A religion-based autocracy has taken over most of the United States, renaming the country Gilead. In this country women are second-class citizens. Anyone trying to escape is punished. One such person is June, who is captured while trying to escape with her husband and child and is sentenced to be a handmaid, bearing children for childless government officials. As a handmaid, June is renamed Offred. This is her story. Written by
Did You Know?
There were no black characters in the original source novel, because Gilead (the repressive theocratic regime that had taken over the U.S. government by the time the book starts) had classified all black people as Children of Ham. This is a reference to the belief held by some fundamentalist Christian denominations that black people are descended from Noah's son Ham and are therefore subject to a "curse" leveled at Ham by Noah. In the novel, black people are forcibly resettled in the upper Midwest (Chapter 14). The producers of this show made a conscious choice to deviate from that aspect of the book so that there would be a chance to include black characters (and actors) in the show, including the casting of Samira Wiley
as Offred's friend and fellow handmaid Moira. In a January 2017 interview with TVLine, executive producer Bruce Miller
explained that the producers engaged in a "huge discussion with Margaret Atwood
, and in some ways it is 'TV vs. book' thing," arguing that in a TV show it would be harder than in a book to explain the persistent absence of black characters. He continued, "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 Elisabeth Moss
], rather than telling the story of the people of color who got sent off to Nebraska?" He also justified it by reporting that the "evangelical movement has gotten a lot more integrated [since the book's publication, and] I made the decision that fertility trumped everything." The source novel also included a brief explanation for the absence of Jewish characters in the story: the Gileadean government gave them the options of either converting to Christianity or emigrating to Israel--though the ones who chose emigration were really loaded onto ships that were then dumped into the ocean. See more