Writing an episode of “Mrs. America” like “Shirley,” didn’t just feel historic for Tanya Barfield because of the subject matter being depicted. Barfield felt a great amount of pride in the episode centering on a Black woman and also being written and directed by Black women. “It was like a trifecta of Black women involved in this. We have Uzo Aduba, who’s sublime; Ama, who brought such vision and sensitivity and me writing it. I think we all felt like this is the experience of a lifetime,” says Barfield in our recent webchat (watch the video above). Barfield also gives credit to showrunner Dahvi Waller for letting her write the episode. “It’s the proudest and most humbling moment of my career.”
The FX limited series chronicles the years long struggle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would ban discrimination based on sex, into the United States Constitution. The program scored ten Emmy nominations this year including Limited Series, Movie/Limited Supporting Actress (Aduba) and Movie/Limited Writing for Barfield’s episode, “Shirley.” The episode focuses on Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s (Aduba) historic campaign for president and the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
One of the more challenging scenes for Barfield to write was the one in which the feminists are organizing for women alternates to be seated for a vote about abortion in the party platform and the tension that develops when the McGovern campaign fights back against it. “I certainly thought about when the phones are ringing and the guys are running down the aisles to take back what they had just given and that it’s like a horror movie in a way.” That ended up being the aspect that Barfield zeroed in on to give the scene the proper amount of tension. “We wanted to capture that and we certainly felt like I could see that image of that so viscerally and what that would mean.”
Barfield’s Emmy nomination, the first of her career, shocked her but ran into some technical problems when trying to find out how the show did on the morning of the announcement. She laughs while saying, “I was streaming it and because I’m not great with technology, I wasn’t getting the right thing or I don’t know if it was the right time or whatever.” Even when her phone started blowing up with people sending her congratulatory message, she didn’t realize that it was specifically for her being nominated. “I was trying to figure out if it was a mistake that people were congratulating me. I went through that slow process of being like, ‘Wait, what’s actually happening?’ Finally, I called a friend they said it was real.”
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