Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” was released in 1976 and it’s the perfect disco anthem for FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America.”
“It’s smart, classical and not too serious,” says Carol Wong, executive producer at yU+co, the design company behind the show’s main title sequence.
“Mrs. America,” which comes from creator and showrunner Dahvi Waller, depicts the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s — and the women who fought for and against that amendment, from Phyllis Schlafly to Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. While that is certainly a serious subject matter, the way the song builds to a great crescendo is reminiscent of the actions these women are taking in the nine-episode limited series.
Drawn to the “fun, energetic vibe” of “A Fifth of Beethoven,” Wong initially planned to use it and the main titles in general to showcase all of the women depicted in the series. However, due to time constraints “that proved to be a bit more challenging” than expected, Wong says. Originally, she shares, the studio was asked to create a 45-second main title sequence, but that seemed impossible, so the end result is one minute of illustrated era-specific symbolic imagery.
Artist Aura Lewis’ lush watercolor illustrations in the titles include everyday items that symbolized women’s work prior to the ERA, including hairdryers, homemade pies and magazines. But they also depict the decade-long period of time the show covers and incorporates more political pieces as time goes on. The titles start on a disco scene with three feminists dancing together but smoothly and quickly transitions into a beauty parlor scene where women are reading about Steinem. From there, it cuts to a protest, where those activists are blocked by a pie lattice, the pie a reference to how Schlafly used to influence voters. At the end is a map of the United States to show how far-reaching the movement became.
The ultimate goal was to show the historic journey of both the feminist grassroots movement and the conservative one.
“We had a great story to tell — the series is so rich in content and characters,” says Wong. “We didn’t want to place judgments on anyone; it was the rise of both groups. We didn’t want to show women against women, but rather, both groups of women growing stronger and having a voice during this time.”
Wong first received a call about creating the main titles for “Mrs. America” in October 2019. The studio’s design team got a chance to see some of the early footage of the series to assess the tone, and they further fleshed out ideas for the titles with the executive producers. The team also collected “over 2000 ideas” from images and symbols of the period, she says. But, they didn’t want to take the traditional approach of cutting in archival footage.
“We wanted something fun and dynamic,” Wong explains.
Enter Lewis, who is no stranger to illustrating the feminist movement through her own work in books such as “Gloria’s Voice” and “The Illustrated Feminist.” Her aesthetic is to use bright pastel watercolors in her illustrations, which were incorporated into the “Mrs. America” animations.
Wong and her team then fine-tuned the order and placement of the images to create a story arc for the title sequence that mirrored the arc of the series.
“We would juxtapose efforts from each party and recompose the scenes in a way that allowed for seamless transitions,” Wong says.
New episodes of “Mrs. America” stream Wednesdays on FX on Hulu.