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'The Handmaid's Tale' Is Required 'Resistance' Viewing

April 25th 2017

On Wednesday, April 26, Hulu will launch its adaptation of Margaret Atwood's seminal 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale," starring "Mad Men" and feature film veteran Elisabeth Moss as the silent — but not silenced — heroine "Offred," in a fascist vision of near-future America.

Written during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Religious Right, Atwood's iconic bestseller melded a nightmare version of a theocratic, fundamentalist takeover of America with the misogyny and persecution of women by the Ayatollah Khomeini — who had seized control of Iran in early 1979 and ruled it until his death a decade later.

The book is set in the context of a military coup led by ultra-right nationalists, who want to take their country back from gays, "liberated" women, and racial minorities. The women of “The Republic of Gilead” — the book's fictional setting — are required to “Biblically submit unto” patriarchal male authority — forced into red-and-white burka and hijab-like uniforms, and are stripped of all economic rights and freedoms.

Enemies of the state — like gay men, lesbians, and transgender people, who are referred to as "Unwomen" — are summarily murdered in “Partici-cutions” by crowds for the crime of “gender treachery.” People of color and the lower social classes ("Econowives") are, of course, also singled out for second-class status in this brave new world.

Until last November's election, many Millennials and Gen-Xers felt that the needle of social progress was moving almost inevitably toward tolerance. In much the same manner, the citizens of pre-coup Gilead are shown to be taking their freedoms for granted. The big comebacks of both the economic and nationalist right wing under President Donald Trump, the rise of fundamentalists like Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and the popularity of "alt-right" favorites like White House Counsel Stephen Bannon are mirrored in the Gilead revolution. The suddenness of the takeover and the shock of the people who were stripped of their rights is sure to reflect the mood of many a progressive Millennial.

A Handmaid's Handbook for the Resistance

Despite the book and subsequent 1990 feature film — which starred Faye Dunaway as villainess "Serena Joy," and the late Natasha Richardson as heroine "Offred" — having both been made over 25 years ago, the up-to-the-minute timeliness of the subject matter was underlined when Vulture revealed that, after an advertisement aired for the upcoming series during the Super Bowl, the 30-year-old “Handmaid’s Tale” went to the top of the charts of Amazon’s best-sellers list. The Chicago Tribune ​said that the series seemed "almost supernaturally relevant to a nation now being run by Donald Trump."

What makes both Atwood's novel and the forthcoming series unique — and even more chilling — is that while women are the most persecuted in Gilead, women are also among the worst persecutors themselves. The novel’s supreme anti-heroine, "Serena Joy" (played by Yvonne Strahovski in the Hulu series) was blatantly patterned after the virulently anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-Equal Rights Amendment icon Phyllis Schlafly, who died at 92 last September.

And just like the book, many of today's most conservative voters and politicians see today's diversity and liberation as a sign of decadence, license, and sin, and feel that they had no other choice but to resort to the most extreme measures to make "Gilead" great again.

Bolstered by Elisabeth Moss' magnificent performance, "Offred" comes off as a strong big sister to another empowering, postmodern Millennial icon, Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games." Surviving in a repressive, dank, secret police society, Offred and her fellow sisters must find a way to keep their individual identities and humanity while under constant threat, in the far-off hope of overthrowing the system. Alyssa Favreau noted in The MarySue that “The Handmaid’s Tale” offered straight-up lessons on “How to Resist” possible Trump-era abuses, with a Top Ten list of pointers one can draw from the novel (and from the forthcoming series.)

More TV Metaphors for Trump

"The Handmaid's Tale" is far from the only TV show to directly take on the Trump era. ABC's hit "Blackish" did a ripped-from-the-headlines take on what Trump's election meant to people of color, which elicited praise both from fans and television critics.

Ryan Murphy told Bravo's Andy Cohen on the February 15 edition of "Watch What Happens Live" that his next round of "American Horror Story” will be directly modeled on the battle for the Presidency between Trump and Hillary Clinton. The overtly political ratings-toppers “Scandal” and “House of Cards” have featured characters specifically modeled on Trump and his inner circle. And CBS All Access' knocked it out of the park with “The Good Fight,” which opened with an episode stolidly titled “Inauguration," where a “stunned and shell-shocked” Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) watches President Trump being sworn into office, after losing her sizeable fortune to a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme, and being forced to start over (well into her 60s) at a predominately Millennial and minority law firm.

Watch trailer for “The Handmaid’s Tale," which premieres on Wednesday, April 26th, on Hulu.

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Do you think that America could ever end up a fascist, totalitarian state as in "Handmaid's Tale" or "Hunger Games"?

No 29%Yes 71%