“There’s also a lot of young people who don’t know the name Shirley Chisolm, so there’s a real desire to make sure that you get it right.”
If you ask people who was the first woman to participate in a presidential debate or the first black person to run for president, you might hear names like Hillary Clinton or Jesse Jackson. In fact, the late New York City Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination and the first black presidential candidate of any major party. “There are a lot of young people who don’t know the name Shirley Chisolm,” says Uzo Aduba, who plays her in Mrs. America (Hulu, April 15). “There’s a real desire to make sure that you get it right.”
Chisholm’s story is just one part of the tapestry of stories told in the nine-part series, which chronicles the women behind the various campaigns to help pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1970s, including that of ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett) and feminist icon Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne). But Chisholm’s name and legacy has largely been left out of the narrative of the women’s rights movement, and it’s time for that to change, says Aduba: “She’s been missing from the historical conversation.”
Was it intimidating to play such an iconic figure from history?
Yes. Even though I didn’t know so much of the ins and outs of her politics, I knew she was a force for justice and change mostly because my mom was a passionate lover of hers, so that made it doubly intimidating.
What do you hope people take from Chisholm’s legacy?
I hope there’s a real respect for her innate strength. I also really want people to understand that there was someone who came before that proverbial door was open to people of color and women in office. I want her to hold her rightful place in history.
What was it like working with performers like Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson?
Awesome. Full stop. It was really satisfying going into this experience with deeply accomplished women who are so seasoned in this industry to know that the love for the craft is absolutely still there.
Later this year you’ll co-star with Lupita Nyong’o in the HBO Max series Americanah. What can you tell us about it?
Absolutely nothing. (Laughs) I can tell you that I’m excited. My family is Nigerian, and it will be the first time I’ll have ever played a character from my own place. I know that every single person involved in this product is passionate about both its story and