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SYFY WIRE The Handmaid's Tale

Red-robed Amy Coney Barrett protestors bring The Handmaid’s Tale to Supreme Court steps

By Benjamin Bullard
Women in Handmaids Tale robes protest Amy Coney Barrett at Supreme Court

Ever since Hulu first adapted Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for TV back in 2017, there’s been more than one event that’s brought out protestors dressed in red robes, inspired by the dystopian story’s visually evocative trappings. But as the series itself showed when it brought the Handmaidens to Washington, D.C. in Season 3, it’s a vision that achieves even more impact when set against the white-marbled grandeur of the nation’s capital.

That vividly oppressive imagery is just what demonstrators have been going for since Sept. 28, when President Donald Trump revealed Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative, as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Protestors donning the show’s red habit have been a frequent sighting at Washington, D.C. landmarks over the past couple of weeks, with demonstrations intensifying over the past weekend ahead of today’s start of Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings. For real-world protestors, the goal is to draw attention to their views on what a potential Barrett appointment might mean for women’s rights.

The Emmy-winning series’ signature symbol of oppression is certainly on topic for what demonstrators feel they’re opposing. On the show, women who live inside Gilead — the totalitarian religious regime that’s taken over the government — are treated as property, slotted into a narrow procreative role in family and political structures controlled by their husbands, and marked as able to bear children by being dressed against their will in the series’ now-iconic red robe.

The series itself certainly understands the visual power of its imagery, taking star Elisabeth Moss (June) and the rest of the Handmaidens to the plaza facing the National Mall in its latest season. Emmy-winning production designer Elisabeth Williams (Fargo) told IndieWire in August that the team researched the architectural and art styles of dictatorial regimes including North Korea, Reichstag Germany, and Soviet Russia to help achieve the look — while conveying the ominous message they represent.

“It’s a pure, stark, dictatorship style aesthetic,” she explained, “where nothing frivolous or unnecessary is left, and only propaganda and symbols of the regime are there to be seen by the people to keep them in line.”

Trump’s nomination of eventual Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh drew a similarly staged turnout of Handmaid’s Tale-inspired protestors in 2018. That was perhaps the highest-profile real-world appropriation of the show’s imagery to date, until the Sept. 18 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ignited a new wave of red-robed demonstrations in Washington.

Nominated for 54 Emmys and earning 15 to date, The Handmaid’s Tale has been given the go-ahead for a fourth season (and perhaps more), though delays forced by the coronavirus pandemic have so far kept Hulu from revealing a debut date. The pandemic halted Season 4 production in March. In the meantime, you can catch up on the series' first three seasons at Hulu.