Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel about a society with a plummeting birth rate, in 1984. In the book, a totalitarian American regime strips women of their rights and forces those who are fertile to become “handmaids” to bear children for wealthy men and their barren wives.
Atwood challenged herself to only include events in the book that had happened in history. The result was a tale about the future that can, at turns, feel all too contemporary. The story includes an environmental crisis, restrictions on abortion, marches for women’s rights and Americans fleeing to Canada.
When Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss signed on to play the lead Offred in the Hulu adaptation of the landmark novel, most pundits predicted Hillary Clinton would be president. But just months after filming the show, Trump won the election and protesters at the Women’s March carried signs that read, “Make Margaret Atwood fiction again” and a Latin line from Handmaid’s, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down”).
The book is back on top of the bestseller lists and the show, which premieres April 26 on the streaming service, is “accidentally the most prescient story on TV,” says Moss. The novelist and the actor sat down with TIME to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale’s newfound relevance, how they define feminism and the joys and ills of social media, from Peggy Olson memes to slut-shaming.
Ruven Afanador for TIME. Portrait of Elisabeth Moss and Margaret Atwood shot at the Time Inc. Photo Studios in New York, March 18, 2017.
TIME: Why this show now?
Elisabeth Moss: I get asked a lot whether the show is in response to the election, but we were filming beforehand.
Margaret Atwood: The control of women and babies has been a part of every repressive regime in history. This has been happening all along. I don’t take it lightly when a politician says something like a pregnancy can’t result from a rape because a woman’s body knows it and rejects it. There’s an undercurrent of this [type of thinking]. And then it rises to the surface sometimes. But The Handmaid’s Tale is always relevant, just in different ways in different political contexts. Not that much has changed.
Moss: When we first met, we were in a very loud restaurant, so I was sort of leaning over the table trying desperately to hear all of your answers. But you said that the kernel of the idea was how you would control women by shutting down their bank accounts.
Atwood: Also it was, If America were going to do a totalitarian government, what kind of totalitarian government would it be? It wouldn’t be communism. No surprises there. I thought it would have to be some sort of theocracy, like the 17th century in the U.S. I was always very interested in the Salem witch trials, another instance of controlling women.
Moss: We touch on this more in the show than in the book, but even though things are …
Source:: Time – Entertainment