Handmaid's Tale Series EP Explains Removal of White Supremacy Element

In the name of keeping things fresh, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale will veer only a bit from  the Margaret Atwood novel — though one distinct deviation has already drawn notice.

In the acclaimed 1985 novel, there is a white supremacist element to the Republic of Gilead, the theocratic military dictatorship that in a near-future has stripped women of many rights (reading included) and forced many to serve as handmaids — vessels through which society can procreate, after pollution has decimated fertility rates. Minorities, though, women included, were sent away to “homelands” in the Midwest.

In the Hulu series, however, Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black) plays Moira, a handmaid.

Asked about that deviation from the novel, executive producer Bruce Miller tells TVLine it was “a huge discussion with Margaret Atwood, and in some ways it is ‘TV vs. book’ thing.” After all, on the printed page, “It’s easy to say ‘they sent off all the people of color,’ but seeing it all the time on a TV show is harder.

“Also, honestly,” he adds, “what’s the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show? Why would we be covering [the story of handmaid Offred, played by Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss], rather than telling the story of the people of color who got sent off to Nebraska?”

Also supporting the decision to have black handmaids, “The evangelical movement has gotten a lot more integrated” in the decades since the book was published, Miller notes. But perhaps the biggest driver behind the change — the one that made sense, story-wise — is the fact that given the setting’s dire birth rates, “I made the decision that fertility trumped everything,” the EP shares.

A slighter change — the-handmaids-tale-serena-joycasting Serena Joy younger with Chuck alum Yvonne Strahovski — was done to put her in “direct competition” with Offred, who is trying to give Serena and her commander husband a child, Miller explained.

All told, Miller said during the series’ panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, it wasn’t so much about “tweaking” the source material but “adapting it for television,” where “the story is continuing” — ideally for many seasons, he hopes.

“We’re certainly loyal to the book, so any changes we make are mindful of the fact,” Miller asserted. Nor have any changes been made simply to “surprise” those who know where the story is going. “[We’re not] playing those kinds of games with the audience. We’re just trying to tell this story well.”

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55 Comments
  1. Douglas from Brazil says:

    Oh God, of course they had to change, Hollywood would be histerical if wouldn’t feature a black right?

    • Lauren says:

      Delete yourself

      • Jenna says:

        I like Wiley and I wish she’ll do more drama in the future, but casting her contradicts the premise of the story. The terrible dictator and his wife do the unthinkable but at least they are racially inclusive? Women are slaves and object to procreate, but we have to give girls of all colors the right to be raped?!

      • Annie Sisk says:

        You win. Douglas loses.

    • kayw4 says:

      Referring to a person as “a black” makes me wonder if you’d prefer to pretend that the world is only populated by white people. Like, you know, in the dystopia Atwood wrote.

      • Douglas from Brazil says:

        I’m not pretendind anything, I wonder why they change from the book just to satisfy today landscape.

        • aaron says:

          Might as well change it up, majority of shows are already white and 99% set in a specific time period are all white. It’s boring.

          • Jenna says:

            Unless they’re set in Africa or in a plantation it’s historically accurate. Make a show set in Benin and you can have an all black cast. I’d watch it.

        • Andrew says:

          Just watch Fox News. The people on there are all white and live in a fictional world. Perfect for you.

          • Paul says:

            All white like Harris Faulkner, Juan Williams etc.?

          • TV Gord says:

            That’s completely unfair.The reality of Atwood’s novel is that these were white supremacists, and it makes no sense that any of them would want to have children with a black woman. That’s just the reality of the source material. There is no way to logically justify that a white supremacist would want a baby with black blood. Thomas Jefferson and his ilk weren’t thinking of having black children. They weren’t thinking beyond getting laid.

    • Simon says:

      How do you exist? I’ve noticed a few comments from you lately, quite troll-like why don’t you take it over to FoxNews

      • Douglas from Brazil says:

        I’m not a troll. I’m just expressing my opinion.

        • liame says:

          Don’t be so angry, it’s just a tv show based off a fictional book with a few changes, nothing to get all racist about. I’m sure your little bubble is filled with the people you want to be around.

