It’s no coincidence that Amazon released its period drama “Good Girls Revolt,” about 1960s-era female employees seeking equality in the newsroom, less than two weeks before Election Day. Although the feminist-friendly series is set over 40 years ago, the issues its characters rally behind are still as relevant today – and, in fact, have been a key part of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform.
“[Amazon] immediately knew that they wanted to market it before the election, that it would be the Year of the Woman, that Hillary would be running,” executive producer Lynda Obst told IndieWire earlier this summer.
The series is based on Lynn Povich’s memoir, “Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace,” in which she reveals how she, along with journalist-turned-filmmaker Nora Ephron and about 60 other women, filed a class action sexual discrimination lawsuit against Newsweek in 1970. To protect the privacy of the real people in the case, the Amazon series fictionalized the story of that landmark case and created original characters to work at the news magazine “News of the Week.”
“Patti Robinson, our hippie child played by Genevieve Angelson, she’s ready. Just run the flag up the pole,” said executive producer (and former L.A. Times journalist) Dana Calvo, who also developed the series. “She’s not really good with boundaries actually. She shoots before she thinks, so it wasn’t going to take much for her to lead this revolution.
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“Anna Camp’s character Jane Hollander is a good girl. The system is working for her,” Calvo continued. “She’s incredibly in bed with the patriarchy, literally and figuratively. Her daddy supports her… For the scales to fall from her eyes, that was going to take the most work because she’s great-looking, she was being bred to marry a guy and working at ‘News of the Week’ was just a way to get good cocktail conversation.
“And Erin Darke plays a character named Cindy Reston who was much more mundane but very typical of women at the time. She was trapped in a boring relationship with a controlling guy who wasn’t a terrible person, but there just wasn’t a lot of growth that was potential there. And she had creative dreams and she couldn’t realize those. And so she’s got to have a revolution of her own before she can join an external revolution.”
Nora Ephron, best known for writing rom-coms like “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” is one of two real-life characters who made it into to the adaptation because she had already died before show began development. Played by Grace Gummer, this version of Ephron seems almost mythical or larger-than-life since she only appears in a handful of episodes. Each appearance makes a huge impact on the women working at “News of the Week,” especially when she quits the news magazine after she’s denied the opportunity to be a reporter because of her gender.
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“Even though she’s probably the hardest character to write in the world because she’s so unique and funny, Dana [Calvo] did a brilliant job in capturing her sensibility,” said Obst, who was a longtime friend of Ephron. “She was constantly telling you what to eat, what doctor to go to. She was very bossy and she was very instructive, and incredibly confident. She had been a researcher at Newsweek years before and had quit because she couldn’t write.”
The other real-life character is Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represented the women as they filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Norton, who is still alive and a the District of Columbia’s non-voting representative in the United States Congress, was available for consultation on the series. When the network’s legal department wanted to obtain Norton’s life rights, Calvo called her and had no issues getting permission. “She said, ‘I’m a civil rights advocate. I would never ever infringe upon your ability for free speech.’”
As former reporters themselves, both Obst and Calvo wanted to be sure that the journalism on the show was credible, especially for the time period, and hired a writing staff almost entirely of former journalists. Executive producer Darlene Hunt said, “Obviously most of them had not lived in this period, but what I’ve learned from working with journalists, they love to get in there and do the research. They come in and they subscribe to all this extra magazines and bought new books and we also hired a researcher that we have on staff that we go to, and his team of professionals dig for us. We have Telex machines and all the things they used to use in a newsroom.”
Calvo added, “You just forget how much cell phones have ruined drama. So one of the nice things about the show is that people actually had to go face to face and talk to people. You could develop these rich characters because they had to get out of the office, they couldn’t find the answers in 32 seconds. It was a gift.”
Actual historical events also serve as a backdrop for the “News of the Week” stories, such as the rise of the Black Panthers, the 1970s postal strike and the Weather Underground explosion in Greenwich Village. The show opens with 1969’s notorious Altamont Speedway Free Festival concert that was touted to be “Woodstock West” but ended in violence and death, which highlighted the “cultural death of the ‘60s,” according to Calvo.
Obst added more context. “Well, 1969 was a pretty horrible year. Right? It was the death of the dream. The Beatles broke up, and in ‘1968] Martin Luther King was killed, Bobby Kennedy was killed. All the joy and exhilaration of the ‘60s… we hippies, we freaks, we always thought the apotheosis of that was Altamont where there were deaths at a rock concert. And the Hell’s Angels were hired to be security and then people ended up getting killed. It was Woodstock turned on its head. So for Dana and I, we came to the conclusion that that moment was the turning point for the disillusionment. That was also the hippie dream dying. So that’s the moment that we chose to see that our newsroom was beginning to become aware.”
“Good Girls Revolt” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.