schlafly’s marriage. Phyllis does exactly what she wants even after being called submissive on national TV.
- Phyllis actually wins by the end since Illinois doesn’t ratify the ERA yet the show subtly handles that. Couple that with Fred saying many people don’t want the ERA to pass, showing us Phyllis as what Brenda called her, a puppet for special interests.
- The show weaves in different depictions of marriage – Phyllis and Fred, Brenda and Marc and Gloria and Franklin – to comment on the institution.
- The scene with Phyllis and her son “you have to be careful”.
- These two episodes can be subtitled “The Lavendar Menace” as there are many queer themes and characters. John Schlafly, Margaret Sloan, Brenda Feigan Fasteau, Jules the photographer.
- Cate’s performance – the faces she makes after Fred calls her submissive on TV. Gestural acting bonanza; finger through teeth, slapping herself.
- Tracey Ullman and Ari Graynor performances.
- The show doesn’t tell all the stories, we have to wikipedia some info e.g.“Where’s Kate Millet now?”
- The show has yet to comment on Gloria having a Black boyfriend; they are presented as a couple with nary a comment from another character or them talking about it. Is it progress or avoidance?
- Casey would like to see Cate on stage with Katrina Lenk, we briefly discuss Lenk’s sublime recent rendition of Stephen Sondheim “Johanna.”
Reviews of Episodes 1 through 3 are also available.
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