Bria Samoné Henderson in Mrs. America

Breakout star, Bria Samoné Henderson has been tapped for a recurring role alongside Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Sarah Paulson, Margo Martindale, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, and Tracey Ullman in the HULU/FX drama miniseries, MRS. AMERICA. The nine-episode limited series debuted on Wednesday, April 15th with the first three episodes telling the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, played by Blanchett.

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Bria Samoné Henderson
(Credit: Bobby Quillard)

Bria Samoné Henderson will play Ms. Magazine editor, Margaret Sloan, an outspoken, funny, radical-thinking African American feminist and civil rights activist who marched with MLK. The out lesbian, single mother, and accomplished poet was an intersectional trailblazer in several cultural and political movements. Through the eyes of the women of that era – both Schlafly and second-wave feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, and Jill Ruckelshaus – the series explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the 70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted our political landscape.

Bria Samoné Henderson recently starred in the National Black Theatre’s production of The First Deep Breath by Lee Edward Colston II and directed by Malika Oyetimein. She received her MFA in acting from the University of Washington’s Professional Actor Training Program. Henderson likes to explore her identity as a black woman on the roles she takes on. Not only is she an actress, but also a spoken word poet, playwright, and solo show artist. The work she creates or is drawn to is political, intimate, playful, and reflective. She believes that performance/theatre art is therapeutic for all people and it’s one of the only forms of expression that require communion. She thinks of herself as a vessel of art with her work becoming a mirror of the truth.

When she is not on set, Bria Samoné Henderson spends her time volunteering and helping others. She has spent most of her time tutoring youth, involving herself in the community, and even traveled to Africa with “For My Sister.” Alongside the volunteers, Bria assisted with lessons at a Nigerian school and created youth programs for girls.

How did you hear about Mrs. America and what drew you to the role?

I heard about Mrs. America when I received the self- tape request. And I still had no idea how big this project was until I booked it. It wasn’t until the callback, I realized Margaret Sloan was a real person. When I researched Margaret, I became infatuated with her zeal. She was a pioneer for black women and she created space for women like her. She left a huge footprint in history, it deserves to be honored and I am honored that I was given the chance to portray her.

Your character left behind quite a legacy in real life.  How do you feel the show paid homage to her?  

As a black woman, I am happy that the show made space for women that look like me. In many cases with shows similar to Mrs. America that is not always the case. The miniseries does a great job with introducing the world to the audacious Margaret Sloan and some of the experiences she faced that molded her into the activist she was.

Were you nervous about portraying her on the show?

Of course, I was nervous! Margaret Sloan is an unsung historical figure that many people have not been educated on. So this is the first time that Margaret Sloan will be brought to TV screens. A lot of pressure, but so honored.

What do you hope people take from her legacy?

I hope people understand her legacy within the feminist movement as a face of intersectionality. I hope they understand how courageous she was during a time that was more dangerous than the times we live in now. I hope they learn that we do not have to settle for a seat at a table that does not give us a plate to eat. But to find your own kitchen, cook your own food, make your own table, and invite your own people.

What do you think will make the most impact on people after watching Mrs. America?

I think this series holds a huge mirror to the political and cultural foundation we stand on today. People will see themselves, they will see history and they will, ultimately, see the very little progress we’ve made from those times.

Why should people watch Mrs. America?  What makes it different from so many other political shows?

People should be inclined to watch  Mrs. America because of the history that was, unfortunately, left out of our history books. What I love the most about this show is that you are not only being educated on the ERA movement, but the story is being gifted to us by incredible performances by masterful artists. That’s like the best history class ever.

Mrs. America has been praised for its portrayal of both the White Feminists and Black Feminists contributions to the ERA.  Do you think they were covered accurately?  Or at least, as accurately as they could in a miniseries?

Yes, definitely. You can’t put the entire story in a mini series, but Davhi Waller did a brilliant job of capturing the experiences of all women of the feminist movement.  Mrs. America  does not shy away from showing the not so pretty parts of the movement when it comes to race and sexuality under the umbrella of feminism.

Do you think people will be surprised at how divided the Women’s Movement was and how much race played a factor in the subdivisions?

No, we still have those problems to this day. It’s great that the show sheds light on it. I think all women will feel accurately represented in the moments that highlight some of the divisions.

What surprised you the most about playing Margaret Sloan-Hunter?

How she fought and fought for what she believed and for a space for those beliefs to be fully realized until it happened. She did not silence any parts of herself to fit any movement’s agenda. Margaret stayed true to her own agenda and did not allow any circumstance to deter her away from it.

What was your favorite scene to film and why?

Oh! Good question. My favorite scene to film was the scene with Gloria when she finds the flyer for the first NBFO meeting. It was just Rose Byrne and I. It was very intimate. Rose Byrne is so easy to play with and I really enjoyed working and building this scene take after take with her and the director, Amma Asante. It was fun to play with that small moment illustrating the divide between Gloria and Margaret.

What surprised you the most about the movement?

The women behind the STOP ERA movement. It’s so interesting to get into the minds of some of those women that Phyllis Schalfly represented. How they viewed themselves as women, wives, mothers in the world and how they viewed feminists as “radical” to think that women should be treated equal as men. It’s mind blowing.

What do you hope people take away after watching Mrs. America?

I hope they learn about the women behind the movement and all of their accomplishments. These women deserve to be known and highlighted. If anything, viewers will leave with knowledge of powerful women in history.

Do you think Mrs. America could have any impacts on the election in November? 

Oh, baby, yes. Absolutely. I’ll leave it at that.

If you could sit down and talk with Margaret, what would the topics be about?

Wow. Wow. I think I would talk with her about her poetry. I’m a poet and that’s one of the many connections we share. So I would love to just have a writing session with her and share our words with each other, poem for poem. That would be so dope because Margaret had bars!

When you were cast, did you know the line-up and who you were going to be working with?  Did anyone in the cast surprise you? 

When I booked the project, I only knew about Cate Blanchett, which is already enough to gag on. I had no idea that it was going to be this incredible line up. Every time I would hear about another actor joining the cast, I would lose my mind. The cast is insane! I was blessed to share the screen with an insane cast. That is all God.

What’s next for you?

I look forward to being a part of more incredible projects like Mrs. America. In the meantime, I am working on finishing and, eventually, developing my own pilots and features. Looking forward to stretching all of my talents.