Unorthodox, Little Fires, Mrs. America: Oppression

Although the following three TV series aren’t primarily about LGBTQ+ themes, each deals with oppression and other related issues. All of these—Unorthodox, Little Fires Everywhere, and Mrs. America—are recommended viewing.

Rather than describe and review, I’m simply providing some pertinent background. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

I. Unorthodox (Netflix)

Bethonie Butler, Washington Post, notes that this excellent four-parter is “loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s best-selling memoir, ‘Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.’ The series diverges widely from its source material, which was published in 2012, but there are several nods to Feldman’s story.”

One of the truer facets is that lead character Esty (Shira Haas) was indeed left behind as a child by her mother, who left the Hasidic community and later came out as a lesbian. However, says Caitlin Gallagher (Bustle), facts regarding her relationship with her mother after Esty leaves her husband were significantly altered.

II. Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)

Little Fires is adapted from a novel by Celeste Ng, who wrote both female leads as white. But showrunner Liz Tigelaar decided on a big switch—the series focuses on white financially well-off Elena (Reese Witherspoon), married and mother of four teens, and black and struggling single mom Mia (Kerry Washington) of teen Pearl.

States Riese, Autostraddle:

This adaptation heightens the narrative into a more wide-reaching interrogation of the actual racial dynamics of a Cleveland suburb initially and proudly created by an integration-focused coalition of black and white families in the 70s. Little Fires is unsparing and exacting in its portrayal of a specific time and place — the late 90s, the midwest —  when brutish racism (and sexism, for that matter) had been somewhat hidden from view, replaced by a facade of We Are The World multiculturalism, whitewashed fantasies of ‘not seeing color’ and what Ta-Nehisi Coates describes as ‘elegant racism’ — ‘invisible, supple and enduring,’ underpinning every aspect of American life.

Shirley Li, The Atlantic, tells us that Tigelaar had her writers study Robin DiAngelo‘s book White Fragility (subject of a recent post here) in order to be able to effectively address racial disparities.

Another characterization shift is about sexual orientation. Issues of concern to Elena’s daughter Izzy as well as Mia aren’t so evident in the book but become quite important in the series. Furthermore, it’s Izzy’s growing connection to Mia (as sort of a mother substitute) that helps her find herself.

III. Mrs. America (Hulu)

Cate Blanchett plays 70’s-era Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016), famed political conservative who fought against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Katie Baker, The Ringer:

What stands out most about Mrs. America is how thoroughly, depressingly modern all of its most retrograde aspects, from the battle over abortion rights to the weaponization of women against one another, are. One of the through lines of the show is the plight of the Equal Rights Amendment, which to this day has still not been ratified nationally. ‘We did often sit around on set,’ [Rose] Byrne told reporters at the start of the season, ‘going, ‘Wow. We’re still talking about the same things in 2019,’ when we shot it, ‘as we are in the show, which is in 1970 to 1979.’

Some of you may know that one of Schlafly’s sons is gay. John (Ben Rosenfield) is a focus in one particular episode that “ended with Phyllis’s veiled comparison of quitting smoking to resisting his sexual attraction. ‘The mind is stronger than the body. You just have to exercise willpower,’ she told her son…” (Daniel Reynolds, The Advocate).

However, as Reynolds points out, this likely never happened. Additionally, John’s gayness wasn’t known to the world until 1992, when he was outed for political reasons. Both he and his mother proceeded to publicly defend their conservatism regarding lesbian and gay issues.

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