Amma Asante’s task in directing two episodes of the FX limited series, “Mrs. America,” was a monumental one. Directing the third episode, “Shirley,” was a challenge in having to recreate the 1972 Democratic National Convention but the following episode, where Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan debate each other, was just as challenging. “It was so important to convey the dynamic between Betty and Phyllis but also Betty, Phyllis and the audience of students that were there at the time and their reaction to each of the women,” she tells us in our recent webchat (watch the video above). Both Asante and showrunner, Dahvi Waller, discussed how to frame it and decided to use sports as a frame of reference. “Dahvi and I talked and this idea of it being like a tennis match and who was going to win each round and at what point the whole balance kind of changes and things turn around.”
Starring Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America” details the battle in the 1970s to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution through the point-of-view of both those who were for it (including Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm) and those who were against it (lead by Schlafly). Prior to this, Asante had mainly directed feature films in the U.K. with her only previous television credit being two episodes of the Emmy-winning series, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Another challenge Asante encountered in directing the series was making sure that there was a continuity of style so that all the episodes would feel like they fit together. While she had a very specific vision of how she thought things should be shot, “I think it’s really important at that point to make sure that that vision fits in with the rest of what the producers and the showrunner intend for the show.”
While Asante grew up in the U.K. during the period depicted in the series, she was actually familiar with several of the people who were at the forefront of the women’s movement in the U.S. but there was one figure who she really admired above all: Rep. Shirley Chisholm. She describes the political trailblazer as “just a massive inspiration to so many of us, obviously not just in America, but in the U.K. and the Caribbean as well as a woman of color.” She even made it clear that she wanted to direct an episode that centered around Chisholm. But in doing this project, she also learned so much about the women’s movement as well as being able to do what she loves, elaborating, “I get to exercise muscles that I’ve been exercising all along but then I get to explore new avenues that are teaching me something and that I’m learning about.”
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