On The Handmaid’s Tale, Bernie Sanders, and Feminism

The two episodes I’ve seen so far of The Handmaid’s Tale, which premieres April 26 on Hulu, are fantastic. The adaptation breathes new life into Margaret Atwood’s seminal feminist-dystopian 1980s novel, scattering it with references to Tinder and Uber and imbuing it with a stark, gorgeously filmed realism. It’s an unflinching look at a patriarchal, theocratic society where the birth rate is declining and women are indoctrinated, controlled, raped and impregnated by force, then sent to die a slow and graphic death when their bodies are no longer useful; the show is a punch in the solar plexus. If somebody were to temporarily hand me the reins to our burgeoning autocracy, I’d make it mandatory viewing.

But perhaps in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the cast and crew of The Handmaid’s Tale appear to be distancing themselves from the political and feminist notions that make the show — and its source text — so trenchant and important. On Friday night (April 21), the first episode premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and afterward, stars Elisabeth Moss, Madeline Brewer, Samira Wiley, Joseph Fiennes, Ann Dowd, director Reed Morano, executive producer Warren Littlefield, and showrunner Bruce Miller, among others, took the stage for a panel discussion. Like much of the show’s press to date, the conversation quickly veered into the realm of the political. Almost immediately, it became obvious that most of the people onstage were uncomfortable speaking about the series in an overtly political way — unintentionally demonstrating that, societally, we may be closer to an Atwoodian dystopia than we thought we were even a couple months ago.

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