Fanboys and Fangirls would pause multiple times in a Zack Snyder flick to see the beauty of the shots, to see the quality of the frames. I would suggest everyone to take a look at this show as well, to see how important frames are. Mrs. America is very wordy. There is much to say and much to show. And that is indeed the highlight. It thrives because of the story and the dialogues, but it also takes visual storytelling to another level.
The show dedicates each episode to a particular character from the Feminist movement of the 70s. It mostly follows the character of Phyllis Schlafly, with the show beginning and closing with her. She’s the anti-hero, a character you wouldn’t have much sympathy for in real life (or would religiously follow, depending on your ideological leanings). Cate Blanchett is able to make a case for even such a character. The cast of this show is truly spectacular – Rose Byrne, Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Paulson, Uzo Aduba and many more. The fictional counterparts closely resemble the real leaders. And what characters they are! With so many women on screen, and just 8 episodes, you wouldn’t expect them to be the full three-dimensional characters that they are.
The story is pulled straight from history. An amendment that wouldn’t have been so controversial if it weren’t for certain players. And yet, so relevant still to the present times. “Revolutions are messy,” says Gloria Steinem on the show. This is the most accurate summary of the movement and this story. Politics is messy, characters are messy, the story is messy. No one is perfect, no one understands everyone in the movement, no one is able to do all the things they set out to do. The show excels at showing this messiness. My favourite scenes in this show were when they were able to contrast the two movements, almost side-by-side. It was visually very powerful to see how technically both the movements looked the same from afar; their feminized office spaces, with coffee and calls pouring in, babies crying and kids running around. And yet, a second’s pause would show how different they were in terms of the colour of their skin, in terms of what they were trying to do, in terms of what brought them to the room.
With each episode, the show digs deeper into each character. The characters are the kings in this show, not the plot. We know the history. It’s the how, why, and when that will keep you hooked. That will ensure you sit through it trying to understand why Betty Frieden was pushed aside a lot, how Gloria Steinem didn’t understand how she was engaging in tokenism, why Shirley Chisholm felt abandoned by the women around her, how the housewives Schlafly brought out had reasons to come to the streets. You see the time progressing with the lines on their faces and their hairstyles. You see the changes that come with each generation. You see why people did the things they did.
Mrs. America comes at a time when cancel culture and call-out culture is at its peak. While emboldening those who don’t have voices, this culture has also turned disagreements into vitriol poured out into every inch on the internet. It’s true, these characters, fictional and factual, aren’t half as progressive by today’s standards. Some of the things they struggled for are things we take for granted today. While some others are fights that are still being fought even now. What this show tries to do is show everyone’s point of view, give everyone a chance. Of course, one can criticise this way of portrayal by saying that it tries to justify what some characters did. I don’t agree with this because the show makes it plenty clear whose side it’s on. And it doesn’t try to justify anyone’s actions. What it does, in my opinion, is show how the lines are drawn, how divisive arguments are made, how things can be and are manipulated.
One can make several arguments about the politics on the show. But the framework Mrs. America adapts is an excellent tool to translate a complicated story like this on to the screen. An Indian adaptation with our own history of the Feminist movement, and our own achievements and our own failings, will be extremely useful and worthwhile. The show does have some failings. Even when it tries to show other narratives, the story does focus an awful lot on the white characters and their narratives. It is not perfect, true. But it is very close to. The final shot of Phyllis Schlafly at the table peeling apples should go down in the records as one of the most iconic frames ever, in my opinion.