Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale Casts Canada as a Racial Wonderland

The Handmaid's Tale is a series by Hulu launched in 2017. Critics praised the show for its engrossing drama and dystopian depiction of rape culture and misogyny, both of which were characteristics of Donald Trump's presidency.

The series is based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel of the same name. It has received various accolades and has recently been renewed for a fifth season. You may watch it on Hulu in Canada and observe the portrayed Canadian culture.

However, other critics, like writer Ellen E. Jones, have criticised the show for using colourblind casting to create inclusion while ignoring race in plots. Others, such as Noah Berlatsky, have examined how the series and novel both erase Black people's past.

The show portrays Canada as an ethically superior nation that has refused the authoritarian and exclusive mindset of the dystopian world. This is made very clear by the fact that the primary focus of Season 4 is on the characters' escape to Canada, a concept that alludes to earlier abolitionist narratives.

Because of this, the show hides Canada's dark past of slavery, colonisation, and racism from its viewers.

The Dystopian World of Margaret Atwood

The Hulu show and novel both use American history to envision a dystopian country plagued by an inexplicable reproductive crisis. Gilead, a theocratic nation run by religious zealots, has overthrown the government of the United States.

The female narrator in Atwood's novel is an educated white woman who is compelled to become a “handmaid.” Every month, a commander rapes her as part of a religious fertility ritual. Commanders and their spouses nurture children born to handmaids. The handmaids' main mission is to rebuild Gilead's population.

Priya Nair, a writer, notes that Atwood's novel focuses on the history of oppression laid on Black enslaved women and adapts it to fictional white women. This idea comes from Atwood's novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” Handmaids who disobey their masters, for instance, risk being flogged or even executed by hanging.

Despite obvious similarities to slavery, Atwood only mentions slavery indirectly when the narrator tells that the Children of Ham have been transferred to the Dakotas.

According to Nair the historical facts of an American dystopia predicated on anti-Black violence are ignored in the novel.

Casting without regard to ethnicity or race was used for Hulu's adaption

Hulu used an excellent cast comprised of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds to adapt the novel. Elisabeth Moss, who is white, plays the role of June, and O.T. Fagbenle, who is black and British, plays Luke, her husband.

Actress Samira Wiley, who is black, has been chosen to play the best friend of June as named Moira. Actors of colour play roles in the show that span the whole social strata of the Gileadian society.

The show's executive producer, Bruce Miller, has stated that he intentionally cast actors of colour in various roles to prevent the production of a racist television show by avoiding the creation of an all-white universe.

Following that, the show employs colour-blind casting, as well as colour-blind storytelling.

The title of Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale, refers to Canada as the destination for handmaids who have escaped their oppressors by taking the Underground Femaleroad, a name that unmistakably alludes to the Underground Railroad.

In the series that is available on Hulu, the handmaids, including Moira, flee from Gilead and make their way to Canada, where they are able to find security and safety and begin to rebuild their lives.

The Show Utilizes Abolitionist Narratives as Sources of Inspiration

During the 1840s and 1850s, American abolitionist authors deliberately portrayed Canada as a free-black paradise in their writing. Abolitionists envisaged what the United States would be like if slavery were eliminated by portraying Canada as having a higher moral standing than the United States.

A number of abolitionist writers, including Joshua McCarter Simpson, a Black songwriter and poet, as well as Harriet Beecher Stowe, a White novelist, celebrated Canada as a location that resisted racial violence as well as provided legal protection for Black refugees fleeing the United States of America's system of slavery.

Canada: A Utopia?

Literary critic Nancy Kang contends that these abolitionist stories formed an allegory of Canadian freedom ruling triumphant over American bondage.

The Handmaid's Tale episodes on Hulu that take place during the women's journey to Canada are inspired by these real-life accounts. The white actor Alexis Bledel plays the role of the black handmaid Emily, who makes a daring escape from Gilead and enters Canada by swimming across a rushing river, just avoiding losing June's daughter in the process.

She recreates the famous scene from Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in which the enslaved Eliza sobs over her kid after escaping slave catchers by running over a river with her infant. Once she reaches the other side, she weeps over the child.

Myths Regarding Canada

The series does not address the history of anti-Black racism, slavery, or state violence against Black bodies in Canada, which is covered in the book.

It also ignores the colonial atrocities that Canada has committed against Indigenous peoples. The desire to exert power and control over the reproductive rights and sexual liberties of women is intrinsically linked to these forms of violence.

Final Words

The show portrays Canada as an ethically superior nation that has refused the authoritarian and exclusive mindset of the dystopian world.

On the other hand, evades responsibility for the crimes inflicted against Indigenous peoples during Canada's colonial era. These forms of violence are inextricably linked to the objective of exercising power and control over the reproductive rights and sexual liberties of women.