In case you haven’t heard, The Handmaid’s Tale is pretty bleak. Based on the dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, the show is about a new America where women have been completely disenfranchised and those in their childbearing years have been relegated to become breeders, called Handmaids. In what could only be described as a men’s rights extremist’s wet dream, the American government has been overthrown and replaced by an archaic ordering of gender roles — based on scriptures from the Bible. After binge-watching the first few episodes, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a shook. I’m currently adjusting my savings plan to include a mattress fund and a duplicate passport, just in case. As hard as it may be to think that there is anything good that could come about in the new world order of The Handmaid’s Tale, there is.
Before she became a Handmaid named Offred, June was just a normal American woman. She has a best friend, Moira, who just so happens to be Black. She is also a mother and a wife. Her husband, Luke, is also Black. Despite living in society that is obviously brimming with antiquated ideas about how to fix their massive infertility problem, June’s interracial relationship is never a thing. In fact, during a flashback scene where someone attempts to kidnap their newborn, Luke rushes in to retrieve the baby and the police don’t question his intentions or legitimacy at all. He doesn’t receive a single suspicious glance.
Throughout the entire show, people of different races are portrayed at different levels of society. There are Black guards or “eyes,” just as there are Black Handmaids. Apparently everyone has an equal opportunity to be oppressed or be an oppressor in this series. At least you can’t say Gilead isn't a diverse nation.
Ironically, the one hopeful thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is also the most unrealistic. We’re supposed to believe that while the United States has descended into gendered dystopia, it is also, somehow, a racial utopia? If this upset of our government was to go down right now, the institutional racism in our country would already have created some sort of power imbalance. Intersectionality obviously isn’t a central part of the story. It’s also hard to imagine that many of the country’s privileged white elites would want to bear children of colour. Perhaps race will be addressed in later episodes, but it seems wholly unlikely that there is no racial trouble in this twisted paradise.
The first series of The Handmaid's Tale is shown on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm.