The cast of upcoming FX limited series Mrs. America made its debut at the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour on Thursday, weighing in on the 1970s fight for women’s rights, and still in 2020. The show, which stars Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Paulson, Uzo Aduba, Rose Byrne, Margo Martindale, John Slattery, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tracey Ullman, centers on the efforts — and opposition — to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Blanchett, who stars as conservative advocate Phyllis Schlafly and also serves as executive producer, spoke about the show’s connection to today’s politics and how it “couldn’t have been more relevant.”
“In the process of developing it — like with Roe v. Wade — there were questions with ‘Is this really relevant, do we really need a whole episode about this?'” the star said during the panel discussion. “It seemed that every passing day in the development process and certainly during shooting, right up to Virginia debating the ERA right now, it became like Groundhog Day; the literal discussions that were having during 1971,1972 going through the series were constantly popping up in the media,” including discussions of same-sex marriage, gender neutral bathrooms and women joining the military.
Creator Dahvi Waller added that the series serves “as origin story of today’s culture wars — you can draw a direct line from 1970 to today through Phyllis Schlafly and really understand how we became such a divided nation,” saying that she realized while working on the series that the U.S. had not progressed as much in the last 50 years as she had thought.
With women from both sides of the movement highlighted in the show — including second-wave feminists Gloria Steinem (Byrne), Betty Friedan (Ullman), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Bella Abzug (Martindale) and Jill Ruckelshaus (Banks) — Waller said the writers and producers made a conscious effort to “create a series with shades of grey” that didn’t take a side.
“I don’t think we benefit from portraying the side we don’t agree with as monsters; I don’t think we benefit from portraying heroes as perfect,” she said, as Blanchett added that she “doesn’t believe in demonizing anybody,” regardless of her personal views. “You haven’t seen the series, I’m nice!” she told one reporter who asked about portraying the woman who almost single-handedly stopped passage of the ERA and moved the Republican party further right on religious and pro-life issues.
Paulson, who plays a character loosely based on a neighbor of Schlafly’s who becomes one of her “foot soldiers,” said she was attracted to playing someone “very different from myself: innocent, open-hearted, a dedicated homemaker. I myself am not a dedicated homemaker so I thought it would be interested to put my toe into that water.” Aduba also spoke of “righting an historical wrong” in her portrayal of Chisholm and how history has tended to “gloss over some of those intersectional figures” that took part in the movement.
Mrs. America premieres April 15 on FX on Hulu.