The Handmaid's Tail is the 1985 feminist novel that Donald Trump’s America has made relevant again.
The book is back on the bestseller list and the TV series premiered to critical acclaim and more viewers than any other Hulu TV series opener. Only four episodes into its American run, the show has been picked up for a second series.
Australians will be able to binge watch the ten episodes for free, starting July 6 on SBS On Demand. There is currently no New Zealand air date scheduled.
Written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, the story is set in the Republic of Gilead, a dystopian society that was formally the United States of America. Following environmental and human disasters that caused widespread infertility and a plummeting birth rate, a fundamentalist Christian movement has taken over the government, suspending the constitution and turning the country into a totalitarian, theocratic military regime where rule is based on the Old Testament.
Women have been stripped of their rights, including their names. Homosexuality is punishable by death and fertile woman are forced to become ‘handmaids’, enslaved surrogates for the ruling class.
The story is so relevant in Trump’s America that Hillary Clinton referenced the show during a speech on Tuesday May 2 at Planned Parenthood’s 100th anniversary celebration. Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider facing de-funding by the Trump administration because it performs abortions.
“What a time it is to be holding this centennial. Just ask those who’ve been watching ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ a book I read and was captivated by years ago. I am not suggesting this dystopian future is around the corner, but this show has prompted important conversations about women’s rights and autonomy. In The Handmaid’s Tale, women’s rights are gradually, slowly stripped away. As one character says, ‘We didn’t look up from our phones until it was too late.’ It is not too late for us, but we have to encourage the millions of women and men who support Planned Parenthood’s mission to keep fighting.”
Orange Is The New Black's Samira Wiley plays Moira, a lesbian who's been taken as a handmaid. Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss plays the lead character and narrator, handmaid Offred, and Gilmore Girls Alexis Bledel plays secret resistance member, Ofglen.
Atwood told Time magazine that everything in the book has happened in history. “Somewhere at some time. I made nothing up.”
The LGBT hate, women’s rights marches, people fleeing to Canada and restrictions on abortions make the show feel uncomfortably of our time. The television adaptation differs from the book, with Ofglen portrayed as a lesbian with a heartbreaking and shocking story line.
“In playing her I certainly felt that she had more at stake than some of the other handmaids, because, in Gilead, she would be deemed a gender traitor. She's a lesbian and they don’t approve of her sexual orientation, so she’s really vulnerable,” Bledel told The Advocate. “And she’s in a great deal of danger, especially in being part of the resistance movement.”
“I am inspired by her seemingly indomitable strength and fortitude under these conditions. Within herself, she’s able to keep hold of what’s right...She has this hope within her that they can’t diminish.”
Atwood spoke of the Trump administration to Time magazine, saying “We’re heading into a situation in which health coverage is going to be removed for pregnancy and childbirth. At the same time, you’re going to force women to have babies by making it so they can't get abortions. That's like being drafted into the army. Except at least in the army, you get three square meals a day and a place to sleep. You're not left out on the street. If you're going to take away women's choice and not give them an adequate wage or healthcare, what would you call that? I'd call it a bad deal.”
As an out lesbian, Wiley told The Advocate that “Some of the language that’s been used by our vice president and just people in power in this administration made it, for me, so scary, really scary. The only reason that Moira and Ofglen are still around is because their ovaries work,” she said of the lesbians who would have been hung if they couldn’t be used for breeding.
“I haven’t been around for the struggle of LGBT people as long as other people, but because of that, I think it’s inconceivable,” Wiley added. “But I do know my history. I do know the history of the people before me. It wasn’t that long ago that people oppressed in this way.”
Images courtesy of Hulu Television Network.