Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Tall Tales? with Women, Immigrants, People of Color, and LGBT People under Attack in America, Samira Wiley's New Series, the Handmaid's Tale, Feels Alarmingly Urgent

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Tall Tales? with Women, Immigrants, People of Color, and LGBT People under Attack in America, Samira Wiley's New Series, the Handmaid's Tale, Feels Alarmingly Urgent

Article excerpt

One day you're a vivacious college student, flirting with cute girls, worrying about finals, finding a new car on Craigslist, and helping your bestie cope with an unexpected pregnancy. You're happy. Then a repressive new political regime takes power in America and the life you planned for yourself no longer exists as an option. Sounds terrifyingly prescient, right?

That's what happens to Moira (played by Orange is the New Black star Samira Wiley) in Hulu's shockingly relevant new original series, The Handmaid's Tale.

Based on the award-winning, best-selling 1980s-era novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale is set in the dystopian world of Gilead, a totalitarian religious society in what was once part of the United States.

June (played by Elisabeth Moss) is one of the few remaining fertile women so she's enslaved in reproductive and sexual servitude. It's her duty to help repopulate the world. The fundamentalist leaders of Gilead have instituted a caste system in which nearly everyone (except straight cis men) lose, partly as a response to environmental disasters and a plunging birthrate. Except for a few, women are considered the property of the state. Renamed Offred (because her new owner is Fred, so she is Of-Fred), she is separated from her best friend Moira, a lesbian who is initially sent to be a handmaid as well but may or may not have been killed.

The book, which was Atwood's response to the Christian right's full-on assault on reproductive rights in the 1980s and the rollback of rights gained by second-wave feminists (sometimes at the hands of other women, like Phyllis Schlafly).

The Handmaid's Tale feels even more prophetic today, especially for LGBT women, feminists, female scientists, atheists, and liberals. I'm not the only one to admit to crying through the first episode.

"I did have some similar feelings to you," Wiley admits of the first episode. "It's a little too real, and it's a little hard to watch." Of course she felt pride, as well, knowing she and her co-stars--including Moss, Alexis Bledel, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, and others--"were really able to execute what we wanted to. But also a little frightened. It does seem a little too close for comfort."

Created, and written by Bruce Miller--who was joined in executive producer duties by numerous others including The L Word creator llene Chaiken--The Handmaid's Tale couldn't feel more timely.

"When we first started filming we were in the middle of the election," Wiley recalls. "There was a sense of like, Oh gosh, when this comes out we'll really see ... what our country could have been. And then to have the election come to a close in the midst of us filming, you could feel it on set. You could feel that maybe the work that we were doing had a little more weight to it."

In some ways, Atwood's novel has always felt frightenly possible, which is one reason it has never yet gone out of print. It was previously adapted into a film and an opera; and has spawned countless dissertations. A staple in women's and gender studies programs, the title itself has become shorthand for life in a repressive regime. Young women tattoo themselves with quotes from the book, notably, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum." (Don't let the bastards grind you down.")

When Harold Pinter was writing the screenplay for the 1984 film adaptation, he reportedly sparred with star Natasha Richardson over the use of voiceover (Pinter hated it; Richardson demanded it).

Pinter would hate Hulu's new adaptation, because so much of Offred's experience is told via her inner dialog through voice over. It's through Offred that we learn bits and pieces of Moira's story, too. But Moira's a woman who needs no voiceover, because she refuses to be silenced.

"I do think that Moira keeps her voice throughout]," Wiley says. "I think that we all have traits that are sort of just who we are, and that's definitely the kind of person that she is. …

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