The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's searing novel, was written at the height of the Reagan administration and satirized political, social, and religious trends of the 1980s. It's also a hit television series on Hulu that returns on June 5.
While we still have a long way to go before we can find out what's next for June/Offred in the Republic of Gilead, we can, at the very least, regale you with some cool facts about one of the most enduring stories of the last three decades.
The Trailer for Season 3 Plays Off a Slogan from the Reagan Era
Perhaps the best thing that came out of the Super Bowl––aside from the memes haggling Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, that is––was the trailer for the third season of the Hulu series.
The trailer lampoons former President Ronald Regan's 1984 "Morning in America" political campaign television commercial.
"It's morning again in America," you hear over a soundtrack and images that resound with boundless optimism. Things turn dark from there. Soon the camera freezes on Elisabeth Moss's face: "Wake up, America," she says.
Margaret Atwood's Follow-Up Will Be Released Later This Year
Margaret Atwood will release a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale titled The Testaments in September 2019. The Testaments is unconnected to Hulu's adaptation and will feature the testimonials of three female narrators from Gilead.
This literary device keeps with the metafictional epilogue that follows Offred's story in the original novel. The novel ends much in the way Season 1 ends: with Offred entering the van at Nick's insistence. The epilogue explains how the events of the novel were recorded onto cassette tapes after the beginning of what scholars have come to describe as "The Gilead Period." An interview with a noted academic implies that a more equitable society, one with full rights for women and freedom of religion restored, emerged following the collapse of the Republic of Gilead.
Serena Joy Waterford Is Likely Based On A Noted Conservative Activist
As the series goes on, we learn more about Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) and her beginnings.
Serena was a conservative activist who, along with her husband Fred, spearheaded the Puritan movement that ultimately gave rise to Gilead. Inspired by women whom she perceives to have "abandoned" their families in the name of female autonomy, Serena Joy delivers impassioned speeches at venues around the nation calling for policies that would place women back in the home. She even wrote a bestselling book, A Woman's Place, that served as the vessel for much of her conservative dogma and inspired many of the Commander's Wives who become her friends and neighbors.
Serena was likely based on conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who established herself over many years as one of the fiercest antifeminist and anti-abortion advocates in the United States. Schlafly was also a vociferous opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, which she considered an attack against traditional gender roles.
The 1990 Film Adaptation Had a Messy Production
A film version of The Handmaid's Tale was released in 1990. It starred Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, Robert Duvall as Commander Waterford, Aidan Quinn as Nick, Victoria Tennant as Aunt Lydia, and Elizabeth McGovern as Moira.
The film was not well received and had a messy production. Director Volker Schlöndorff replaced original director Karel Reisz amid internal bickering over a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Schlöndorff asked for rewrites, and Pinter, who was reluctant to do them, directed him to author Margaret Atwood, who was one of several who ended up making changes to Pinter's screenplay.
Pinter told his biographer years later [as quoted in Harold Printer, p. 304] that:
It became … a hotchpotch. The whole thing fell between several shoots. I worked with Karel Reisz on it for about a year. There are big public scenes in the story and Karel wanted to do them with thousands of people. The film company wouldn't sanction that so he withdrew. At which point Volker Schlondorff came into it as director. He wanted to work with me on the script, but I said I was absolutely exhausted. I more or less said, 'Do what you like. There's the script. Why not go back to the original author if you want to fiddle about?' He did go to the original author. And then the actors came into it. I left my name on the film because there was enough there to warrant it—just about. But it's not mine'.
Star Natasha Richardson reportedly felt "cast adrift" when much of Offred's interior monologue was sacrificed as a result of cuts made to the screenplay.
The Film and TV Series Aren't The Only Adaptations of This Seminal Work
There are several different adaptations of Atwood's seminal work, including, but not limited to:
- an audiobook read by Homeland actress Claire Danes that won the 2013 Audie Award for Fiction
- a concept album by Canadian band Lakes of Canada
- a radio adaptation produced in 2000 for BBC Radio 4
- an operatic adaptation that premiered in 2000 and was the opening production of the 2004–2005 season of the Canadian Opera Company.
Elisabeth Moss, the Star of the Hulu Series, is a Scientologist
Between The West Wing, Mad Men, Top of the Lake, and The Handmaid's Tale, Elisabeth Moss has a reputation for starring in critically acclaimed television shows.
Much has been made, however, of her casting as Offred. Moss was born into the Scientologist belief system, which the German government has classified as an "anti-constitutional sect," the French government has classified as a cult, and the American government has allowed individuals to practice freely though not without considerable contention. Moss also identifies as a feminist.
Asked by a fan about the parallels between Gilead and Scientology (namely the belief that "outside forces" are inherently "evil") Moss responded:
"That's actually not true at all about Scientology. Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level."
An Episode During Season 2 Highlighted President Donald Trump's Border Crisis
Last summer, President Donald Trump and his administration created a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border when he and Jeff Sessions, his former attorney general, announced their "zero tolerance" family separations policy. The president blamed Democrats for the policy, imploring them to "start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration."
As images and stories of children ripped away from their parents at the border began to circulate, the Season 2 episode "The Last Ceremony" showed just how timely the show really is: After Offred is raped by the Waterfords, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) allows June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss) to visit her daughter, Hannah, in an undisclosed location. June is given 10 minutes with her daughter before a guard forcibly separates them again.
The episode, written well before the crisis was initiated, premiered just as Homeland Security admitted that more than 2,300 children had been separated from their parents.
Another Episode During Season 2 Appeared to Predict Canada-U.S. Relations
The fallout between the United States and Canada during the G7 summit appeared to have reached its peak once President Donald Trump refused to sign a joint statement with America's allies and threatened to escalate a trade war between America's neighbors. He also referred to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "weak."
The Season 2 episode "Smart Power"––in which Canadian diplomats ban Gilead's representatives from the country and choose to stand with the women imprisoned in the totalitarian nation in a nod to the #MeToo movement––was written and premiered before the G7 blowup, but is no less prophetic.
In Season 2, Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" Becomes an Ode to Female Resilience
"This Woman's Work," a ballad written by singer Kate Bush that is also one of the tracks on her 1989 album The Sensual World, serves as an ode to female power and resistance in the horrifying Season 2 opener, where June and the other handmaids realize they're about to be executed. The women are forced to summon strength at a moment of debilitating weakness. As the camera pans over the bleak environs of Fenway Stadium, Bush starts to sing:
Pray God you can cope
I'll stand outside
This woman's work
This woman's world
Ooooh it's hard on a man
Now his part is over
Now starts the craft of the FatherI
know you've got a little life in you left
I know you've got a lot of strength left
I know you've got a little life in you yet
I know you've got a lot of strength left
I should be crying but I just can't let it show
I should be hoping but I can't stop thinking
All the things we should've said that I never said
All the things we should have done that we never did
All the things we should have given but I didn't
Oh darling make it go
Make it go away
"It was shattering and perfect," said Bruce Miller, who created the Hulu Handmaid's Tale adaptation. "One of the things I really like about the song is that on its face, there's a bit of very interesting lyrical play. It's nice that that's going on while you're watching."
"The Handmaid's Tale" Was the First Streamed Series to Win the Best Drama Series Emmy
Hulu beat out Netflix and Amazon to become the first streaming service to win an Emmy for Best Drama. Unfortunately, because the third season doesn't premiere until June 5, it's ineligible for the 2019 Emmys. Guess we'll see the show back onstage in 2020!