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itainttippithebird

Beyond The Wall: Race, Culture, and Diversity in The Handmaid's Tale

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Despite its rampant sexism, we have yet to see evidence in the show that Gilead treats its people differently based on race. This is the place to discuss race relations, as well as other social justice issues which may arise (such as cultural, religious, or sexual diversity). Comparisons to the book are welcome, but please remember to spoiler-tag book info.

My thanks to @Slovenly Muse for creating the thread! 

Edited by 17wheatthins
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7 hours ago, itainttippithebird said:

Don't mean to go too OT but chiming in to say that this episode really brought home for me that they are going to ignore race entirely, which is so disappointing! They had the opportunity to take Atwood's limited (but at least somewhat present!) attention to race and really bring it to the fore. To talk about a dystopian, fundamentalist future almost exclusively through a gender lens without sustained attention to race is crazy to me.

I wouldn't say that including characters of different races is ignoring race. A Gilead based on white supremecy is certainly plausible, as Atwood originally conceived it, but I have no problem accepting a multi-racial Gilead. After all, it is a regime driven by religion, and there are communities of all races in America that are extremely devout and could be easily coerced by religious leaders into joining or supporting the regime. What kind of sense would it make for the Church to send Missionaries to Africa, and devote time and resources trying to convert the "heathens" if those people weren't considered to be worth Saving? I agree that the show could be doing more to address race directly, but I also think there is power in inclusion, and illustrating the ways that the struggle for freedom affects all people. By having all women share the same level, and the same opportunities and risks, regardless of race, the power of sisterhood grows naturally out of the story. We have to watch each others' backs. We have to be stronger together and united in resistance. Because, to borrow a truism, none of us is free until all of us are free. I also think it would be an unfortunate simplification to portray the class of oppressors as White and the oppressed as Black, especially in a regime encompassing nearly all of America: a country of incredible cultural, ethnic, and religious complexity. In terms of culture and religion, it's been made clear how the population has been forced into a semblance of uniformity by fear, wherein everyone must pretend to be "like" the ones in power in order to survive. It makes sense for that tactic to extend to race as well.

Perhaps, rather than getting caught up in the racial politics that may or may not exist in this fictional world, we should focus instead on what this show may be trying to illustrate about the fundamental humanity of all people, which will lead each individual to participate in whatever level of oppression, complacency, or resistance, their nature compels them. If Gilead takes over, any one of us could become a June, or a Moira, or an opportunistic doctor, or a Commander, or an Aunt Lydia, regardless of our race. Maybe the post-racial resistance to Gilead is where we find the hope for our own society, and our own future.

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That's crap.  Sorry.  They make great pains to show this is close to our reality except for a few changes.  Our 2017 is not a post racial America.  There is no such thing.  The show runner mentioned in an interview that everyone knows an interracial couple.  That is very true.  Racism and white supremacy still exist.  The idea that environmental disaster and a fertility crisis somehow makes that all go away is ridiculous.  I totally believe there would be more international adoptions and interracial couples but white supremacy is ingrained into the foundation of our society and evangelicals are still pretty racist.  The idea that Gilead hates the wrong kind of Christians, college professors, gays and women but believes in racial equality makes no sense.  I understand why the change was made.  I have no interest in watching an all white television show.  But the writers needed to be willing to follow through on the racial dynamics that would certainly rather than just declaring it to be "too much" with everything going on,  It is lazy storytelling.

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7 hours ago, Shaynaa said:

They make great pains to show this is close to our reality except for a few changes.  Our 2017 is not a post racial America.  There is no such thing.  The show runner mentioned in an interview that everyone knows an interracial couple.  That is very true.  Racism and white supremacy still exist.  The idea that environmental disaster and a fertility crisis somehow makes that all go away is ridiculous.  I totally believe there would be more international adoptions and interracial couples but white supremacy is ingrained into the foundation of our society and evangelicals are still pretty racist.  The idea that Gilead hates the wrong kind of Christians, college professors, gays and women but believes in racial equality makes no sense.

I'm not really sure what you mean by this. How is what we see in Gilead a huge change from our world now in terms of racial diversity? Yes, our society is not post-racial, and yet we see people of all races integrated into all levels of society today. That doesn't mean there is no discrimination. And yes, there IS a lot of racism today, but that doesn't mean we never see People of Color in positions of power. Just because we see black Commanders, that doesn't mean Gilead is post-racial. If "everyone knows an interracial couple," then why is it so strange to see interracial "households" in Gilead? To me, that sounds like something that makes Gilead CLOSER to our current world and more relevant, than some White Supremecist stronghold would. I don't think there is no racism in Gilead, I'm saying that religion has a historically different approach to diversity (assimilation) than the political white supremecy movement does (segregation), and this regime is predominantly religious. And in this case, EVERYONE has been assimilated into the rules and belief systems of this regime. There is plenty of room for discrimination within the system. I'm saying that the show's decision to (so far) not highlight the racial issues at work is logical (though by no means the only approach), because it places everyone under the same wide umbrella of oppression, and makes it clear how resistance to oppression is possible, and how we all play an equal role in resistance, even in our world today. I would love to see more exploration of the subtler issues of discrimination under that umbrella, and I hope the show decides to explore them. But I don't have a problem with their approach so far.

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22 minutes ago, Umbelina said:

There is a discussion of the race issue in the book thread.  Since the show is obviously handling it one way, and the book quite the opposite way, that seems to be the place for the discussion from the mod's instructions.   I'm not trying to be a bossy-pants here, but until the mods change their minds about including book in episode talk, I'll be posting about it there (and have been for days!) or in the questions thread.

I hope you guys join the conversation in Palimpsest because it's been a good one.

I haven't read the book, and probably won't.  I have always felt that film adaptations should not rely on the source material to fill in the blanks or explain seeming contradictions.   The race question thus far has been left out of the series.   It's crazy, considering Atwood chose a Massachusetts setting precisely because of its history of intolerance.  I don't know if racism will rear its ugly head in upcoming episodes, but its omission to this point suggests political correctness.   It's a glaring hypocrisy to see no racism in a society that reduces women to chattel and that executes gays as gender traitors.   These are neo-Puritanical Christians.   The Puritans hanged Quakers on Boston Common, but neither have we seen any persecution of Muslims or Jews (another element that could cause some social media backlash).  

It's ironic, considering the series makes a mockery of Christianity, yet the show seems to have no hesitation about that. 

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I believe I read that Atwood was on board for the more diverse casting. There's a pretty good description of the reasoning behind it in this article. Simply put, this is about a post 2017 world rather than a post 1984 world, and interracial families/marriages are far more common. Also the idea of doing a pure-white story based on the commanders' world, rather than a black and brown story based on the colonies, becomes more problematic nowadays-- like it is saying that only the white world matters. Anyway, take it as you like: https://thinkprogress.org/making-dystopia-diverse-how-hulus-the-handmaid-s-tale-updates-the-classic-3e3f9f23401

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16 minutes ago, dleighg said:

I believe I read that Atwood was on board for the more diverse casting. There's a pretty good description of the reasoning behind it in this article. Simply put, this is about a post 2017 world rather than a post 1984 world, and interracial families/marriages are far more common. Also the idea of doing a pure-white story based on the commanders' world, rather than a black and brown story based on the colonies, becomes more problematic nowadays-- like it is saying that only the white world matters. Anyway, take it as you like: https://thinkprogress.org/making-dystopia-diverse-how-hulus-the-handmaid-s-tale-updates-the-classic-3e3f9f23401

Thank you for the link to that article.   I am not a fan of changing stories for diversity's sake, and it appears that's what has been done here.   Yes, we live in more diverse times now, but it begs credibility that the the rulers of Gilead would get on board with political correctness.   They would have whitewashed the landscape.  

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3 hours ago, millennium said:

Thank you for the link to that article.   I am not a fan of changing stories for diversity's sake, and it appears that's what has been done here.   Yes, we live in more diverse times now, but it begs credibility that the the rulers of Gilead would get on board with political correctness.   They would have whitewashed the landscape.  