        • Annie Sisk says:

          Your trollish, racist opinion. In the words of the wise Lauren, delete yourself.

          • Tom says:

            The proud cultural acceptance and tolerance of the left right here. Your mad because he put in a before black, yet cant see that maybe its because hes from Brazil… leftwing exclusionists ftl.

    • Spence says:

      Hey Douglas! I’m just a little concerned. Your comment is racist and really offensive. Also, it doesn’t make much sense, since the entire point of this article is explaining why it was necessary to have a multiracial cast rather than the all-white from the book. Maybe read the article again so you can better understand the totally logical reasoning behind the casting choices, and also maybe read Colorblind by Tim Wise to better understand racism and how your comment is extremely offensive and incorrect.

      • wakey says:

        Why do people like you have to look to make everything racist. What about his comment is racist exactly? Is it because he says ‘a black’? You do realise that that whole post has language issues right which if his username is anything to go by its because English isn’t his native language. Also if his username is anything to go by he comes from one of the most racial diverse and accepting countries in the world so calling him racist is most likely a ridiculous statement. Its people like you who are actually the biggest threat to racial acceptance and equality because its your desire to constantly make everything about racism that helps drive resentment which causes division.

        And nothing in the article really justifies the change, its just a wishy washy way of saying ‘We have to do ethnic casting even though the source material doesn’t lend itself to it because otherwise minority groups will call us racist’. Doing racial diverse casting shouldn’t mean casting for the sake of casting but because the material fits such casting. It would be like deciding that Empire needs a more diverse cast and casting a lots of white people rather than as its been since Episode 1 where White people are almost non existant because in reality in the world of hip-hop & R&B thats fairly accurate. It doesn’t seem to make any sense in this case if we have a society thats progressive enough to include ethnic minorities in their breeding pool BUT that treats women as property. As someone else said you can turn their statement of “Also, honestly,” he adds, “what’s the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show? ” around and say “What’s the difference between making a show about sexism, and a sexist TV show?”

        • Annie Sisk says:

          Stop it with the false equivalencies. This is nonsense. Empire? Really? Representation matters. One freaking show out of how many? It’s not the same at all, because historically whites have been OVER-represented on screens both large and small. Go learn something. You and your buddy Douglas. (Assuming you’re not Douglas to begin with.)

          • wakey says:

            @Annie Sisk. Its not false equivalencies though. I’m not saying Black people shouldn’t ever be cast, there needs to be more racial diversity on TV and in movies so it represents society better but ‘black washing’ isn’t the way to do that. There are times when Race matters for a role because casting another race fundamentally changes the content which is what I was getting at with Empire. If we had Empire full of White Rappers and R&B artists it would change the show and in this case it changes not even more because the ‘apartheid’ element is an important part in setting up this society thats taken a few dozen steps backwards in progress both in race equality and gender equality. It doesn’t even need to be a society centred around white men, it could be an all black cast, a all hispanic cast or an all asian cast but without it being a one race setup you lose a major element of the setup and an element that now doesn’t ring true. Its a marketing decision not a story one. TBH if they were actually concerned about not telling the minorities story then they should have pitched a companion piece that would have told the stories of those sent to the Homelands which could very well have made an interesting series especially when comparing and contrasting with the ‘mother ship’

          • Annie Sisk says:

            I’m not going to speak to what’s lost or not in an adaptation that literally NO one has seen. Instead I’ll just say “See above” and I stand by my comment. You can recast this as some sort of deep-thoughts musings but the fact is you complained about a casting choice on the basis of race. Since it’s easy to envision an adaptation in which race is not the driving issue – and since that was NEVER the major point in Atwood’s novel, the misogyny was – that’s gross. Full stop.

          • TV Gord says:

            Annie, race WAS a major point of the novel, in that they were banished. Your hysterical rantings make no sense, if you truly did read the book. You irrationally blame Douglas for the racist attitudes instead of blaming the situation set out by Atwood. Your position is absurd.

          • Annie Sisk says:

            So deeply major that it was granted a whole – what, vague paragraph? Compared to the pages and PAGES about the misogyny? Look, you need to either read the book again, or calm down and eat some fruit or something. Either way, I’m done trying to be reasonable with the unreasonable. Name-calling is the last resort of the desperate. “Hysterical rantings.” Please, puppy. I’m immune.

      • Douglas from Brazil says:

        I’m not racist. My comment is due that why cast an African-American if the book has only white hadmaids?

        Why change in TV just to satisfy the political correctness people of our time?

        • Ly says:

          Have you even read the book that you are so upset about being changed?

        • TV Gord says:

          Exactly. I have read the book, and this adaptation flies in the face of its intention. All of the people calling Douglas racist. Are you calling Margaret Atwood racist, too?

          • Nicole Hagood says:

            This is in response about how you cannot understand how the characters in Handmaid’s Tale would want to have a baby with black blood. Since producers had decided to include black people in the story line. It seems logical that if there are black handmaids then there would also be black commanders….blacks in all the same positions as whites. Maybe even mixed race couples..who want children who have black heritage.
            Its not that farfetched to believe (TV show version) that blacks could be high ranking officials in this regime….we did have a black president for 8 years

  2. Kate says:

    What I wonder is how they are preparing for non book reader reactions to the ending and that it ends on the sort of cliff hanger that like the OA ended on.

  3. Monica says:

    I feel if I watch this show I’m going to be perpetually enrage. So I better stay away.

  4. Jj says:

    Now that the country is actually run by white supremacists it loses its power as a storytelling device so I think the decision makes sense.

    • Brisa says:

      Actually I suppose it could be relevant in a way, instead of trying to portrait the regime/world as inclusive, to just keep the segregation… Things don’t get conceptually invalidated just because reality supports them to a point, on the contrary. If they did, we couldn’t make any movies/series about war, hunger, infidelity, sex, violence, etc, as long as we have them in reality, because, what would be the point?
      And they could have solved the problem of the racism by showing in paralel life for the deported. God knows that there is plenty of experience to draw on for that, from the japanese deported during WWII, ghettos, refugee camps, prisons and hardships people experience at present because of race.
      I guess money would be an issue with 2 sets instead of one, and concerns about losing the initial subject in the broader picture. But I would’ve liked it

  5. Iris says:

    “What’s the difference between making a show about sexism, and a sexist TV show?”
    Funny how this doesn’t seem to be a problem.

    • Jim says:

      The show (and book) is about exploring and exposing that sexism. The racism in the book was just an established background fact. I think it’s silly to lessen the story in the book (as this change does thematically) just because the producers are uncomfortable having an all-white cast in this day and age, but these statements are not equivalent. And, ultimately, I don’t think the change will rob the story of much of its power.

      • Katie Leigh Roberts says:

        Sorry have you read the book ? The racism was a big part ..No black people? Rehoming of the children of Ham,Black people being loaded in to cattle trucks and one of the reason there was the up raising,cause it will rob the story now,

  6. Annie Sisk says:

    TVLine Staff, please do a better job moderating comments. Douglas and his “friend” here are offensive.

    • Jim says:

      You’ll live. Refusal to engage is how Trump got elected. Ugliness can’t be ignored, it must be confronted. Only way to fix our broken society.

    • Tom says:

      Annie here is offensive, trying to silence people, telling people to leave. Be inclusive, and dont let these political ideologues dictate the comments.

      • Annie Sisk says:

        Shut it, Tom. You have no free speech rights on a website. Yes, I’d like to silence voices championing hate, xenophobia, sexism and racism on privately owned websites. We tried laissez-faire commenting sections. We got normalization and Trump. Time to go back to the ostracization of hate.

        • Tom says:

          Nope, not shutting it. Your ilk was allowed to run lose and ruin the Democratic party, and we let it happen by staying silent. Freedom of Expression, the exchange of ideas, giving people a voice, is what true liberals believe. Not this psuedo fascism.

