The Handmaid’s Tale stars share powerful stories about sexual violence

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Kayleigh Dray
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Alexis Bledel and Samira Wiley in The Handmaid's Tale

“This is not fiction. These are real stories from real women.”

The Handmaid’s Tale is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important TV shows about women’s rights to date. Set in a totalitarian (and not so distant) future in which women are ‘forced into reproductive slavery’, the series has struck a nerve with chilling analogues to real life – and depicted scenes of female genital mutilation, rape culture, slut shaming, consent, and women being deprived of their reproductive rights.

So it makes perfect sense that the cast of the show – including Samira Wiley, Amanda Brugel, O-T Fagbenle, Ann Dowd, Alexis Bledel, Madeleine Brewer and Joseph Fiennes – have teamed up with Equality Now for the Hope Lives In Every Name campaign.

In a series of short films, the cast have read out real stories of sexual violence, and called on people to on people to speak out in support women and girls rights.

“This is Margaret Atwood’s so-called fiction but it’s really not. It’s a fiction that’s closer to reality than most people think,” says Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now.

And, taking to Twitter, Atwood added: “This is not fiction. This is not @HandmaidsOnHulu. These are real stories from real women. Survivors of sexual violence, FGM, forced marriage & sex trafficking. They’ve given their names. Keep hope alive by giving yours.”

Watch the films for yourself below:

It is hoped that the use of stars from a TV dystopia focused on women may heighten viewers’ empathy.

Research has found that media narratives can heighten feelings of empathy among audiences. A study that used short video clips to tell an emotional story saw oxytocin levels increase by 47% among participants who’d viewed the narrative. Equality Now’s decision to use The Handmaid’s Tale– a show that has gained critical and popular praise for its gripping story – was doubly effective at stirring them to action.

“Whether or not characters are ontologically ‘real’, our familiarity with them renders them very emotionally potent; a kind of emotional truth that we experience at a biochemical level quite the same as we would with strangers whom we get to know over the course of a season – or years,” says journalist Abby Norman.

To find out more about the work of Equality Now, visit their website.

Image: Channel 4