This.  I'm a big fan of very diverse casting and most of the time it doesn't impact the story at all.  I think it is great to make the cast more diverse here to better reflect the reality of our 2017 but that means having to deal with the reality of how an fundamentalist, oppressive society would handle race. 

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4 hours ago, millennium said:

but neither have we seen any persecution of Muslims or Jews (another element that could cause some social media backlash).  

It was blink-and-you-miss-it, but one of the people hanging on the wall as Offred and Ofglen were walking home from grocery shopping in the second episode had a bag over his head with a Star of David on it.

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31 minutes ago, chocolatine said:

It was blink-and-you-miss-it, but one of the people hanging on the wall as Offred and Ofglen were walking home from grocery shopping in the second episode had a bag over his head with a Star of David on it.

I saw that and forgot about it.   But again, just one Jew?   In and around Cambridge where this story is set?   And depicted in a blink-and-you-miss-it manner?   Eggshells all around. 

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4 minutes ago, millennium said:

I saw that and forgot about it.   But again, just one Jew?   In and around Cambridge where this story is set?   And depicted in a blink-and-you-miss-it manner?   Eggshells all around. 

I think by that time most of the Jews would have fled or been killed. The "present-day" scenes with Offred in the Commander's house are about three years since she's been separated from her daughter, and even longer since she's lost access to money and her job. Most Jews would have seen the writing on the wall early on and gotten out. After the Holocaust, we don't make the mistake of sticking around in the hopes that it will get better.

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I think it would be a different show if they had tried to do a racial storyline meaty enough to make people happy. The intensely claustrophobic PoV of June eats up a lot of screen time (with major impact). 

No book adaptation is ever going to make every reader happy.

I'm a fan of diversity in casting. 

Those are all the opinions I feel qualified to post in 2017.

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A very interesting article, thanks for that link. I admit, it is a bit jarring to see racism removed from a story about oppression, but I can see their point. And, really, I do agree with their approach, for all the reasons I stated above, and just ....for the fact that the story of black people enduring subjugation by white people has been told so much (because it's, you know, the ENTIRE HISTORY OF AMERICA), that I genuinely find it refreshing to see stories about oppression examined from a new angle. To have black characters face adversity in a way we've never really seen before on TV, and get to tell a new kind of story as a result. I know it's it a bit of an unpopular opinion, and I agree that closer examination of issues of race in Gilead would be compelling TV, but I'm along for this ride!

11 minutes ago, millennium said:
42 minutes ago, chocolatine said:

It was blink-and-you-miss-it, but one of the people hanging on the wall as Offred and Ofglen were walking home from grocery shopping in the second episode had a bag over his head with a Star of David on it.

I saw that and forgot about it.   But again, just one Jew?   In and around Cambridge where this story is set?   And depicted in a blink-and-you-miss-it manner?   Eggshells all around. 

This is another thing that's never really been addressed, so it's hard to say. My interpretation is that people of other religions were likely forced to convert to the beliefs of Gilead (or at least pretend to), and it is only the ones caught actually practicing their religion or exercising cultural beliefs not in line with Gilead that end up on the Wall. That would make sense... EVERYONE has to be seen at all times to be actively working FOR the ideals of Gilead, without any hint of dissent, no matter how violated or disgusted they feel. In the same way the Handmaids don't have the freedom to control their own bodies, no one has the freedom to pray to their own God. It's conform or survive, and you never know who is watching to ensure your compliance. That's my best guess, anyway.

In the book, unless I'm misremembering...

Spoiler

Jews were basically kicked out of Gilead back at the start, and a popular method of escape for those left behind was to pretend to be Jewish and try to sneak out on boats with the refugees. That didn't last long. But of course, the book portrayed Gilead as a staunchly White Supremecist regime, so they would have had a different way of dealing with "others" than the regime portrayed on the show.

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It bothers me very much that they took an incredible book about racism, misogyny, and religious oppression and have just decided to drop the racism part.  I mean, what the hell?  That is a huge part of what made that book so important and meaningful.

In the book, Jews, and other non-Gilead Bible religious people like priests, nuns, etc were

Spoiler

killed or shipped off to the colonies.  They offered Jews the chance to go to Israel, but in reality, it was cheaper to dump them overboard, and just take the money they paid for passage to Israel.  So murdered. 

Spoiler

We also saw a priest murdered on the wall in the show I think.  Nuns were forced to be handmaids, or go to the colonies.  Both certainly happened in the book.

Spoiler

People of color did not wander around Gilead, and certainly held no power positions either.  They were sent to the Children of Ham colonies of the Mid West.  Gone.  It was a lily white world, and that included children.

They could have diversified this cast in so many ways without ruining the horrors Atwood was warning about, talking about.  They chose not to.  The more I've thought about it today, the more it bugs me.  It's a massive fuck up in my mind, but I will try to enjoy this show for what it is, in it's very limited way.  Meanwhile, I hope everyone reads the book as well.  It's worth it.  You Tube even has the entire book on tape up, free.

Edited by Umbelina
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This is purely my opinion, and it is that of a white gay male who read the book forever ago, but I always saw the book at its core being about the roles of the genders, with the other elements secondary. It's been my experience (and mine alone, so I am not making any judgements) that the differences between the genders are more fundamental than those between the races, which are largely cultural and have no basis in biology, therefore the fundamental plot of the book is maintained even if you drop the more period-specific racial bits. Obviously everyone has their own takeaway from the book/series, but Atwood did a great job of showing what a society COULD become under a fundamentalist, extremist theocracy backed with a military and a disarmed populace. Smart that she used Christianity and America as the imagined dystopian precept and world rather than focusing on very real and present examples that might get her killed.

  As far as June goes, at least so far as her captors know, if they knew her family situation, she is fertile, and her genes seem to be recessive, as the child she gave birth to looks nothing like her, so she would be perfect for a world where any progeny would be easy enough to pass off as not hers. (Even with the horrific structure of Gilead, "mothers" who raise the handmaids' offspring are not going to want to see the handmaid in that child forever.)

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20 hours ago, Umbelina said:

It bothers me very much that they took an incredible book about racism, misogyny, and religious oppression and have just decided to drop the racism part.  I mean, what the hell?  That is a huge part of what made that book so important and meaningful.

In the book, Jews, and other non-Gilead Bible religious people like priests, nuns, etc were

  Reveal hidden contents

killed or shipped off to the colonies.  They offered Jews the chance to go to Israel, but in reality, it was cheaper to dump them overboard, and just take the money they paid for passage to Israel.  So murdered. 

  Reveal hidden contents

We also saw a priest murdered on the wall in the show I think.  Nuns were forced to be handmaids, or go to the colonies.  Both certainly happened in the book.

  Reveal hidden contents

People of color did not wander around Gilead, and certainly held no power positions either.  They were sent to the Children of Ham colonies of the Mid West.  Gone.  It was a lily white world, and that included children.

They could have diversified this cast in so many ways without ruining the horrors Atwood was warning about, talking about.  They chose not to.  The more I've thought about it today, the more it bugs me.  It's a massive fuck up in my mind, but I will try to enjoy this show for what it is, in it's very limited way.  Meanwhile, I hope everyone reads the book as well.  It's worth it.  You Tube even has the entire book on tape up, free.

Yes! This!  Now that I know this, the original story makes sense -- but the TV series doesn't.   The TV series is a politically-correct fraidy-cat.   What a squandered opportunity.   Here we are in the present day and age watching resignedly as the ruler of our country has singled out individuals for removal/refusal of entry based on RACE and RELIGION, meanwhile a fictional presentation that was in a perfect position to criticize this type of behavior is too timid to do so even as it pretends to be some socially relevant drama.    What a fucking joke.   

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22 hours ago, Umbelina said:

It bothers me very much that they took an incredible book about racism, misogyny, and religious oppression and have just decided to drop the racism part.  I mean, what the hell?  That is a huge part of what made that book so important and meaningful.

