The Handmaid’s Tale: marketing, then and now
Comparing the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale to the 1990 version is… weird, because the old one seems to have been made with a “haha, this could never happen; let’s play it like a fun adventure thriller and sell it as sexy as possible!” kind of attitude. I mean, the trailer has this bouncy narration that starts with “once upon a time…” and turns the dystopian element into more of a soap opera.
And just take a look at the promotional art:
(…I don’t think that was the message of the book, guys. Sure, Offred was longing for human touch, or pretty much any kind of human connection, but I think that the book was more about women being reduced to wombs with legs, not state-owned prostitutes… It was about the desperation of needing to give birth or face punishment. Everything about this dystopia was hyper-de-sexualized.)
Oh, and my favorite:
“A psychosexual movie shocker.” With what looks like half the cover of a cheesy romance novel, minus some buff shirtless guy.
(I also think it’s kind of funny that they say “once upon a time in the near future” sex became used for control and domination, as if rape and prostitution haven’t existed for centuries… but okay…)
I’ll admit I haven’t seen this version (or the Hulu one, for that matter), but I do appreciate that they cast a properly old and creepy man in the part of the Commander, and a properly aged woman for his Wife. The Hulu casting is a little youthful, if you ask me; the book characters felt very weathered, and I think it mentioned that they were supposed to be quite a bit older than Offred. Her “affair” with the Commander is supposed to feel very weird and unsettling, partially because he’s this old man who wants someone to play Scrabble with and dress up in sequins.
Anyway, then we had what I call the “holy shit these dystopias are too real” phase, culminating with the new Hulu adaptation of this particular dystopia, which is waaaay too relevant to today’s issues.
See? This is how you depict the feeling of objectification. Not with a topless woman bathed in flattering lighting – by objectifying a woman yourself, you’re not sending a message so much as continuing the trend. Especially when you sell your film as some kind of sexy romance. “Branded, sold, controlled: she belongs to The State” doesn’t quite cut it; this very simple, very clear message does. Offred is no longer human, she doesn’t have a face; she is just an object. Objectified.
(This also has some fantastic layering because it recalls the messages that you might find scrawled across the bathroom mirror meant to demean other girls; part of Gilead’s system involves pitting women against each other: Wives against Handmaids, Handmaids against Aunts, even Handmaids against each other out of jealousy and in the Red Center with their slut-shaming. To stay in power, the men at the top make sure that the women below them are too occupied with resenting each other that they forget to look up at who the real enemy is.)
Now THAT is how you market a dystopia. This story is not some scandalous fantasy set in the near-but-distant future; it’s a warning, of what might be lurking just around the corner. The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly frightening book to read today, because of the things that are being allowed to happen in our society. It shows what happens when we let sexism flourish, when ecological and political crises make us paranoid enough about national security that we let the people in power take away our rights. It is a fucking nightmare.