With the revived push for the Equal Rights Amendment has come a revived push to cast Phyllis Schlafly as a historical villain. These are revisionist efforts informed by ideological bias more than fact. Enter “Mrs. America,” FX’s flashy new prestige offering starring Cate Blanchett as Schlafly.
Last month, I interviewed Anne Schlafly Cori, daughter of the late conservative activist, about the six-episode series, which premieres on Hulu Wednesday. When I asked Cori, chairman of the Eagle Forum, if anyone in her family had been consulted for their input, she replied, “Oh, no, they’ve got an agenda.” Cori further revealed her mother’s biographer, Donald Critchlow, was not contacted to assist in the production either. That’s a good indication “Mrs. America” values narrative over accuracy.
Here’s one example of how that does a disservice to viewers. I asked Cori what it was like to see Blanchett play her mother in the trailers. “She has the hair, and the makeup, and the costuming correct,” Cori said. “What she misses is the warmth in my mother’s eyes.”
“She plays her as a cold, calculating, power-hungry woman. My mother led a volunteer group of women, and I don’t think she could lead volunteer women unless she was warm and inspiring. And she was. She was encouraging, she got women to do things, and you can’t do it if you bark and order it around. You do it by building up leadership. And that’s what she did. She said, ‘Nobody is born a leader, leaders are made.’ And she made it her mission to make a multitude of leaders.”
Love or hate Schlafly, caricatures are a waste of time, even if your goal is to advance an agenda. Capturing Schlafly’s character accurately helps viewers understand, for instance, how she managed to tackle the herculean task of defeating the ERA. The truth is more interesting than fiction, whatever side of the policy battle you support.
One thing the left at least gets right about Schlafly is her organizing prowess. In their hands, she was remarkably capable, but capable as a conniving bigot. In reality, she was remarkably capable of galvanizing women to advance a cause rooted in her faith.
That’s enough to be disqualifying for the left. To them, Schlafly’s political differences necessarily reflect poor character. If you accept that lens—and film through it—even warm and decent people look cold and evil.
That explains why “Mrs. America” had no interest in consulting the Schlafly family or their matriarch’s biographer. The writers didn’t need more information to tell the story they believe to be true. Traditional conservatives are categorically indecent, rendering nuance of little value in their eyes.
“I think the effort with this upcoming Hollywood-ization is to try to paint her name as a shorthand for a bad person,” Cori told me. “You know, every -ism, make it out into something that’s terrible. I think that’s what I want to push back against, because I think she is a role model and a life worth emulating. Because she had enormous success, and any woman can have the same success.”
Cori and Eagle Forum created MrsAmerica.org as hub for resources that undercut biased narratives about Schlafly, including videos and essays. Browsers will find video of Schlafly’s debate over the ERA with Betty Friedan and first-person testimonials.
Early reviews of “Mrs. America” are positive. The performance by Blanchett, an Oscar winner, is already stirring Emmy buzz. But aside from peddling a slanted and unhelpful version of history, the left’s campaign to twist Schlafly’s character is also a powerful smear campaign, ironically denigrating a woman whose intellect and grassroots savvy launched her to the top of American politics.
With the prospect of a critically acclaimed series set to push a false narrative about her mother at hand, I asked Cori what her message would be to young women who watch “Mrs. America.”
“You too can have tremendous success,” said Cori. “Don’t see yourself as a victim, but see life as an opportunity and grab it and do it. That is what my mother did. She enjoyed every aspect of her life, whether it was being a wife and mother or going out into the fray, and don’t be afraid to go out into the fray.”
What would Phyllis Schlafly herself think of the series? “I think she’d actually find it as an opportunity to get her message out again,” answered Cori. “And she was always looking for opportunities to get her message out.”
You can listen to Cori’s full interview on The Federalist Radio Hour here.