As Margaret Atwood fans will no doubt be well aware, the premiere for the hugely anticipated TV adaptation of her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, took place this week in Los Angeles.
Atwood and show star Elisabeth Moss – along with Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel, and more – walked the red carpet together. However, despite the distracting glitz and glamour, eagle-eyed fans were quick to notice that there was more to Moss’ outfit than met the eye.
At a first glance, it was a simple black Miu Miu gown. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll notice that it’s adorned with a number of colourful swallows, all of which are flocking upwards towards Moss’ neckline.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, as anyone who has read the 1985 book will remember, birds play a significant role in Atwood’s text. In fact, the Commander (who holds ‘ownership’ over the book’s narrator, Offred, played by Moss) chooses to dress his Handmaid up in a feathery bird-inspired costume at one point. Moira, whom Offred meets up with at an illegal nightclub, is similarly dressed up as a Playboy bunny.
Tower Notes explains: “Both of these sexual stereotypes present women as desirable objects to be pursued – even stalked and hunted, though there is nothing quite so animalistic about the Commander’s feelings for Offred.
“Ironically, this notion of a woman being a ‘bird’ or a ‘bunny’ is part of what makes her desirable and valuable in the Commander’s mind. The cheap and tawdry costumes disguise the Commander’s desire to make Offred, in some limited fantasy sense, his equal – even sometimes his superior.
“Cheap and tasteless as these costumes are, essential to their symbolism is the idea that the ‘bird’ or ‘bunny’ might not always be caught. It is the tantalising unavailability of these archetypes that makes them desirable.”
And Moss was not the only star to don a not-so-secret symbol: Martha Plimpton, who attended the premiere as a guest, donned a sharp white trouser suit (not dissimilar to the ones favoured by Hillary Clinton) and a t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘feminist’.
Pinned to her lapel was a bright red ‘A’.
While the characters of The Handmaid’s Tale sometimes are forced to wear letters to make the world aware of their crimes, Plimpton’s brooch was actually a show of support for the non-profit organization A is For, which is “dedicated to advancing women’s reproductive rights and ending the stigma against abortion care,” according to the mission statement on its website.
Plimpton later tweeted that she had been approached by Atwood and asked about the A, and, as a result, decided to share the answer with her fans on social media.
The official synopsis for The Handmaid’s Tale – according to Collider – reads: “The drama series, based on the award-winning, best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood, is the story of life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly part of the United States.
“Facing environmental disasters and a plunging birth rate, Gilead is ruled by a twisted fundamentalist regime that treats women as property of the state. As one of the few remaining fertile women, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is a Handmaid in the Commander’s household, one of the caste of women forced into sexual servitude as a last desperate attempt to repopulate a devastated world.
“In this terrifying society where one wrong word could end her life, Offred navigates between Commanders, their cruel Wives, domestic Marthas, and her fellow Handmaids – where anyone could be a spy for Gilead – all with one goal: to survive and find the daughter that was taken from her.”
And Wiley, who stars as Moira in the show, told CNN that the dystopian story is “scarily relevant” right now.
“I think one of the things we can see – especially through the flashbacks [in the show] – is how it doesn't happen all at once. And that's the thing that's so scary.”
Wiley continued: “I think right now we think that, ‘Well, this can't happen.’ And then it does. And then we think, ‘Well, that next thing can't happen.’ And it does.
“People in the show – and I think it's dangerous now – become complacent and [aren't] vigilant."
Moss, meanwhile, says she immediately connected to Offred’s will to survive. But after the election of President Donald Trump, the role took on a whole new meaning.
“When you do roles and you do characters, you always try to personalize it and make it relevant for yourself, obviously,” she said. “With something like this, it became more personal than anything I've ever done in a way that was unavoidable.”
The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are now available to watch on Hulu.
Images: Rex Features