Mrs America is the true story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and its opposition led by activist Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett).
What happens in Houston, stays in Houston
Phyllis Schlafly’s (Cate Blanchett) BFF, Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson) is a fictional character, reportedly inspired by various Schlafly supporters from her STOP ERA circle. Because Macray’s actions aren’t tied to any actual woman’s, showrunner and writer Dahvi Waller takes some liberties and puts her in situations that are creative, to say the least. Macray is at the National Women’s Conference in Houston with her fellow STOP ERA ladies Pamela (Kayli Carter) and Rosemary Thomson (Melanie Lynskey). They gleefully repeat Schlafly’s orders about screaming at the “libbers”, especially Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne).
Macray is also looking forward to the TV interview, which Schlafly has prepped her for. She starts off on the right foot, but then trips when the questions get harder and finally bungles the whole thing. Instead of reassuring her, Thomson points out that Macray shouldn’t make the speech on the convention floor because they don’t want to “look like fools.” Dejected, Macray crawls off to the nearest bar where she finds comfort in Pink Lady cocktails and girl talk with a lovely stranger (Julie White). Her new friend gives her some “Christian pill” to chase down with the Pink Ladies and just when it seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Macray realises she’s from ‘the other side’, the National Organisation for Women (NOW). Macray leaves, but their interaction opens her eyes to the fact that a stranger affiliated with NOW was far more supportive of her than the supposed sisters who travelled to Houston with her and left her all alone at the hotel. She felt that she had more in common with a feminist, whom Schlafly had warned her against, than her allies.
Trippin’ on a ‘Christian pill’
Macray’s interactions with the stranger reveal a few hard-hitting truths. But she really embraces them when the “Christian pill” kicks in. Motivated by a serious case of munchies, Macray wanders from room to room in the hotel in search of food and discovers women having meaningful conversations. In a stunningly shot hallucinatory sequence, she meets a nun leading a religious service. “You can’t consecrate a Eucharist,” Macray tells her. “I’ve always said women can do whatever they want, Alice,” she responds. And then goes on to tell Macray that if it’s food she wants, they’re still serving “in the gay lounge.” So off she saunters to the gay lounge where she not only eats her fill but also sings a beautiful rendition of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ by Woody Guthrie.
Before the night is over, Macray has been empathetic to different groups of women and apologised for the hateful anti-lesbian flyers that Thomson hung up around the hotel. She also has an encounter with Steinem, which ends, not in a screaming match as instructed by Schlafly, but with smiles on both sides. Macray concludes that she likes Steinem and her leadership style. She’s so moved, that the next day, she asks Thomson and the other women if there is a way to build a consensus with the “libbers” as some of the issues being voted on at the convention are issues with which they agree. Unfortunately, she is ignored. Macray might have started to change her heart and mind, but when the time came, she chose to be with the anti-ERA group.
Paulson plays Macray fantastically. She is believably incredulous, curious, vulnerable and downright silly when the story demands.
Creator: Dahvi Waller
Director: Janicza Bravo
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, Tracey Ullman, Margo Martindale
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Read our recaps of the previous episodes here.