So...this is disappointing. At a Tribeca Film Fest panel for the upcoming Hulu miniseries adaptation of the Handmaid's Tale, cast members were quick to insist that there's nothing particularly feminist about Margaret Atwood's novel about a dystopian near-future where an all-male ruling class has complete control over women's lives, bodies, and reproduction.
MTV's Rachel Handler brought attention to the panel when she shared her quotes and disappointment on Twitter, writing, in a series of tweets, "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.'...The Handmaid's Tale cast is All Lives Matter-ing their show, it's so odd. 'The people hanging were men.' 'I didn't play Offred as a feminist.' I'm genuinely stunned. Clearly an attempt to appeal to a wider audience but disappointing. Ann Dowd is the exception and explicitly getting political."
She added, "I don't blame the cast, I blame whatever white male suit was like 'play down the feminist shit.' Watch the show y'all, it's v good. Just want Hulu's marketing dudes 2 get the message that feminism isn't a dirty word or a bad PR strategy."
Quotes from both star Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred, and cast member Madeline Brewer, who pays another Handmaid, Janine, have been circulating as well.
Brewer said: "That's not the reason I got involved. I personally heard about all the other people involved in this show, and I thought, 'Oh my God, I need to be there.' . . . I think that any story, if it is a story being told by a strong, powerful woman. . . any story that's just a powerful woman owning herself in any way is automatically deemed 'feminist.' But it's just a story about a woman. I don't think that this is any sort of feminist propaganda. I think that it's a story about women and about humans. . . This story affects all people."
Moss said, of comparisons between her Mad Men character Peggy and her Handmaid's Tale character Offred: "They're both human beings. They're the same height. I really echo what Madeline said. For me, it's not a feminist story. It's a human story. And women's rights are human rights. I never intended to portray Peggy as a feminist. I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They're women, and they're humans. Offred is a wife, a mother, a best friend, and she has a job. She's a person who's not supposed to be here, and she falls into it and does what she has to survive for her daughter. It's about love, honestly. For me, I never approach anything with a political agenda. I approach it from a very human place, I hope."
On Twitter, Margaret Atwood, who was not at the panel, responded to criticisms with this: "They needed an 'only,' an 'also,' and a human rights definition of the F word, imho...Calm, calm... I know what they meant (I think. Though I wasn't there.) They meant 'Everyone is in this story.' And that is true. When you DJ the real world (as book + series do) you can't help coming up with something that can be called Feminism... tho I always want to know if the person means Feminism Hiss Boo or Feminism Yay Cheer. Because both exist, as you know. Our cast is def. Yay Cheer. So it's All Okay. Fear not. Calm, calm... be kind. They are actors. Not writers. Not wordfolk. They wanted to be inclusive: ie everyone's caught up in it. As we are. And I am at hand, here in LA, to wave my Magic Blue Fairy Wand and restore Understanding. & if there is any more fuss, @samirawiley will straighten it out. Just wait till you see her carving 'Aunt Lydia Sux' on the washroom wall." Asked for a definition of "Feminism Hiss Boo," Atwood added, "I was more thinking about the demonization OF feminists, as in 'They want to shove all men off a cliff,' etc."
I'm flashing back to last year's Suffragette press tour, where Meryl Streep, who plays suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst in the film, was asked if she was a feminist. She responded, "I am a humanist, I am for nice, easy balance."
There's something bizarre, but unfortunately unsurprising, about marketing media that is explicitly about women's rights as being not, like, feminist, though. I've seen the first three episodes of the Hulu adaptation (stay tuned for a review tomorrow), and in my opinion, the series itself is feminist as fuck. It explicitly engages with women's rights to control their reproduction and their bodies, own property, have their own bank accounts, hold a job, etc. It imagines a near future in which women have no rights and connects it to our present political reality.
In short, Hulu's the Handmaid's Tale speaks for itself — but it's extremely disappointing that it has to.
top photo via Hulu
More from BUST