Cate Blanchett in ‘Mrs. America 4-5’ Podcast Recap

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.

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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?

Phyllis Schlafly.

Critical Response: Metacritic : 87  RT: 95

Topics discussed:

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Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan

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.
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Ari Grayor as Brenda Feigan Fasteau with Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem

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”.
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John Slattery and Cate Blanchett as Fred and Phyllis Schlafly

General:

  • 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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Ari Graynor and Adam Brody as Brenda Feigan Fasteau and Mark Feigan Fasteau

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Mrs. America 1-3’ Podcast Recap

We are going back to the early 1970s to talk about the first three episodes of Cate Blanchett’s first major TV role in Mrs America. She’s playing polarizing right wing figure Phyllis Schalfly. We discuss her performance, the all star cast, the costumes and review the show. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague.

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What is the show about? available on Hulu

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?

Phyllis Schlafly.

How is Cate introduced?

A couple of minutes after two minor characters talk about her, in a 2 piece swimsuit “modeling’ at a Republican political fundraiser.

Critical Response: Metacritic : 87  RT: 95

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Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly modeling in the opening scene of Mrs. America

Topics discussed:

Ep 1 – Phyllis

  • The first episode seems to be saying even Phyllis suffered as a woman from misogyny. “Have you ever thought of starting a baking business?” the look in her face then.
  • The key scene – the meeting at the capitol when Phyllis sees an opportunity to gain influence by going against the ERA. She starts by saying “I’ve never been discriminated against” yet immediately she is. Shows her as short sighted and not as smart as she thinks she is.
  • The speech at the Mothers and Daughters luncheon, hits all the stuff they’ve been building up to.
  • The end scene with the women’s movement celebrating, so poignant because we know how that went.
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Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan

Ep 2 – Gloria

  • The portrayal of Steinmen as the glamour girl of the movement, showing her political acumen in how she plays the game with McGovern vs Betty Freidan who alienates everyone.
  • The abortion subplot. 
  • There’s misogyny even at Ms. magazine, “great legs.” 
  • Gloria and her boyfriend and the performances of Rose Byrne and Jay Ellis.
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Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm in a scene from Mrs. America

Ep 3 – Shirley 

  • Shirley’s resolve not to “roll over when the man presses” and her definition of power.
  • The dramtization on the vote on abortion on the convention floor.
  • How white feminists stiffed Chisholm.
  • Phyllis’ embrace of the racist women at STOP ERA – is the series smart so far about handling race?

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General

  • Cate’s performance – brilliant in its smaller moments. The smaller gestures like how she stops before diving in when manipulating a situation. We dive into a coule of scenes.
  • The costumes. Recreation and more. The wigs. “Dusty rose.”
  • The parallels it’s drawing to our current living nightmare with the Trump election are sometimes too on the nose. Though that doesn’t make them wrong.  (Phyllis at Donahue is Trump on TV every night).
  • The direction; does it rise above a typical TV show? The first two episodes were directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Captain Marvel) and the 3rd by Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom). 
  • Did the show transport the audience to the early 70s successfully? The creator Dahvi Waller is well known for another period show, Mad Men.

Reviews of Episodes 4 and 5 are now available.

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