Religious oppression in the show came across loud and clear to me. There is a bit where Offred and Ofglen watch a church being torn down, and they talk about another church being destroyed. The corpses on the wall include a priest (1x01) and a Jew (shown in 1x02 as a corpse with a bag over his head with a Star of David printed on it).

As for the racism being boiled out of the TV version of the Gilead universe, I accept the showrunner's explanations for doing so, both in-universe (in a real fertility crisis, fertility would trump race) and meta (what's the difference between a show with a setting that excludes POC and a racist TV show?). Too many showrunners bend over backwards cast as few POC as possible using the show's setting as an excuse--historical dramas are terrible for this--so I'm not going to throw stones at one of the few who refused to use the setting as a convenient excuse to avoid casting any POC.

Spoiler

Frankly, the book treats the racism of the Gilead regime as a little more than a worldbuilding afterthought, and it's disingenuous to act as if racism and religious persecution were accorded anywhere near the same level of importance in the text as misogyny. 

The book glosses over what sounds like genocide with only a few quick mentions of what happened to the oppressed groups while simultaneously failing to include any POC characters whatsoever in the main narrative, even as fugitives or as past friends or family members of Offred caught up in purges. A reader could easily miss references to the Children of Ham and what happened to the Jews, because such references are sparse.

The book certainly isn't some sort of powerful anti-racism statement, which is not surprising given Atwood's inspirations in writing the book. Misogyny is the focus, while POC characters are a nameless oppressed collective whose suffering is treated as little more than a footnote. Atwood's supposed "anti-racist" stance in the book is actually kind of racist that way, as she wants to demonstrate the horrors of the Gilead regime without introducing us to any POC characters whatsoever and treats their plight as a bit of worldbuilding business rather than as part of the main story, which is a pretty dehumanizing and, yes, racist thing to do. Atwood also insulates the reader from having to experience the resettlement of the Children of Ham or the dumping of Jews into the ocean by having Offred only mention it in passing, as opposed to shifting the narrative to one of the characters experiencing "resettlement." If she wanted to showcase how awful it would be for POC under a white supremacist regime, and personally I'm not convinced it's something she really cared about, she did a terrible job, and that's her fuck-up. It's not fair in my opinion to blame the showrunners for trying to fix her mistakes by including more POC in the story.

The only character in the book who is front and centre is a white lady who apparently has no POC friends or family, since none appear in her past. There's probably a great book to be written about the struggles POC characters would face under a white supremacist dystopian regime in America, but The Handmaid's Tale was never that book. 

Edited by Eyes High
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I disagree.  She wrote a first person story, and the limitations on what Offred could possibly know increased the suffocation and isolation and fear.

However, this TV show is certainly NOT a first person story any longer.  We see scenes that Offred couldn't possibly see, since she's not there.  They could have done the same thing with the racism aspects of this story, which certainly were included in the book.   I can think of several ways they could have done this, including her (show only) mixed race daughter being rescued by her black friend, or at least protected by her on

Spoiler

the trip to Nebraska where all the Children of Ham that weren't outright killed went.

Alternately, they could be involved

Spoiler

with the underground railroad escapes

and I would have definitely been interested in seeing people of color

Spoiler

rounded up and removed

as they were in the book, a scene that could be just as harrowing, if not more so, than the scene where they fired all the women and took away their money. 

https://thinkprogress.org/making-dystopia-diverse-how-hulus-the-handmaid-s-tale-updates-the-classic-3e3f9f23401

Article on the race question, show vs book.  This contains some book spoilers so don't read it if you don't want to.

 

Quote

 

“What’s the difference between making a television show about racists and making a racist television show? I don’t know that there is any apparent difference when you’re watching.”

But once Miller and the writers made the decision to move the timeline of the novel up about 30 years, Miller said they asked themselves what’s changed since the book came out. The conservative evangelical movement, fairly homogenous at the time the novel was published, is “a little more diverse” now, Miller said. While it is “a generally very Caucasian movement still,” the leaders of Hulu’s Gilead are less fixated on race than they were in the book. As Miller put it, their worldview is: “Being a different color is not being a heretic. Believing something different is being a heretic.”

 

This whole article, while it has a few interesting points, is a cop out.  I strongly disagree that there was more racism in 1985 than in the world today, in fact, the world today is horrifying me.  White Supremacists as advisors to the President.  KKK out and proud again, and more heavily armed than ever.  Race crimes daily in the USA.

Now, I realize that when they wrote and began filming on this show the election hadn't happened, and the resulting white power pride movement and overt racism we see everywhere might not have been expected.  That said, to do it because of the "white oscars" just reeks.

In addition they are racing through the book on this show, everything is fast forwarded, relationships formed much more quickly, they had plenty of time to include the rest of the story, which would have by necessity vastly integrated this cast, with meaty roles.  This is no longer just Offred's story, and I think that is a good choice.  Now they've been given a second season as well, again, so much time to explore what was happening outside of Offred's bubble.

So, it missed for me.  I understand why, but it is a huge loss to the overall reality and bleakness of this tale about what happens in the kind of world Atwood wrote about.

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I think the point about the rise in transracial adoption is an interesting one.  It is actually a big push in those circles to adopt transracially either from abroad or foster care. It is not unusual to see a fundy family with 3-4 adopted kids. 

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1 hour ago, Umbelina said:

I disagree.  She wrote a first person story, and the limitations on what Offred could possibly know increased the suffocation and isolation and fear.

Spoiler

 

But isn't that the same kind of racist copout that's usually used to avoid telling POC stories? This story is a first-person story, and that first person is white in a white setting, etc. etc., as if the story is some sort of immutable preformed thing that the author is absolutely helpless to change or do anything about. You're acting as if Atwood didn't have the same choices the showrunners do back when she was writing the book and deciding what her focus would be, and that she shouldn't be judged as the showrunners should be for failing to tell the stories of POC characters in her book. You're letting Atwood off too easily by far.

No one held a gun to Atwood's head and forced her to write a first-person narrative about a white woman who only interacts with other white people for storyline reasons and who exists in a future where POC are conveniently nothing but voiceless, faceless groups existing only as footnotes in the text who have been conveniently erased from the story. Atwood could have chosen to shift perspectives to POC oppressed under the Gilead regime just as you suggest the showrunners should have. Atwood could have centered the first-person narrative flashbacks around POC friends or loved ones the main character had lost through purges and "resettlements." She did not, and that failure is on her. 

It seems strange that you're so willing to condemn the showrunners for not constructing a story centering around POC characters facing genocide while shrugging off Atwood's failure to do just that in the book. You're not only absolving Atwood for scrubbing POC characters from her story--when as you point out there were ways to include them, ways that Atwood clearly ignored in favour of treating POC genocide as a worldbuilding tidbit--while reducing POC to a footnote in her story but praising her for doing so as some sort of powerful anti-racism statement, when really it's anything but. You're essentially blaming the showrunners for fixing what Atwood fucked up, all while suggesting that Atwood's approach was preferable. 

 

 

Quote

This whole article, while it has a few interesting points, is a cop out.  I strongly disagree that there was more racism in 1985 than in the world today, in fact, the world today is horrifying me.  White Supremacists as advisors to the President.  KKK out and proud again, and more heavily armed than ever.  Race crimes daily in the USA.

That's not at all what Miller (the showrunner) is saying at all though. He's not saying that racism in the world is on the wane, or that race crimes are no longer a problem. He's making a specific observation about the conservative evangelical movement in 2017, which is that the conservative evangelical movement--and there are many, many racists outside the conservative evangelical movement--is becoming "a little" more diverse and a little less fixated on race than it was 30+ years ago, which is I believe true. One expert in American religious issues noted in 2016 that "white evangelicals have themselves started disentangling Christianity and racism, albeit slowly and recently." 

 

Quote

I think the point about the rise in transracial adoption is an interesting one.  It is actually a big push in those circles to adopt transracially either from abroad or foster care. It is not unusual to see a fundy family with 3-4 adopted kids. 

