By Kim Singleton
Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a story of a totalitarian society that emerged after an extremist group overthrew the United States government. The Sons of Jacob believed the country needed to return to “traditional” values. In this new land called Gilead, women’s rights were eliminated, forbidding them to hold property or jobs.
Gilead’s birthrate is low. Elite families without children are given Handmaids whose sole purpose is to procreate. A monthly ritual is performed where the husband has intercourse with the Handmaid while the compliant wife sits behind the Handmaid and holds her hands.
The series centers on Handmaid June Osbourne (Elisabeth Moss). She was captured, stripped of her young daughter Hanna, separated from her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenie), given a new name and sent to a life of sexual servitude in the house of Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) Waterford. Her story reveals Gilead atrocities. June is raped, beaten and emotionally abused. Others who violate the rules are tortured, dismembered, executed or sent to toxic fields for hard labor. Bottom line, Gilead is hell.
In the series’ first three seasons, June evolves into a rebel determined to find her daughter. In Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale, June escapes to neighboring Canada. In her freedom, June is reunited with her husband and her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley). Moira and June started out as Handmaids together but in an escape attempt, Moira made it and June didn’t. Luke escaped earlier and lived in Canada during June’s captivity. The reunion is bitter sweet. While Luke and Moira are happy to have June back, daughter Hanna is still in Gilead and the trauma June faced during captivity changed her. She is aggressive, calculating and obsessed with vengeance. Her extreme dark side resulted from killing captors and betraying allies to get closer to finding her daughter. Luke and Moira struggle to find glimpses of the old June but she seems gone forever. June’s experience highlights what can happen to one’s psyche when freed after years of enslavement.
June is also reunited with Rita Blue (Amanda Brugel), a housekeeper formerly in servitude to the Waterfords. A stoic character, Rita connected June with a network of housekeepers that helped orchestrate the escape of 86 children from Gilead to Canada. Rita was on the plane with them.
The series is well-produced and its popularity stems from embedded parallels to reality. White males--the main power structure--hide behind Christianity and cherry-pick concepts that further their personal agendas. Women’s rights are gone with no say on what happens to their bodies. The LBGTQ community is illegal. Activists are demonized and killed. All this started with an insurrection. Sound familiar?
The Handmaid’s Tale is currently in its fourth season and has been renewed for a fifth. The series can be seen on Hulu.
Credit: African American Film Critics Association