‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Tribeca Panel Turns ‘Bizarre’ as Cast Downplays Feminist Themes

Margaret Atwood and Elizabeth Moss respond to accusations of trying to “appeal to a wider audience”

handmaids tale elizabeth moss

A promotional stop at the Tribeca Film Festival inspired criticism for the cast and filmmakers of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Based on a seminal 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” centers around  a servant in the household of a high-ranking official in a totalitarian society called Gilead. Being one of the few remaining fertile women in Gilead, she is forced into sexual servitude.

A majority of the stars in the dystopian series sidestepped or rejected the idea of feminist themes in the upcoming streaming series. The problem? It’s incredibly feminist — according to academics, critics and devotees of the 31-year-old property.

“[‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is] not a feminist story. It’s a human story because women’s rights are human rights,” said series lead Elizabeth Moss at the Saturday afternoon event in New York, part of the ongoing film festival programming.

Moss was responding to a question that asked for similarities between her “Handmaid’s Tale” character Offred and her beloved “Mad Men” character, advertising copywriter Peggy Olson.

“I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist. I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women, and they’re humans. Offred’s a wife, a mother, a best friend. You know, she has a job. And she is a person who’s not supposed to be a hero, and she falls into it,” Moss continued, per a thorough account of the event from Vanity Fair.

“It’s just a story about a woman. I don’t think that this is any sort of feminist propaganda. I think that it’s a story about women and about humans,” echoed Moss’ costar Madeline Brewer (“Orange is the New Black.”). “This story affects all people.”

“I don’t feel like it’s a male or female story,” show creator Bruce Miller told the New York Times prior to the event. “It’s a survival story.”

Atwood fielded several tweets from riled up fans of the book — and there were many more incredulous about the panel which were not directed at the author.

“They needed an ‘only,’ an ‘also,’ and a human rights definition of the F word [in my humble opinion],” Atwood tweeted in response to a quote given to her from the panel that the show was “not a feminist story, it’s a human story.”

One panel attendee said the line being towed by the cast was “an attempt to appeal to a wider audience but disappointing.”

Just because Moss does not find her new series to be feminist does not mean she does identify as one herself.

“I think our generation has taken our rights for granted,” Moss said Wednesday at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

“The idea that they would be taken away didn’t occur to us for a very long time. And I think that for sure there’s a rise in my generation of feminism. The wave is coming back as we’re faced with things being taken away from us that we thought we would always have – reproductive rights and all that. For me I’ve definitely become more aware and more active in the last few years,” she continued at the W Hotel, adjacent to the White House, with Atwood at her side.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” premieres April 26 on Hulu.