Yes. I think if the choice is brown babies versus no babies, fundies get over their issues real quick, which is what I assume would happen in the instance of a real fertility crisis.

Edited by Eyes High
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I find it a little odd that the outlawing of Catholicism and violence against Catholics has been maintained in this updated version of Gilead, considering how the conservative wing of Catholicism, including the majority of the clerical hierarchy has aligned themselves with the conservative Evangelicals in fervent opposition to abortion, stem cell research, along with steady and vocal opposition to contraception and gay rights.  The Church of this time period officially, at least, is conservative in all the ways that matter to Gilead.  Plus, this takes place in the greater northeast, which has a majority Catholic, practicing or not, population.  

It's easier for me to see the Church of this time period being enthusiastic backers of Gilead's views, not opponents.

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8 hours ago, boes said:

It's easier for me to see the Church of this time period being enthusiastic backers of Gilead's views, not opponents.

You might want to take a look at the current Pope vs. the one at the time the book was written.

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13 minutes ago, NorthstarATL said:

You might want to take a look at the current Pope vs. the one at the time the book was written.

Oh, I agree about the Pope, no doubt.  But the remnants of the Catholic Left were still viable and pushing back against the strictures of Pope John Paul II in 1983, although he was in the process of making the church hierchary more conservative, both politically and socially.

And while the current Pope is quite different from his immediate predecessors, we still have more than enough leaders like the Kansas City Archbishop who has told his parishes and parishioners that they can no longer host, nor should belong to the Girl Scouts because the Girl Scouts "values" clash with the Church.  And that's just the most recent example.  That's Gilead behavior to me.

Edited by boes
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2 hours ago, boes said:

Oh, I agree about the Pope, no doubt.  But the remnants of the Catholic Left were still viable and pushing back against the strictures of Pope John Paul II in 1983, although he was in the process of making the church hierchary more conservative, both politically and socially.

And while the current Pope is quite different from his immediate predecessors, we still have more than enough leaders like the Kansas City Archbishop who has told his parishes and parishioners that they can no longer host, nor should belong to the Girl Scouts because the Girl Scouts "values" clash with the Church.  And that's just the most recent example.  That's Gilead behavior to me.

True. But, TECHNICALLY, the Pope is the leader of the Church, so those are extremists veering from their own religion. Same can be said for Muslim terrorists or extremists of any faith. The difference that Gilead has (and there are currently examples all over the globe, thankfully not in America) is that it is a Theocracy, with the weight of Government, backed up by the military, behind it.  The only Catholic power is Vatican City, which, while wealthy, is not a military power.

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@Eyes High

While I certainly see your point, I do disagree about Atwood's intent.  She was making a powerful statement about more than one thing, and she used the first person method, in my opinion, very well for this story.  Offred only knew a little bit, and it increased the fear and isolation very effectively, even sharing information was dangerous at all times.

Spoiler

However Gilead and the Handmaids was specifically created to increase white birth rates.  It wasn't about babies not being born anywhere, as a matter of fact they specifically mention India at the end of the book.  Much of the birth rate problem was about poor environmental choices in the mainland USA, which became a toxic swamp.  Add earthquakes and other disasters to Nuclear Power plants, mixing up a sterilizing concoction into caviar (which I sincerely doubt they were eating in 3rd world countries!) and Syphilis which was untreatable and may have been more widespread.   This birth rate problem was not world wide, no one else created a Gilead, just the USA (except Alaska and Hawaii.) 

So while obviously, baby crazy people adopt from anywhere and everywhere in our world in 2017, this wasn't about that.  This was designed by men, not women who longed for a full womb or children.  This was

Spoiler

political and racial, to ensure that the white race wouldn't disappear from the face of the earth.  Birth rates in other countries and races were obviously not suffering the same problems.  In addition, this was a way to subjugate anyone that wasn't a rich, white, male, at least in the former USA.

I don't think Atwood made any mistakes.  Indeed, if we know anything today it's just how prescient her story really was.

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13 hours ago, Eyes High said:
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But isn't that the same kind of racist copout that's usually used to avoid telling POC stories? This story is a first-person story, and that first person is white in a white setting, etc. etc., as if the story is some sort of immutable preformed thing that the author is absolutely helpless to change or do anything about. You're acting as if Atwood didn't have the same choices the showrunners do back when she was writing the book and deciding what her focus would be, and that she shouldn't be judged as the showrunners should be for failing to tell the stories of POC characters in her book. You're letting Atwood off too easily by far.

No one held a gun to Atwood's head and forced her to write a first-person narrative about a white woman who only interacts with other white people for storyline reasons and who exists in a future where POC are conveniently nothing but voiceless, faceless groups existing only as footnotes in the text who have been conveniently erased from the story. Atwood could have chosen to shift perspectives to POC oppressed under the Gilead regime just as you suggest the showrunners should have. Atwood could have centered the first-person narrative flashbacks around POC friends or loved ones the main character had lost through purges and "resettlements." She did not, and that failure is on her. 

It seems strange that you're so willing to condemn the showrunners for not constructing a story centering around POC characters facing genocide while shrugging off Atwood's failure to do just that in the book. You're not only absolving Atwood for scrubbing POC characters from her story--when as you point out there were ways to include them, ways that Atwood clearly ignored in favour of treating POC genocide as a worldbuilding tidbit--while reducing POC to a footnote in her story but praising her for doing so as some sort of powerful anti-racism statement, when really it's anything but. You're essentially blaming the showrunners for fixing what Atwood fucked up, all while suggesting that Atwood's approach was preferable. 

 

 

That's not at all what Miller (the showrunner) is saying at all though. He's not saying that racism in the world is on the wane, or that race crimes are no longer a problem. He's making a specific observation about the conservative evangelical movement in 2017, which is that the conservative evangelical movement--and there are many, many racists outside the conservative evangelical movement--is becoming "a little" more diverse and a little less fixated on race than it was 30+ years ago, which is I believe true.

It sounds like he's fanwanking to justify his surrender to political correctness.

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3 hours ago, boes said:

Oh, I agree about the Pope, no doubt.  But the remnants of the Catholic Left were still viable and pushing back against the strictures of Pope John Paul II in 1983, although he was in the process of making the church hierchary more conservative, both politically and socially.

And while the current Pope is quite different from his immediate predecessors, we still have more than enough leaders like the Kansas City Archbishop who has told his parishes and parishioners that they can no longer host, nor should belong to the Girl Scouts because the Girl Scouts "values" clash with the Church.  And that's just the most recent example.  That's Gilead behavior to me.

It's true that tension between American conservative evangelicals and Catholics has eased since 1980, when they joined forces for political purposes, but there is still a strain of virulent anti-Catholicism among many conservative evangelicals. And while Catholics and evangelicals are all Christian, their religious beliefs are very different in a number of key ways, and these differences are not trivial. If purity of belief rather than unity of political aims trumps everything else for the conservative evangelical Gilead faction, it is very realistic for Catholics getting denounced as heretics and thrown under the bus as swiftly and as mercilessly as non-Christians. 

I'm guessing a lot of extremely conservative Jews, Muslims, and atheists would be totally fine with banning abortion, gay rights, and women's rights--since extreme misogyny and homophobia span all belief systems--but I doubt that would make the Gilead faction any less likely to bring the hammer down on them. I doubt the Catholics' Christianity would save them from similar treatment, since under Gilead there would be a right kind (conservative evangelical protestant Christianity, or Gilead's version of it) and a wrong kind of Christianity (everything else).

