Race, Intersectionality, and the End of the World: The Problem with The Handmaid’s Tale

by Shannon Gibney and Lori Askeland

Hulu’s reboot of The Handmaid’s Tale opens with a car chase: the protagonist (Elisabeth Moss), who will later be called “Offred,” is racing with her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake) in their faded, old model Volvo through a frozen landscape, sirens of their invisible pursuers wailing.

The decision to introduce us to Offred as a member of an interracial family revealed an obvious break from the overwhelmingly white world of the novel and 1990 movie. Many reviewers construed that fact — and the powerful presence of Samira Wiley in the role of Offred’s badass lesbian friend, Moira — as undeniable evidence that the series would be more intersectional in its approach to feminist themes than the novel had been.  (“There’s intersectionality, too, with Moira, a lesbian, played by a black actress, Ms. Wiley,” was the breezy quip of the New York Times’ Katrina Onstad.) But sadly, bodies of color alone do not a liberatory racial narrative make. Indeed, a deeper look at the series shows the uncomplicated, and therefore, problematic effects of this “colorblind” casting.

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What’s Hiding Behind the Feel-Good Curtain of Hidden Figures: One Black Feminist’s Take

In a scene in Hidden Figures that is all too familiar for Black women viewers, or really anyone from a historically marginalized group, Taraji P. Henson’s character Katherine Johnson rushes to enter the NASA control room where she has just handed off crucial calculations for astronaut John Glenn’s safe return from orbit, and has the door summarily slammed in her face. The camera lingers on Henson’s profile, as she grapples yet again with the devastating knowledge that although she may be a useful “computer” for spitting out numbers that may make missions successful and even save lives, she is still not seen as fully human in the eyes of her peers and superiors. Indeed, in Henson’s capable hands, viewers ourselves experience the physical and emotional pain of being barred from entering the halls of power for absurd reasons beyond one’s control — in this case, race and gender.

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Love Story of the Zombie Apocalypse: Real-Life Horror in Walking Dead

Yes, folks, there is a thing more dangerous than a feral, brain-munching horde of zombies: A straight white man who swears that he will do everything in his power to save and protect you and your children.

If you didn’t learn this one, primary lesson from five seasons of The Walking Dead, then you might need to go back and rewatch them right quick, ‘cause this is a lesson that isn’t just applicable in the Zombie Apocalypse.

In this week’s epic and appropriately bloody season finale, we got to see this truth played out in spades in the aftermath of Rick officially Losing. His. Damn. Mind after tackling his new lady’s (in his mind only) husband Pete — which spiraled out into the street where they commenced to beat each other to a pulp — until Michonne knocked him out, ostensibly to save him and the townsfolk (and us) from himself.

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Color Blindness and the Black Girlfriend: The White Male Superhero’s Ability to Erase Race

I’m not gonna lie: I was excited and a little bit warmed-in-the-heart-place when I saw that Barry Allen, aka The Flash, was in love with Iris West, his best friend, on The CW’s new hit superhero series, The Flash.

Because hey, how many times — in life, art, or entertainment — do we see a young White dude who’s honestly, deeply into a fly, well-rounded, educated Black girl? And not just as a sexual conquest or to “explore,” but as an actual love interest? Not often, that’s for sure.

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