New 'Mrs. America' trailer paints a nuanced portrait of Phylis Schlafly as a driven woman opposing feminism

Opponents of Schlafly have often called her a hypocrite for pursuing an energetic career while championing traditional female roles. She would reply by calling her political career “a hobby”. But how did she feel when men belittled her movemnet? The new trailer shed light on that


                            New 'Mrs. America' trailer paints a nuanced portrait of Phylis Schlafly as a driven woman opposing feminism
Cate Blanchett in 'Mrs. America' (IMDb)

A new trailer for FX miniseries ‘Mrs. America’ dropped on Monday, and it presents a whole new perspective on what we can expect from the semi-biographical show about second-wave feminism during the 70s in the United States.

‘Mrs. America’ revolves around the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and the backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly, a beauty queen-turned-conservative crusader. The miniseries 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”. The show’s ensemble cast plays a group of internationally acclaimed feminists that includes the likes of Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Jill Ruckelshaus, Shirley Chisholm and more.

But the eponymous character is not part of that cohort.

Schlafly is played by the incomparable Cate Blanchett, and whose grass-roots campaigns against Communism, abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment rehashed conservative politics in the US. This new trailer, unlike the first one that arrived in January, focuses on Schlafly. A New York Times obituary for Schlafly describes her as one of the most polarizing figures in American public life -- “a self-described housewife who displayed a moral ferocity reminiscent of the ax-wielding prohibitionist Carry Nation”.

Her staunch opposition to the feminist movement combined with her fierce pro-life and pro-Christian stands earned her the title of “the first lady of the conservative movement”.

Schlafly, as is evident, is by no means the hero of ‘Mrs. America’. She’s as villainous as one gets. After all, she successfully opposed the  Equal Rights Amendment that would have expanded women’s rights by barring any gender-based distinctions in federal and state laws. But to think of Schlafly as one dimensional would be blasphemous (though not by the real Schlafly’s standards).

The trailer begins with Schlafly speaking to a large crowd. “They say that women are like teabags. You don’t know their strength until they get into hot water.” The line inadvertently describes both Schlafly and the women she opposed. She talks about “the threat” posed by the women’s liberation movement, which supposedly wants to create a “sex-neutral society.”

As the trailer’s orchestral score slowly reaches a crescendo, we see her successfully lead a campaign against the movement. But even as she does, we see her personal struggles, which ironically are the products of the brand of politics she espouses. One particular sequence in the trailer is extremely relevant to this conundrum.

As she begins to speak at a private meeting about the opposition to the ERA, she’s interrupted by a man who asks her, “Could you take notes for us? You probably have the best penmanship.” Schlafly agrees but with a tight smile on her face. It’s ironic and horrifying how the force behind the movement was reduced to a secretarial role in one moment, but that’s what the miniseries intends to portray, right?

Yet another sequence is powerfully demonstrative of that: Her husband Fred Schlafly, played by John Slattery, shouts at her, saying, “I have let you run around this country with your cause!” The angry conservative responds to that with, “I have raised six of your children,” reminding him that she was dutifully carrying out what was expected of her at home while lobbying for conservative reforms. “You can’t keep me from going,” she says, as he leaves the room with the door banging shut behind him. 

Schlafly’s inner demons play themselves out from inside a confession box where she asks a priest, “Why would God put this fire in me if he didn’t want me to act on it?”

It is a powerhouse of a performance from Blanchett. But it is also one that makes you think. How could a woman, who faces discrimination and condescension, day in and day out, bring herself to spearhead one of the biggest oppositions to a movement that only aimed to empower her? 

Opponents of Schlafly have often called her a hypocrite for pursuing an energetic career while championing traditional female roles. She would reply by calling her political career “a hobby” and saying she would never offer an opinion on whether women should or should not work outside the home. ‘Mrs. America’ is a testament to what she may have experienced when others reduced her lobbying efforts to just a “hobby”. The show will no doubt be an extremely nuanced and complex character sketch of Schlafly and the mindset she carried around her entire life. 

Watch the trailer here:



 

 

‘Mrs. America’ will premiere its first three episodes on Hulu on April 15.

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