 

53 minutes ago, Umbelina said:

@Eyes High

While I certainly see your point, I do disagree about Atwood's intent.  She was making a powerful statement about more than one thing, and she used the first person method, in my opinion, very well for this story

Spoiler

My point was that your argument that Atwood had some sort of clear intent or capital-m Message about the horrors of white supremacist oppression perpetrated on POCs that had been hideously perverted by the show's inclusion of POCs is incorrect. She never acted as if that was a big issue for her, instead using it as part of her worldbuilding. In fact, Atwood's main inspirations for religious regimes came from countries where whites are a minority, which she pasted on to an American setting. Even assuming that making a statement about racism was a big issue for her, she did a terrible job of conveying that by marginalizing POC in her own story and ignoring their suffering in favour of white lady problems. If she was trying to make an anti-racist statement, she went about in a racist way. 

You seem to be suggesting that Atwood should get credit for creating a world incorporating POC mass murder while keeping POC suffering and murder at a distance. She really shouldn't. If Atwood cared so much about conveying the horror the white supremacist side of things and POC suffering, why not include multiple narratives so that the reader can experience the true horror of what it would be to be a Jew or a "child of Ham" under the regime? She didn't. She put a white lady front and centre to zero in on the misogyny, while keeping POC safely isolated and off the pages.

 

52 minutes ago, millennium said:

It sounds like fanwanking to justify his submission to political correctness.

Spoiler

 

Atwood wrote a book that marginalized POC and was not concerned with POC suffering except as a footnote. You're acting as if The Handmaid's Tale is some sort of powerful and compelling story about POC characters suffering under a white supremacist dystopian regime. It's not, because there are no such characters, except a voiceless group that's mentioned a handful of times. If The Handmaid's Tale did value POC oppression as much as misogyny, Atwood would have taken more care to make that the focus of her narrative. She didn't, and that choice in of itself is actually pretty racist. In effect, Atwood creates this hideous dystopia with mass murder of POCs while taking no interest in that mass murder in favour of focusing on the struggles of a white lady. Essentially, even assuming an anti-racism message was her goal (and I'm not convinced of that), she would be wanting to have her progressive "racism is bad" narrative mentioning how POCs are suffering under this regime while ignoring the individuality of those who would be suffering by reducing them to a nameless collective. Also pretty racist. I don't think she deserves a cookie for it. In fact, what she did was even worse, since she was using POC suffering as a nice bit of worldbuilding window dressing, while sparing her readers from the horrors of having to experience POCs being rounded up and "resettled" in her story. That's not surprising, of course, because Atwood didn't care about racism nearly as much as you seem to think, since she was primarily inspired by religious regimes in countries where white people are a minority; the racism angle was a byproduct of the logical consequences of applying an Iranian revolution situation to a US setting.

Why should the showrunner pay any deference to her shitty, racist choices? They deserve none, no more than any other white-centric story using POC suffering as a bit of background does.

You're basically saying that Atwood's book, which not only erases POC from the setting but shrugs off their suffering, is somehow less racist than a show that sought to undo Atwood's white-centric narrative damage by putting POCs front and centre, while simultaneously griping about the show's "political correctness," which is usually language used to complain about anti-racist or anti-sexist efforts. To me, that's completely absurd.

 

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That is the nature of a first person story, and it was used very effectively to show the isolation and snippets of information available to one person, the Handmaid,

Spoiler

who managed to tape record her personal experiences and secret them away for future generations to find. 

Jumping from that to "Atwood is a racist who didn't care!" is not only ridiculous, it's wrong.  Her feelings about race came through loud and clear to me.

Aside from that, much like The Hunger Games Trilogy was only one girl's tale, once it went to film, they expanded the world to include thing Katniss simply could not have seen from District 12.  These writers had that same option, and frankly, I think it would have been a great one.  In addition, they are liberally using flashbacks, so there was absolutely NO need for an all white cast. 

They didn't have to completely change this story to have a diverse cast.  They simply chose to.

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3 hours ago, Eyes High said:

It's true that tension between American conservative evangelicals and Catholics has eased since 1980, when they joined forces for political purposes, but there is still a strain of virulent anti-Catholicism among many conservative evangelicals. And while Catholics and evangelicals are all Christian, their religious beliefs are very different in a number of key ways, and these differences are not trivial. If purity of belief rather than unity of political aims trumps everything else for the conservative evangelical Gilead faction, it is very realistic for Catholics getting denounced as heretics and thrown under the bus as swiftly and as mercilessly as non-Christians. 

I'm guessing a lot of extremely conservative Jews, Muslims, and atheists would be totally fine with banning abortion, gay rights, and women's rights--since extreme misogyny and homophobia span all belief systems--but I doubt that would make the Gilead faction any less likely to bring the hammer down on them. I doubt the Catholics' Christianity would save them from similar treatment, since under Gilead there would be a right kind (conservative evangelical protestant Christianity, or Gilead's version of it) and a wrong kind of Christianity (everything else).

 

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My point was that your argument that Atwood had some sort of clear intent or capital-m Message about the horrors of white supremacist oppression perpetrated on POCs that had been hideously perverted by the show's inclusion of POCs is incorrect. She never acted as if that was a big issue for her, instead using it as part of her worldbuilding. In fact, Atwood's main inspirations for religious regimes came from countries where whites are a minority, which she pasted on to an American setting. Even assuming that making a statement about racism was a big issue for her, she did a terrible job of conveying that by marginalizing POC in her own story and ignoring their suffering in favour of white lady problems. If she was trying to make an anti-racist statement, she went about in a racist way. 

You seem to be suggesting that Atwood should get credit for creating a world incorporating POC mass murder while keeping POC suffering and murder at a distance. She really shouldn't. If Atwood cared so much about conveying the horror the white supremacist side of things and POC suffering, why not include multiple narratives so that the reader can experience the true horror of what it would be to be a Jew or a "child of Ham" under the regime? She didn't. She put a white lady front and centre to zero in on the misogyny, while keeping POC safely isolated and off the pages.

 

  Hide contents

 

Atwood wrote a book that marginalized POC and was not concerned with POC suffering except as a footnote. You're acting as if The Handmaid's Tale is some sort of powerful and compelling story about POC characters suffering under a white supremacist dystopian regime. It's not, because there are no such characters, except a voiceless group that's mentioned a handful of times. If The Handmaid's Tale did value POC oppression as much as misogyny, Atwood would have taken more care to make that the focus of her narrative. She didn't, and that choice in of itself is actually pretty racist. In effect, Atwood creates this hideous dystopia with mass murder of POCs while taking no interest in that mass murder in favour of focusing on the struggles of a white lady. Essentially, even assuming an anti-racism message was her goal (and I'm not convinced of that), she would be wanting to have her progressive "racism is bad" narrative mentioning how POCs are suffering under this regime while ignoring the individuality of those who would be suffering by reducing them to a nameless collective. Also pretty racist. I don't think she deserves a cookie for it. In fact, what she did was even worse, since she was using POC suffering as a nice bit of worldbuilding window dressing, while sparing her readers from the horrors of having to experience POCs being rounded up and "resettled" in her story. That's not surprising, of course, because Atwood didn't care about racism nearly as much as you seem to think, since she was primarily inspired by religious regimes in countries where white people are a minority; the racism angle was a byproduct of the logical consequences of applying an Iranian revolution situation to a US setting.

Why should the showrunner pay any deference to her shitty, racist choices? They deserve none, no more than any other white-centric story using POC suffering as a bit of background does.

You're basically saying that Atwood's book, which not only erases POC from the setting but shrugs off their suffering, is somehow less racist than a show that sought to undo Atwood's white-centric narrative damage by putting POCs front and centre, while simultaneously griping about the show's "political correctness," which is usually language used to complain about anti-racist or anti-sexist efforts. To me, that's completely absurd.

 

Marvelous post, thanks.

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Atwood is not a Racist because she didn't write a Westeros sized novel that included every colony and area of the Gilead world. This story is from the eyes of one person, and only what she experiences, and the limitations on what she is allowed to know increase the claustrophobic horror of the changed world she's suddenly thrown into.  We experience that through her, as we would as one person in this situation.  It's personal. 

She set Offred's story among the power players to allow more of the world to seep in.

