The narrative of Hulu's series The Handmaid's Tale, based on the bestseller by Margaret Atwood, follows a young woman who had a family, a job, and a name of her own, but in a society ruled by a patriarchal regime has been forced to become a handmaid. She is charged with bearing the children of high-ranking officials.
The rendering of such a misogynistic dystopia surely lends itself rather easily to discussions of contemporary feminism, right? Wrong — at least according to the show's stars.
During a panel discussion following the show’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere last night, Elisabeth Moss, who plays series protagonist Offred, hesitated to call the story a feminist one, reports The A.V. Club. "Honestly, for me, it’s not a feminist story. It’s a human story because women’s rights are human rights,” she said, before going on to apply that logic to her past role as Mad Men 's Peggy Olson. “I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women, and they are humans."
"Offred’s a wife, a mother, a best friend. She has a job, and she is a person who is not supposed to be a hero," Moss continued. "She falls into it and she kind of does what she has to do to survive to find her daughter. It’s about love, honestly, so much of this story. For me, I never approach anything with any sort of political agenda. I approach it from a very human place, I hope.”
As soon as that "hope" was shared with the packed auditorium, however, Twitter picked it up, batted it around, and summarily dismissed it with a hearty "nope." MTV News' Rachel Handler appeared among the first to question Moss' statements, sharing her surprise in a series of tweets that quickly gained traction.
bizarre Handmaid's Tale panel at Tribeca. Cast stressing over and over again that it's "not a feminist story, it's a human story."— rachel handler (@rachel_handler) April 21, 2017
The Handmaid's Tale cast is All Lives Matter-ing their show, it's so odd— rachel handler (@rachel_handler) April 21, 2017
"The people hanging were men." "I didn't play Offred as a feminist." I'm genuinely stunned— rachel handler (@rachel_handler) April 21, 2017
Clearly an attempt to appeal to a wider audience but disappointing. Ann Dowd is the exception and explicitly getting political.— rachel handler (@rachel_handler) April 21, 2017
Good Girls Revolt actress Erin Darke quickly joined in, responding to Handler by encouraging people to watch the show and then follow up by "shoot[ing] hulu a tweet that feminism is cool."
Also at this odd Q&A. Show is fantastic and important FEMINIST work PLEASE STILL WATCH IT. Then shoot hulu a tweet that feminism is cool :o) https://t.co/HRf6RvvGKu— Erin Darke (@ErinMayaDarke) April 22, 2017
At which point, many Twitter users began to voice their frustration.
@rachel_handler I feel like it's the height of fake news to say The Handmaid's Tale OF ALL THINGS isn't a feminist story. wtf?— big bad bully bitch (@battymamzelle) April 22, 2017
While The Handmaid’s Tale has been called a rather prescient piece of feminist fiction by many — Refinery29 included — the author herself has famously resisted any blatant association with feminism. “I didn’t want to become a megaphone for any one particular set of beliefs,” Atwood is quoted as having said in a recent New Yorker profile. That hasn't stopped her from acknowledging her novel's recent resurgence in relevance.
"When I first published that book, at the outset some people were saying, 'Oh, Margaret, how could you suggest that we would ever do such a thing?'" she recently told Time. "I don't hear that so much anymore."
She has, however, heard about this most recent bout of blowback circling the onscreen Offred's offscreen statements, and responded as only a writer could: by offering some helpful edits.
@KarmaLovesGumbo They needed an "only," an "also," and a human rights definition of the F word, imho.— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) April 22, 2017
Mic drop, Margaret.
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