America is not Gilead — not by a long shot. But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be vigilant about protecting human rights at a time of political turmoil. That was the sentiment shared by “The Handmaid’s Tale” producers and stars as they basked backstage in their eight Emmy wins, including the top prize of best drama series.
“Certainly we have our problems and differences and a lot of things to defend in this country,” said showrunner Bruce Miller, who also won the drama writing award for the first episode of the series, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel.
“Handmaid’s Tale” is set in an alternative world of Gilead in which America has been divided by civil war and women have lost most of their civil rights. The fact that the series coincided with the onset of extreme political polarization sparked by Donald Trump’s upset win as president clearly gave the show special resonance with Emmy voters.
Miller said he hopes “Handmaid’s” is a cautionary tale.
“Gilead is a very different place and an extreme place,” he said. “One of the nice things about having a show about such a terrible place is that we can have some people who may want different things for America, but nobody wants that.”
“Handmaid’s” executive producer Warren Littlefield went further, crediting the show for helping to spark some activism.
“We have a war going on every day — the battle for women’s rights,” he said. “Margaret’s book and Bruce’s words help illuminate that struggle and what the battle is about. It reminds people that the resistance is alive and to be a part of it. There are days in America where it feels like it’s the prequel to Gilead. Maybe we can help with the fight.”
Atwood sounded an ominous tone when she said flatly: “Never believe it can never happen here.”
The triumph for “Handmaid’s” was a career milestone for star Elisabeth Moss, who collected her first Emmy after seven nominations, most of them for her run on “Mad Men.” It also established director Reed Morano as a force in the industry. Thanks to the vision she brought to producers, Morano was entrusted with directing the first three episodes despite never having directed a pilot before.
Moss said her first win provoked “a roller-coaster of emotions,” especially because of her appreciation for the material from Atwood and Miller.
“The book has had such an effect on so many people,” Moss said. “To get to step into those shoes is beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”