She wrote a compelling tale, in first person style, for a reason, and she definitely included racism, religious bigotry and control, as well as misogyny in her absolute gem of a book.

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4 hours ago, Eyes High said:

 

 

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My point was that your argument that Atwood had some sort of clear intent or capital-m Message about the horrors of white supremacist oppression perpetrated on POCs that had been hideously perverted by the show's inclusion of POCs is incorrect. She never acted as if that was a big issue for her, instead using it as part of her worldbuilding. In fact, Atwood's main inspirations for religious regimes came from countries where whites are a minority, which she pasted on to an American setting. Even assuming that making a statement about racism was a big issue for her, she did a terrible job of conveying that by marginalizing POC in her own story and ignoring their suffering in favour of white lady problems. If she was trying to make an anti-racist statement, she went about in a racist way. 

You seem to be suggesting that Atwood should get credit for creating a world incorporating POC mass murder while keeping POC suffering and murder at a distance. She really shouldn't. If Atwood cared so much about conveying the horror the white supremacist side of things and POC suffering, why not include multiple narratives so that the reader can experience the true horror of what it would be to be a Jew or a "child of Ham" under the regime? She didn't. She put a white lady front and centre to zero in on the misogyny, while keeping POC safely isolated and off the pages.

 

  Reveal hidden contents

 

Atwood wrote a book that marginalized POC and was not concerned with POC suffering except as a footnote. You're acting as if The Handmaid's Tale is some sort of powerful and compelling story about POC characters suffering under a white supremacist dystopian regime. It's not, because there are no such characters, except a voiceless group that's mentioned a handful of times. If The Handmaid's Tale did value POC oppression as much as misogyny, Atwood would have taken more care to make that the focus of her narrative. She didn't, and that choice in of itself is actually pretty racist. In effect, Atwood creates this hideous dystopia with mass murder of POCs while taking no interest in that mass murder in favour of focusing on the struggles of a white lady. Essentially, even assuming an anti-racism message was her goal (and I'm not convinced of that), she would be wanting to have her progressive "racism is bad" narrative mentioning how POCs are suffering under this regime while ignoring the individuality of those who would be suffering by reducing them to a nameless collective. Also pretty racist. I don't think she deserves a cookie for it. In fact, what she did was even worse, since she was using POC suffering as a nice bit of worldbuilding window dressing, while sparing her readers from the horrors of having to experience POCs being rounded up and "resettled" in her story. That's not surprising, of course, because Atwood didn't care about racism nearly as much as you seem to think, since she was primarily inspired by religious regimes in countries where white people are a minority; the racism angle was a byproduct of the logical consequences of applying an Iranian revolution situation to a US setting.

Why should the showrunner pay any deference to her shitty, racist choices? They deserve none, no more than any other white-centric story using POC suffering as a bit of background does.

You're basically saying that Atwood's book, which not only erases POC from the setting but shrugs off their suffering, is somehow less racist than a show that sought to undo Atwood's white-centric narrative damage by putting POCs front and centre, while simultaneously griping about the show's "political correctness," which is usually language used to complain about anti-racist or anti-sexist efforts. To me, that's completely absurd.

 

I don't believe Atwood or any other writer, filmmaker, etc. has an obligation to feature diverse characters in their work.   No one has a right to dictate one's artistic vision, whether or not you think the times demand it.   

Anyway, my complaints about the series have little to do with issues of racism and diversity.  I'm more concerned about whether the story makes sense.

Atwood's original vision (as described in posts above) makes more sense to me because people of color and other religions are purged from Gilead -- exactly what I would expect from hyper-Puritanical stormtroopers. (When the witchcraft hysteria of 1692 broke out, you know who the Puritans pointed the finger at first?  Tituba, a woman of color.)

The Hulu version doesn't make sense to me because the same Bible nazis would not be selectively bigoted.  The showrunners have explained this seeming contradiction as a way to make the show more for our times.    Which is fine.  I just wish they had gone at it fearlessly.    Right now, today, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, people are being dragged from their homes and exiled from the country on the basis of race.   They are being refused entry on the basis of religion.  

To propose that whitewashing wouldn't happen in a dystopian society run by zealots is ludicrous.  For that same reason, the scene where Moira pretends to be an aunt in control of June the Handmaid, barking orders at guards and boarding a subway without a second glance from the soldiers, rang entirely false, especially given the other radical social conditions of the story (death to gays, destroying Catholic churches, etc.)

I think the series missed a great opportunity to build a connection between the racial/religious purging of Gilead (re: race, religion, etc.) and what's happening in our country today.   I think that would have been a more valuable, and more plausible, use of the diverse cast.  

YMMV.

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I want to give the writers and producers some benefit of the doubt because I don't know many people who would have thought that we would have an openly racist person in a high ranking position in the White House. This show went into development around the same time as Oscars-So-White. I could see there being a hesitance in late 2015 and 2016 over the cast being too white.

When you look at the far right Evangelical movement (think Duggars) there are some non-white thought leaders, especially now that Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips have lost their grip on it. One of the most famous proponents of patriarchy is Voddie Baucham, an African-American minister from Texas. He was very involved with the idea of stay-at-home-daughters that is popular among those circles.

Part of the reason for this alliance is they now have a common enemy - gay rights. One big example of this was the Evangelical ministers from all stripes joining together to fight transgender access to bathrooms. It used to be that Black people were the cause of all of our ills in the mind of Evangelical whites. Now it's the LGBTQI community.

Oddly enough, almost all of these patriarchal groups have some of the worst anti-semitism hidden under "love for Israel." They want to ship all the Jews to Israel so it can be destroyed by the second coming of Christ.

I was raised in this. I've seen the shifts come. The color line isn't as hard as it once was.

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3 hours ago, millennium said:

To propose that whitewashing wouldn't happen in a dystopian society run by zealots is ludicrous.

To you, perhaps, but the showrunner gave two very good reasons for why it wouldn't be ludicrous. The first is the emergence of a certain amount of diversity and a very slow movement away from institutional racism among the membership of the same American conservative evangelical movement that would theoretically give rise to the Gilead faction in the Handmaid universe in 2017. The other is the notion that fertility would ultimately trump racism in a world where fertility rates had plummeted, just as it does for real world fundamentalists who may prefer white babies but who nevertheless hold their nose and adopt POC children when white babies are not available. These are sensible, well-reasoned arguments, and writing them off as mere fanwanking as you did upthread strikes me as not only glib but also unfair.

We see this in the show. In 1x02, the crazy fundamentalist white protester who tries to abduct Hannah coos over how beautiful Hannah is, because as racist as she may otherwise be, any living, healthy baby would be beautiful to her.

 

Quote

I don't believe Atwood or any other writer, filmmaker, etc. has an obligation to feature diverse characters in their work.  

Any author writing a story ostensibly about how horrible racism is for POCs has an obligation to tell that story without reducing POCs to a footnote in that story and eliminating POCs from the story altogether. I'm not convinced that that's what Atwood was trying to do with The Handmaid's Tale, but if it was, she did a terrible job, and the showrunner should not be faulted for fixing her work.

 

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No one has a right to dictate one's artistic vision, whether or not you think the times demand it.

Critiquing the more problematic aspects of an author's work is not dictating anything: it's calling a spade a spade. No author gets a "get out of racism free card" by pleading artistic freedom, and nor should they. Authors are free to write stories with racist elements, and we're free to point out that those elements exist. 

 

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The Hulu version doesn't make sense to me because the same Bible nazis would not be selectively bigoted.  

Based on the showrunner's knowledge of changes in the American conservative evangelical movement since the 1980s and current trends, including more diversity and less concern with race as opposed to purity of belief, we have reason to believe that they would. I think the showrunner's treatment of the subject is nuanced and thoughtful on that score.

 

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The showrunners have explained this seeming contradiction as a way to make the show more for our times.  

No, the showrunner specifically tied his explanation to observations about the current American conservative evangelical movement and changes in that movement over the years: less resistance to diversity, less focus on race. 

