All stories matter

The Times writes up the making of a tv serial based on The Handmaid’s Tale.

Before the series even debuts on Wednesday, April 26, references to “The Handmaid’s Tale” — shorthand for repressive patriarchy — seem ubiquitous. A photo of a group of male Republicans at the White House debating maternity services with nary a woman in sight earned the social media hashtag #Gilead. Last month, women in Handmaids’ red dresses and bonnets sat side-by-side in the Texas State Capitol to protest anti-abortion measures under consideration.

In short the dystopian premise is horrifyingly more plausible than it was a year ago.

It was still the Obama era when Hulu pursued the property two years ago, as part of a strategy to broaden its identity from a glorified video recorder to a producer of original programming. The showrunner Bruce Miller threw his hat in the ring when Ilene Chaiken, who had been developing the adaptation at MGM, departed for “Empire.” A veteran writer-producer on shows including “E.R.” and “Eureka,” Mr. Miller had been obsessed with the novel since reading it as an undergraduate at Brown, even having his agent continually check to see if the film or TV rights were available.

“Offred spoke to me,” Mr. Miller said. “She’s in this nightmarish situation but she keeps her funny cynicism and sarcasm. She finds really interesting ways to pull levers of power and express herself.”

But Mr. Miller wasn’t a shoo-in for showrunner because producers were looking for a woman, he recalled. “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been a seminal rite-of-passage novel for many young women for over three decades; a feminist sacred text.

“It’s sacred to me, too,” Mr. Miller said. “But I don’t feel like it’s a male or female story; it’s a survival story.”

Uhhhhhhhh…well that’s why the producers should have gone on looking for a woman until they found one. Here’s the thing: it is a “female” story. So much so. It’s about what life is like for actual women right now in some parts of the planet, like Saudi Arabia for instance. It’s not about what life is like for people in general in a theocracy, it’s about how theocracy grinds women into the dirt. It is a female story.


“I was incredibly, and am still incredibly mindful, of the fact that I’m a boy,” Mr. Miller said. “You always try to find people who support your deficits.”

To that end, when Mr. Miller finished writing the first two episodes, he sent them to Ms. Atwood; she approved. He made sure his writing staff was almost entirely female, and hired women to direct all but two of the 10 episodes.

I hope they’re all clear that it’s a patriarchal theocracy, not that other kind of theocracy. (That’s a joke, because all theocracies are patriarchal. That’s the point of them. The first thing Islamists do when they take over is shove all the women into hijab or worse.)

Gilead is not technically a futuristic society, but a backward (or sideways) glance. Ms. Atwood is something of a scholar of Puritanism, and she said every horrific episode in the story happened somewhere in history already, whether stonings or enslavement, reproductive restrictions or forbidding women to read.

“The theory being that if human beings have done it once they can do it again,” said Ms. Atwood, who recently received the National Book Critics Circle lifetime achievement award, and at 77, seems more current than ever.

Yeah those second-wavers, man.

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