The ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Cast Discusses the Comparison Between Reality and the Show’s Dystopian Plot
Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale decades before Donald Trump ran for President of the United States. The series was greenlighted amidst political unrest in the first few months of the Trump era. And as we debate Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court — Judge Brett Kavanaugh — the concept of male-controlled female reproductive rights doesn’t feel so ‘dystopian.’
The few people closest to the ‘Handmaid’s’ experience are the actors who portray the women as their job by day, then settle back into life as a citizen in 2018’s America by night. Elisabeth Moss, the series’ star, and her costars have revealed their thoughts on Atwood’s terrifying dystopia — as well as its similarities and differences to the various forms of oppression taking place on women worldwide.
Elisabeth Moss stressed the importance of the show’s primary message
“One of the things we talk about in the show, and that is in the book, is that people didn’t look up from their phones until it was too late,” Moss told The Daily Beast. “There’s this concept going around now, this phrase of ‘waking up,’ you know? Or being ‘woke,’ as the kids say.”
The chilling way the handmaid’s world came to be isn’t as radical as one would think. Gilead formed after a terrorist attack tore through Congress and frightened politicians suspended the Constitution to ‘protect the people.’ Moss’ character, Offred, reveals a simple truth in the series’ first episode; “We didn’t wake up.” In the aftermath of the civil war, the puritanical totalitarian leaders of ‘Gilead’ (who rule the land that is our New England) utilize civilians’ fear to amend a pressing issue — the dropping fertility rates — how they see fit.
This is where the handmaids come in. The few women who remain fertile are treated as a captive endangered species and forced to give birth to the children of wealthy men and barren women.
They are hesitant to call it a ‘feminist’ show
The show’s premiere saw its stars sidestep the “feminist” label that The Handmaid’s Tale inevitably attracted. “I think that any story, if it is a story being told by a strong, powerful woman … is automatically deemed ‘feminist,’ former Orange Is the New Black star Madeline Brewer said. “I don’t think this is any sort of feminist propaganda. I think that it’s a story about women and about humans … This story affects all people.”
And while the term “feminist” becomes increasingly used against itself — a “lightning rod,” as Vanity Fair dubbed it — the cast doesn’t seem to reject the label but rather cautions against falling too comfortably into it. Moss and the original novel’s writer, Margaret Atwood, seem to share a similar view on the matter.
“I actually consider it a human novel about human rights, not just women’s rights,” Moss said of The Handmaid’s Tale. “Well, women’s rights are human rights unless you have decided that women aren’t human. So those are your choices. If women are human, then women’s rights are part of human rights,” Atwood asserted.
The cast of The Handmaid’s Tale joined with the international women’s rights organization Equality Now to share the emotional, nonfictional tales of women worldwide who experience some of the real-life oppressional that the fictional show depicts. Equality Now was founded in 1992 to hold governments accountable to end injustices like sex trafficking and sexual violence.
Cast members Alexis Bledel and Anne Dowd grew emotional reading a Tanzanian woman’s story of genital mutilation. Samira Wiley and Joseph Fiennes shared another woman’s story of emotional abuse as a pregnant teen. Other cast and production members read the stories of sexual assault, human trafficking, and horrific violence that took place in Jordan, Bolivia, Sierra Leone, and the United States.
Their ultimate message? Stay informed …
… and resist injustices to support what you believe in. Season two of the Hulu hit saw the women encounter terrors hauntingly similar to the controversial issues America’s currently facing. As viewers watched Offred (June)’s daughter snatched away from her hands, it drew chilling reminders of our current immigration separation controversy. And as the women began to resist their oppressive reality, the cast members reminded viewers of the consequences of staying ignorant amidst social unrest.
“What I love about this, among other things, is the notion ‘Stay awake.’ Stay. awake. And don’t for a minute think [that] if you say, ‘Well, I’ll get involved some other time. I won’t worry about this midterm election. I’ll just — ‘ No, no, no. Don’t wait. Just stay awake,” Dowd concluded.
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