Last night, Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. A frightening and incredibly gripping piece of visual storytelling from cinematographer-turned-director Reed Morano, it stands as a remarkable piece of art that speaks to atrocities committed against women around the world and throughout history.
While writer and executive producer Bruce Miller began developing the 33-year-old novel before the rise of Donald Trump, the story of women who have been stripped of all agency to exist solely as breeding vessels for the patriarchy seems all too prescient in a 2017 when immigrants are being separated from their children, facts are “alternative,” and women are losing access to healthcare at the hands of a president who’s admitted sexual assault on audiotape.
“Could ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ really happen?” isn’t the question anymore. The question is now, “Is it already happening?” Are we seeking any reason to separate and isolate those who are different, who might not fit in? Are we letting fear make us less free?
Atwood touched upon a similar point in her March 10 New York Times essay, “What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump.” But when it came time for the post-screening Q&A, the creative team rejected every opening to discuss the show’s modern-day relevance.
Instead, Miller hailed Atwood’s protagonist, while stars Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes cited the brilliance of Miller’s writing. Co-star Ann Dowd acknowledged that the show was envisioned “before hell began in this country.”
Despite the considerable efforts of moderator and Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers, no one would touch feminism; opportunities to explicitly discuss political reflections were disregarded.
It’s possible that the “Handmaid’s” team knows that if they supply a Trump-hungry media with quotes about the president, that will become the story rather than the show itself. It’s also possible that the apparent reticence was the product of having more than a dozen people on stage, which never leads to a free-flowing exchange.
Toward the end of that awkward Q&A, a young woman asked about the cultural impact they hoped the show would have. Morano replied that everything Atwood described has happened to women at some place and time in history, but that she personally had been sheltered and has taken certain freedoms for granted.
The director added that a line from the book had a great impact on her: “Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.” Said Morano, “I always keep that in my head and I just hope people don’t take this for granted, because they shouldn’t.”
And finally, it seemed that Dowd had the courage to speak plainly. “I hope it has a massive effect on people,” she said. “I hope they picket the White House and I hope they are wearing these costumes. And that we never underestimate the power of morons.”
The crowd erupted as if she’d blown the lid off a political embargo. At that moment, I wondered if the cast and creative team had been instructed to not say the word “Trump.” It was a conversation many people had as they filed out of the theater.