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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mrs. America is a drama about Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), a conservative political and cultural figure who in the 1970s was instrumental in dooming the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Schlafly was vilified in her time by some segments of the public for her conservative viewpoints, though this series presents her more sympathetically and sees her as a woman of principle who showed integrity and perseverance. It also has sympathy for the feminists who oppose her, though it makes clear the reasons why they ultimately did not prevail with the ERA. Expect regressive ideas that have not aged well (and are not presented positively) like when Schlafly consents to sex with her husband at his insistence despite not wanting to, and a scene in which a man argues that a successful man wants to marry a "much younger" woman. Violence is infrequent, but given the time period, expect references to and possible visuals of violent protests and the Vietnam War. Language is also infrequent, but "ass" makes an appearance and feminists are frequently mocked and insulted. Adults drink wine at parties and at celebratory moments; no one acts drunk. In one scene, a group of feminists pass a joint around briefly. Though mature content is infrequent, this drama deals with historical events and ideological arguments that require a mature sensibility to understand and enjoy, so teens and up are most likely to be interested in watching with parents.
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What's the story?
MRS. AMERICA is set in the politically charged 1970s, when U.S. feminists were fighting for the passage of the Equal Rights Act, while their opposition was personified in conservative author and politico Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett). With the aid of her lawyer husband John Fred Schlafly (John Slattery), Phyllis Schlafly was instrumental in gutting congressional support for the ERA and launching a pro-family, anti-abortion, and anti-feminism movement in the Republican party, along the way brushing up against such vintage luminaries as Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Bella Azbug (Margo Martindale), and Shirley Chisholm (Udo Azuba) in her fight.
Is it any good?
As a portrait of a complicated woman at a pivotal time and place in American history, this compelling series with its fantastic cast and pacing is a total delight. Viewers who remember Schlafly and the ERA's most newsworthy moment may have a pleasant sensation that they're peeking behind the news headlines from back in the day, but even those too young to remember debates over bra burning will be carried along by the propulsive energy of the drama and the uniformly great performances. Time has also lent a dash of piquant irony to Schlafly's political battle.
But though Blanchett's Schlafly always has a steely-eyed, square-jawed confidence in her viewpoints, Mrs. America doesn't always take her side. Pointedly, the show takes pains to reveal the bustling domestic workers (always women of color, working for white women) who make sure dinner is on the table on time and Schlafly's kids' laundry is done, echoing the criticism during the ERA era that Schlafly spent a lot of time away from her home while advising other women to do otherwise. We also see moments when Schlafly tamps down her ambitions to make way for men: When she's asked to take notes at an otherwise-all-male political meeting; when she rejects a shot to run for Congress after her husband raises concerns about the effect it would have on their family life. What Mrs. America does best is show us a woman who saw life, her own and others, through a filter, and did her best to make the changes she thought important. Whether viewers agree or not is a matter of their own political leanings -- but as a sympathetic look at a woman whose most lasting cultural impact was being (mostly) on the wrong side of history, it's good, fascinating fun.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Mrs. America's messages. What is it saying about gender roles and the way that men and women are treated? Was the situation in the '70s a lot different than it is today? Why or why not?
How accurate do you think the series is to the way things really happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in movies based on real life? Why does the show start with a disclaimer that some events and conversations were invented? Is real life less interesting than it is on TV or at the movies?
Do you think Phyllis Schlafly demonstrates perseverance and integrity? Why are these important character strengths? Is it possible to disagree with someone's ideas but still respect them? Why or why not?
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