But one does need to be a feminist in order to appreciate the masterful storytelling on display throughout the series. The first three episodes, for example, directed by cinematographer-turned-director Reed Morano (She photographed Beyoncé's music video series for Lemonade), feature tight close-ups of the actors' faces (and in particular, Offred, played by Elisabeth Moss), which capture every raised eyebrow, every flick of the eye, and every jaw clench - all the subtle ways in which human beings communicate without saying a word. And for handmaids in Gilead, for whom silence is mandated, such communication is critical to their own self-preservation and survival. For Morano to understand this and invite the audience to take part is a revelation.
Another stroke of genius? Morano's choice to use contemporary music to evoke nostalgia for a time gone by while still grounding the story in the now. From Simple Minds' Breakfast Club closer Don't You Forget About Me to Lesley Gore's feminist anthem You Don't Own Me to Blondie's pop-y Heart of Glass which underscores a peaceful protest turned deadly demonstration, Morano's thoughtful musical selections not only enhance the unfolding action, but tell their own separate story, too.
Most remarkable, too, are the various directors' handling of Offred's sexual assaults, inflicted by her master, known as The Commander, and facilitated by his wife, the complicit Serena Joy. In no way gratuitous and still profoundly disturbing, these scenes stand in stark contrast to other popular television series' depictions of rape which often exist only to provide motivation for poorly-written male characters, the horror of the act taken to extremes to satisfy this need and prop up a flimsy plot. In Gilead, rape is an everyday reality, and rather than fetishize the act for "entertainment", the series makers have incorporated it as a "normal" part of the world, a quiet approach that ultimately proves more unsettling than loud, graphic violence.
The Handmaid's Tale terrifies me, and I can't stop watching it - and I hope I'm not the only one. Because the series as well as the original text are not only art. They are tools of consciousness-raising activism. For women, for queer people, for people of color, for the poor and disenfranchised, allies, and the opposition, The Handmaid's Tale is exactly what we need to see. We must not look away.
Kitty Lindsay is a writer, theatre maker, and professional feminist. Publications include Ms. magazine, Ms. Blog, The Feminist Majority Foundation Blog, The Establishment, Los Angeles Review of Books, and TheatreIsEasy.com. She is a regular weekend contributor at Hello Giggles. She is also the creator and host of Feminist Crush, a weekly podcast featuring conversations with feminist artists and activists.