 

Quote

Right now, today, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, people are being dragged from their homes and exiled from the country on the basis of race.   They are being refused entry on the basis of religion.  

That's wholly separate from the question of whether in an alternative universe 2017 where fertility rates had plummeted, American conservative evangelical fanatics would be fanatical about race to the point of exterminating all POCs. The showrunner's understanding of trends in the American conservative evangelical movement, as well as other research on the subject of the conservative evangelical movement slowly disentangling Christianity and racism as one expert put it, suggests that they would not.

 

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I think the series missed a great opportunity to build a connection between the racial/religious purging of Gilead (re: race, religion, etc.) and what's happening in our country today.   I think that would have been a more valuable, and more plausible, use of the diverse cast.  

The showrunner didn't care about general racist bigot assholery in America, though. The showrunner, for very good reason, was focused only on the real-world equivalent of the religious movement that in Handmaid world would give rise to the Gilead faction--the American conservative evangelical movement--because it was important for the showrunner to assess the views of the real-world Gilead equivalent in order to determine how 2017 Gilead crazies would view race. What the showrunner found is that American conservative evangelicals are very slowly inching away from racism and towards diversity, and the showrunner (correctly, in my view) reasoned that this would have an effect on the Gilead command structure and, coupled with a fertility crisis, on their overall approach towards POCs. The showrunner's reasoning is very careful and very specific.

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I think its important to note that while we are still seeing POC in this Gilead we haven't seen them in any kind of position of power or authority. I think it entirely possible the commanders are completely lily white and so are their wives and anyone with actual power but they are fine with subjugating POC as Martha's or drivers(Is Nick actually POC or just really tan?) or handmaids. Like how Trumps cronies insist they aren't racist but can't seem to comprehend a black man as an equal either. It actually makes more sense for a couple of reasons. One it gives them an easy exploitable labor source, killing off all the non whites in the US would actually be crippling to the economy in itself and the war and infertility would just compound that. Two its saves them the trouble of figuring out how to deport or systemically murder them or having to devote resources to those ends. (Insisting on devoting resources to continuing the Final Solution even after heavy losses on the Eastern Front is part of why the Nazi's lost) Finally it gives them a certain level of deniability internationally when it comes to human rights. Gilead can say "yes we are a theocracy but we are not forcing anyone to convert they can leave if they want to. Handmaids? What handmaids? They are volunteer surrogates. That woman who claimed otherwise is a liar. We are a tolerant nation. See how we let that one black guy wear a uniform and speak on the news."   Like how Dachau was just a camp for "Enemies of the State". Or how North Korea has work camps for it "Criminals".  Its actually a more realistic approach and even more on the nose than what was in Atwood's original book. Like with women the Commanders can't really afford to kill off all POC and ultimately don't need to. All they have to do is strip POC any power and make sure they know their place.

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1 hour ago, Eyes High said:

 

 

Based on the showrunner's knowledge of changes in the American conservative evangelical movement since the 1980s and current trends, including more diversity and less concern with race as opposed to purity of belief, we have reason to believe that they would. 

 

Changes and trends.   I guess that explains all those non-white conservative evangelicals we saw crowding the Trump rallies last year.

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My personal theory is that in this world, slavery ended earlier. Like possibly at the time of the constitution in the 1780's/1790's. As such, the country avoided the Civil War and didn't have the baggage of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, etc etc.

I'm going to open this up a bit and also guess that the fertility crisis was caused by a nuclear disaster in the 1960's- if we go by the graphic in the pilot, birthrates started declining a rapid rate in the 1960's. We know that the "colonies" are full of Nuclear waste...my guess is that the West Coast got bombed by the Soviets in the late 1960's. But it wasn't *full* nuclear winter, but enough that the resulting pollution has caused three generations of declining birth rates and a sharp increase in genetic mutations.

Whatever happened has to be long enough ago that it's possible for people to go there and actual live a few years in contact with that stuff before their skin falls off.

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No.  It's based on the United States.

Book low white birth rate was caused by, but not limited to:

  •  
Spoiler

 

  • earthquakes damaging nuclear power plants in California releasing radiation, other damaged reactors.
  • use of environmentally damaging pesticides/herbicides/hormones
  • legal and illegal toxic dumps and general pollution
  • a form of syphilis that can't be treated
  • chemicals of all kinds including chem weapons such as a variation of the mumps put into caviar to make enemies sterile which was uncontrollable
  • women waiting later to have children
  • birth control and science were also blamed along with abortion, gender traitor gays, free sex, etc. were the hysterical reasons and justifications for the crackdown on women and sex.

Birth rates in the rest of the world were apparently not as affected, this was a first world issue.

 

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1 hour ago, Emily Thrace said:

I think its important to note that while we are still seeing POC in this Gilead we haven't seen them in any kind of position of power or authority.

We have seen Moira convincingly pose as an Aunt, and we've also seen pictures on the wall of the doctor's office of at least one black Commander.

1 hour ago, Emily Thrace said:

Is Nick actually POC or just really tan?

Max Minghella is of Italian descent on his father's side (the late director Anthony Minghella), and of Chinese and Indian descent on his mother's side, so I think Nick is supposed to be POC.

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8 hours ago, AdorkableWitch said:

He was very involved with the idea of stay-at-home-daughters that is popular among those circles.

 

Having never heard of this I had to google. As a parent of college-age and just out of college kids, all I can do is shake my head.

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5 hours ago, chocolatine said:

We have seen Moira convincingly pose as an Aunt, and we've also seen pictures on the wall of the doctor's office of at least one black Commander.

I haven't read the book (although I've had this nagging feeling I read an excerpt from it in a SciFi collection when I was a teen, but can't find it now), but are Aunts really in any significant position of authority? The impression I've gotten from the show is that the highest-ranking women are still subservient to the lowest ranking men, if it's put to the test. (Aunt Lydia is certainly terrifying, but she's also our palpable "villain" for the moment.)

I suppose this actually belongs in the book thread.

(Tangent, but I'm definitely struggling with the idea that writing about a dystopia that oppresses many groups, and showing it through the eyes of one person of group A while not examining group B, C, or D in depth is somehow inherently -ist. Still mulling it over, though.)

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7 hours ago, Emily Thrace said:

I think its important to note that while we are still seeing POC in this Gilead we haven't seen them in any kind of position of power or authority. I think it entirely possible the commanders are completely lily white and so are their wives and anyone with actual power but they are fine with subjugating POC as Martha's or drivers(Is Nick actually POC or just really tan?) or handmaids. Like how Trumps cronies insist they aren't racist but can't seem to comprehend a black man as an equal either. It actually makes more sense for a couple of reasons. One it gives them an easy exploitable labor source, killing off all the non whites in the US would actually be crippling to the economy in itself and the war and infertility would just compound that. 

Yea i can see racism existing but not being on the surface, not because the upper class isn't racist, but because it is not uncommon for religious fanatics to be hypocritical as fuck. Just like you have preachers or politicans  in our world talking about the bible all the time then getting caught having affairs or terrorists going to strip clubs. We have already seen that in the shows world they will be slightly accepting of gay handmaids since it will provide babies. I can see it being the same with non-white people. But even weirder since a non-white handmaid means a commander with a mixed race baby. So there has to be some weird moral gymnastics to accept that. But I can still easily imagine people spouting off racial slurs the same way they accuse handmaids of being whores.

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15 hours ago, Emily Thrace said:

I think its important to note that while we are still seeing POC in this Gilead we haven't seen them in any kind of position of power or authority.  I think it entirely possible the commanders are completely lily white and so are their wives

I wondered that too, but in fact, we've seen POC Commanders in passing: some of the black-suited Commanders getting off the Toronto subway in 1x04 during June and Moira's escape attempt (a black dude and an Asian dude), and at the doctor's clinic, the photos on the wall of happy couples with their babies include a few POC Commanders posed with their blue-clad Wives. There's even a POC Wife or two in those photos. I think that was a deliberate choice. So POC Commanders and Wives definitely exist in the world, but they're also a minority in the command structure...which again accords with Miller's view of the American conservative evangelical movement in 2017: still mostly white, but with some diversity creeping through.

