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Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Will ‘Spark a Lot of Debate,’ Exec Producer Says

Variety logo Variety 4/26/2017 Sarah Ahern
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The stars of “The Handmaid’s Tale” walked the carpet in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening ahead of the series premiere on Hulu Wednesday, but the spotlight was on Margaret Atwood, the novelist who conceived the dystopian narrative back in 1984.

As Atwood made her way down the carpet, she congratulated each star for their work on the series. However, they seemed more struck by the world she created over three decades ago. “No, thank you,” a stunned Alexis Bledel, who plays Ofglen, responded to Atwood after a hug and congratulations. “That is so amazing to hear from you.”

Bledel was joined by co-stars Elisabeth Moss , Ann Dowd , and executive producer Warren Littlefield , who all gathered in front of a sign that depicts a blurry handmaid with the word “object” etched on top of her face: a double entendre that defines the women as objects or possessions, but also the ways in which these women object to the confines of the totalitarian regime.

This is precisely the premise of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is set in a totalitarian America known as the Republic of Gilead, a world in which the birth rate is plummeting and the rare women who are fertile become “handmaids,” serving only to bear children for rich men and their barren wives.

It sounds like quite a chilling premise and it’s absolutely meant to be,” said  Littlefield. “The fact that it resonates with the issues of the women today — that’s a bonus,” he continued. “But it’s going to spark a lot of debate and that’s a great thing.”

Yet this story goes beyond one of women’s rights, it is a story about human rights, too. Many groups of people in Gilead are oppressed, except the small percentage of those who are a part of the fundamentalist group that has taken over the nation. Adapting the novel nearly 30 years after its original publication meant some updates needed to be made, too — a more racially diverse cast being one of those changes.

“ In 1984 if you had [written about] an interracial relationship, and all these interracial friendships, it would have been seen as ‘oh, so that’s what this movie is about,’ because it would have been unusual,” Atwood explained. “But now, this is usual, we’re used to it and therefore it can just be part of everything.”

Though the story was in production before the 2016 election, filming continued after the results were announced. For many of the cast members, it gave the series an eerily newfound resonance.

For example, there are a couple phrases that originate from the novel that will be incorporated in the series that are important not just to citizens of Gilead, but contemporary America, too. One of those being the Latin phrase “nolite te bastardes carborundorum,” which translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

For Moss, who plays the protagonist, Offred, this phrase becomes essential to her retaliation against the oppressive regime of Gilead.

“This means don’t give up on what you believe in, don’t let the haters hate,” Moss says. “If you intend to do something, then you’ve got to go after it.”’

“If Offred can survive, act and rebel within this world, then guess what, America —   we can do the same,” Whittlefield said.

Marking the first collaboration between Hulu and MGM Television, the premiere also gathered MGM chairman and CEO Gary Barber, production and development president SteveStark, and TV production and development EVP Lindsay Sloane as well as Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins and content chief Craig Erwich.

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