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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Soars With 13 Emmy Nominations, Proving The Power of Its Message

With a slew of recognition for its acting and directing achievements, Hulu's newest original drama proves itself to be an awards season powerhouse. 

The Handmaid's Tale  -- "Nigh" -- Episode 110 -- Serena Joy confronts Offred and the Commander. Offred struggles with a complicated, life-changing revelation. The Handmaids face a brutal decision. Offred (Elisabeth Moss), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

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Hulu’s biggest awards play yet paid off this year, as “The Handmaid’s Tale” was nominated for 13 Emmy awards for its first extraordinary season — one which echoed disturbingly timely themes reflected in real world events. While the searing dystopian drama captivated critics with its detail-rich production design and jaw-dropping storytelling, it came into the awards race as an underdog, mostly due to Hulu’s lack of history with awards success.

While Hulu has been in the awards mix before — their Jason Reitman-produced dramedy “Casual” was nominated for a Golden Globe in its freshman year — this is the first time it has ever been nominated for any major Emmy awards. In 2016, it was nominated just twice, for outstanding special visual effects in “11.22.63” and outstanding writing for a variety special for “Triumph’s Election Special 2016.”

This year, “Handmaid’s Tale” is a major contender, receiving the following nominations:

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION DESIGN FOR A NARRATIVE CONTEMPORARY OR FANTASY PROGRAM (ONE HOUR OR MORE)
OUTSTANDING CASTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
OUTSTANDING CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR A SINGLE-CAMERA SERIES (ONE HOUR)
OUTSTANDING PERIOD/FANTASY COSTUMES FOR A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

That’s right — two nominations for directing, with Reed Morano recognized for the pilot and Kate Dennis for Episode 9, “The Bridge.” Nominated for their acting work were Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley, and Alexis Bledel, while showrunner Bruce Miller was recognized for writing the pilot. (Fun fact: Morano was also nominated as director of photography for the pilot of HBO’s “Divorce,” while Dowd was also nominated for Best Guest Actress in “The Leftovers.”)

Hulu has never released numbers on how its series perform, but there’s clearly something about the series which has clearly captured the public’s — and now the TV Academy’s — imagination. In fact, the show may have gotten a significant, if immeasurable bump from the 2017 political climate, if only thanks to the way it has infiltrated popular culture. Hulu announced production on “The Handmaid’s Tale” in April 2016, a very different political climate — imagining what it would be like to watch this show in an America with a female president brings things to a whole new level of science fiction.

In the America of today, we’ve seen the Handmaids literally, in Margaret Atwood’s words, “escape from their box.” This has occurred not just in the form of official Hulu-sponsored street teams of Handmaids, who spent this spring wandering around events and locations including SXSW, the Los Angeles Book Fair and (during Emmys FYC season) various office parks and agencies. More profoundly, in recent months political protestors have donned white bonnets and red gowns to protest threats against women’s rights in Texas and DC.

In a time when women are feeling silenced, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has given them an iconography with a powerful message about what happens when you try to “make things better” for one group at the expense of another.

The show’s success this morning isn’t just a major victory for Hulu and great television — it’s proof that the show exactly what we need right now, to remember to stand up when they tell us to sit down.

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