 

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Max Minghella is of Italian descent on his father's side (the late director Anthony Minghella), and of Chinese and Indian descent on his mother's side, so I think Nick is supposed to be POC.

I think Nick is supposed to be POC. I've never thought of Max Minghella as white, although I remember there being a big casting flap over The Social Network when he was cast as an Indian character despite only being part Indian. Minghella has a sister who looks white, but that's not uncommon for siblings with parents of different ethnicities.

A lot of non-Commanders in TV Handmaid world are POC, like the guards.

 

15 hours ago, methodwriter85 said:

My personal theory is that in this world, slavery ended earlier. Like possibly at the time of the constitution in the 1780's/1790's. As such, the country avoided the Civil War and didn't have the baggage of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, etc etc.

I'm going to open this up a bit and also guess that the fertility crisis was caused by a nuclear disaster in the 1960's- if we go by the graphic in the pilot, birthrates started declining a rapid rate in the 1960's. We know that the "colonies" are full of Nuclear waste...my guess is that the West Coast got bombed by the Soviets in the late 1960's. But it wasn't *full* nuclear winter, but enough that the resulting pollution has caused three generations of declining birth rates and a sharp increase in genetic mutations.

Whatever happened has to be long enough ago that it's possible for people to go there and actual live a few years in contact with that stuff before their skin falls off.

It's interesting to think about the things swirling about in the world's recent past when Margaret Atwood wrote the book, which was published in 1985, which may have inspired her: the Iranian revolution (1979), information about Agent Orange causing birth defects in the children of soldiers exposed to the chemical (1970s), the Three Mile Island nuclear accident (1979), the Love Canal toxic waste disaster reputed to cause birth defects (late 1970s). So maybe when she was thinking about the colonies and horrible toxic waste, she was thinking about Love Canal or Three Mile Island on steroids (since Chernobyl hadn't yet happened). I'm just speculating, though.

 

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The impression I've gotten from the show is that the highest-ranking women are still subservient to the lowest ranking men, if it's put to the test.

Yeah, and the sad thing about misogynist regimes is that it's been shown that some women will grasp at any bit of power they can, even if the only power they have is the power to oppress and abuse other women. Atwood said in an interview not too long ago that she wanted to convey that no Gilead-type regime would work without the complicity of certain women, and we see that with the Aunts.

Among American conservatives, we often see women rise to positions of prominence and achieve lucrative careers by complaining about women's rights (paging Phyllis Schafly).

Edited by Eyes High
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On 5/7/2017 at 11:18 PM, AdorkableWitch said:

I think the point about the rise in transracial adoption is an interesting one.  It is actually a big push in those circles to adopt transracially either from abroad or foster care. It is not unusual to see a fundy family with 3-4 adopted kids. 

Many times, these families adopt from all over the world so that they can have a rainbow of God's children. Bleh.

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1 minute ago, ChromaKelly said:

Many times, these families adopt from all over the world so that they can have a rainbow of God's children. Bleh.

Transracial adoption among evangelicals is also freighted with ideas about how they're supposedly saving children from a lifetime of sin and godlessness by removing them from what they imagine to be the heathen foreign hordes and molding them into proper Christians. "Bleh" is right. (Not that transracial adoption by non-fundamentalists doesn't have its issues as well.)

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Quoting myself from the book thread:
 

Quote

 agree. Either explain it - "The leaders of Gilead declared there were no more races, no more ethnicities, we were all one people. If one expressed displays of their ethnic background they were deported or shipped to the colonies." or follow the book and expand the scope to show what's going on in the colonies via Moira since they decided to make her black.

I still can't decide how I feel about the portrayal of race on this show. I could go with the post-racial take on Gilead if it was explained. However, just in the past week we've had yet another black teen shot by police and a baseball player subject to racial taunts so it's hard to buy into this post-racial society. I think the show is well done, and I don't think Atwood was racist for not portraying the suffering of other marginalized groups in the book. So, I guess I'll just go with it but still wish race had been addressed differently. As for evangelicals and race, they are still hella racist as a group, even with adopting children from around the world. They like to think they "don't see color". Interesting article on racism in the evangelical movement's beginnings http://www.salon.com/2013/02/09/the_founding_of_evangelical_anti_abortion_campaign_wasnt_pretty_partner/ 
Some other issues:
The Catholic Church has joined forces with evangelicals over abortion and so-called family values. However, I could still see them getting dumped in a Gilead society. I went to a Southern Baptist school and at that time, Catholics were still viewed with suspicion. I would also be interested in knowing what's become of Mormons in Gilead.
How were other POC besides black people treated in Gilead? Are Asians still given a sort-of pass for being the model minority? Did the wall get built?

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It's not just women that grasp at power when all power is gone.  As the saying goes, shit flows downstream.  The oppressed will often oppress, and that isn't a gender trait, it's more of a socioeconomic trait and it doesn't care if you have a vagina or a penis.

In the book there were no

Spoiler

POC in Gilead proper, they were sent to the colonies.  Specifically, blacks were banished to the Children of Ham Colonies near Nebraska, Jews were killed on ships supposedly bound for Israel, etc. 

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7 hours ago, Kel Varnsen said:

But even weirder since a non-white handmaid means a commander with a mixed race baby. So there has to be some weird moral gymnastics to accept that. But I can still easily imagine people spouting off racial slurs the same way they accuse handmaids of being whores.

I've considered this as well, how the white Commanders/Commanders' wives would be apparently so "open" to the possibility of a WOC Handmaid giving them a mixed baby. Even in this supposedly colorless Dystopia, I found it hard to wrap my head around that one. Thinking about it some more, I think maybe there could be the reasoning that the parents could "breed" the color out of their children in the next generation, so as long as they get that a healthy child in the first place. Of course, this idea works better if they show would acknowledge that some form of racism exists in Gilead. I don't think it would be out of the realm of reason that Gilead could slowly go backward on their racial tolerance policy, since most of the people in power are still predominately white. Since they've gotten another season and will probably get a few more, it would be interesting if the writers could explore that angle.

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1 hour ago, HeySandyStrange said:

I've considered this as well, how the white Commanders/Commanders' wives would be apparently so "open" to the possibility of a WOC Handmaid giving them a mixed baby. Even in this supposedly colorless Dystopia, I found it hard to wrap my head around that one.

The baby graphic chart in 1x01 showed either a birthrate decline or a decline in (I assume US) births between 1960 and 2015 of 95%. That would mean that the birthrate would have dropped from 24 births to a 1.2 births per 1,000 population (as a point of comparison, the lowest national birthrate in the real world is six births per 1,000 population) or 215,000 US live births overall (compared to 3.9 million live births in real world US 2016). Of those live births, only one in five births result in viable babies in the show, so the real number is more like 0.24 viable US births per 1,000 population, or 43,000 viable US births per year. For the whole country.

If things really got to be that bad, and in the show universe it seems as if they did (June fretting about five women at her office having late-term miscarriages, the empty hospital nursery, etc.), then it's no wonder the Commanders and Wives were willing to handwave their preference for white babies.

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Except, they weren't.

The wives or women had no say about anything.  The men decided everything, and their priorities were the only thing that mattered.  This had nothing to do with a woman's desire for a baby, women's desires are completely irrelevant in this world. 

ETA

That said, do I think that in the book they all cared about skin color, race, or even religion?  Maybe not, but that was their new government's policy, how they justified everything.  Racist and "religious"  by design perhaps more than even inclination.  It worked to control the masses and to completely consolidate power and wealth.

Edited by Umbelina
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So about Nick and episode 5.

Spoiler

So is Serena not concerned that a baby fathered by Nick would appear mixed race and obviously not fathered by the Commander?  Is she just counting on the baby being able to pass or just doesn't care?  Or is this more of the weird color blindness going on.

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