          • Annie Sisk says:

            This is not a public forum, Tom. Please go back and reread the Constitution. Or go to law school – I did, it’s fun! – or I dunno, try Google? Maybe Amazon has a “Con Law for Dummies”? Or something?

    • wakey says:

      Your the one who is offensive with your small little mind where everything you don’t agree with has to be racist. I suggest you take that chip off your shoulder. Again Douglas name specifically is ‘Douglas From Brazil’. Now I’m guessing your American and I know most of you don’t even know there is a world outside the US border let alone know anything about countries but as I pointed out to you if you actually did some research you would know Brazil is one of the most racial diverse countries in the world infact over half the country identifies themselves as Black or Mixed race so there is a good chance Douglas himself is of Black descent

      No-one has said black people should be banned from being on TV but diversity at the expense of the story is wrong and weakens the content. You could have cast a black actor as Katnis in Hunger Games for example as the race element doesn’t change the story, just as they were able to remake Annie and change a number of the white parts into black parts BUT there are times where you can’t race swap without either undermining the story or in some cases making it ridiculous.

    • Douglas from Brazil says:

      I’m offensive?? My grandfather is black so I’m not racist.

  7. evababy says:

    I wish people understood this more. Especially readers of books that get adapted. I read more than i watch tv and of course I have a bit of a connection and even some proprietorial feelings toward favorite books and characters. And I also get a little grumpy when I see things change from page to screen (hello, Game of Thrones!!) but I get it.

    But TV and books are two completely different mediums and something that works on the written page in a book doesn’t necessarily translate well to a tv screen, especially and ongoing tv series when it is being adapted from a one-and-done book. What works very well in a book, things like internal monologue, long thought processes, and background exposition to give text context could be expensive to re-create on screen and could be just downright boring to the viewer.

    Even though for me necessary changes in adaptation seem like common sense, I do appreciate the EP taking the time to explain with much thoughtfulness his reasons for these particular changes Although people will still complain because, well, that is what people do.

  8. Tom says:

    The diversity agenda, more important than story, even when it conflicts with it and changes a major element.

    I’m amazed they don’t have a trans woman as a handmaid as well, not doing it is transphobic… according to their racial logic.

  9. Katie Leigh Roberts says:

    I have read the book and watch the film and cannot get my head round why they have cast a black actress in the role of Moira .it does not make sense must have had to change a lot more It was a big part in the book and film about all the non white race being rounded up and sent away “resettlement of the Children of Ham.” They were white extremists!They did not want any non white people around them let alone one of them having a mixed raced baby for them ! Before anyone calls me a racist Iam mixed race myself and this is a fictional book we are talking about,and personally think it should have stuck to the original story.bloody ridiculous..not going to make sense at all, was hard sometimes to get your head around without this,and as for the casting Elisabeth Moss as Offred ! not the most attractive looking woman,then you have the very attractive Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy,both around the same age ,which I think is the only good change about it ,however why would the “The Husband” want ground beef when he already has Ribeye?.well I will give this a miss and just stick to the film and yes this will be a flop

    • Melissa says:

      Hilarious that you think this will be a flop. It’s getting massive critical praise, and the anticipation is off the charts.

  10. Maia says:

    It sounds like they’ve mangled Margaret Atwood’s vision of the post-apocalyptic future, I don’t anticipate much from this show. Watch the movie from the 80’s instead, or read the book.

    • Melissa says:

      Margaret Atwood herself was a consulting producer, and has extremely high regard for the series. The first set of shows (the three that are premiering on 4/26) have been released and sent to reviewers. Their praise is universal. Critically acclaimed would be an understatement.

      The movie was released in 1990, and although it had an exceptional cast, it was severely lacking in the depth of what could be brought to the canvas. We are being gifted with 10 episodes of this. I think it will be absolutely cannot miss television.

      • TV Gord says:

        As this very article points out, she had a big problem with them making this politically correct decision, so I don’t know where you interpret it as extremely high regard. I haven’t seen her out on the talk show circuit promoting it (and before you respond, she is still healthy enough to do it).