Is This Handmaid's Tale Wedding Portrait Too On the Nose?

Photo: Van Dael & Russell Wedding Photography (Facebook)

When Margaret Atwood first wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, she likely didn’t imagine Kylie Jenner to don a red cloak and scream “praise be” for an Instagram influencer’s birthday party. I’d also assume she didn’t account for photographers who’d stage elaborate wedding portraits in front of a real life “hanging wall” with their own gaggle of Handmaids.

The above couple—who I’m told are named Kendra and Torsten—were married in Cambridge, Ontario, at Mill Race Park, where many scenes from The Handmaid’s Tale are filmed. In the world of the Hulu show, this is the wall where men and women alike are hung for rebelling against Gilead’s oppressive, violent regime. A quaint place to remember your wedding day! I wonder what the conversation directly before this shot sounded like. Perhaps the photographer asked, “Can you look just a little more fascist, Torsten?” Or maybe: “Kendra, that stance isn’t demure enough for the wife of a fanatical military commander!”

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As for the wedding photographers, a company called Van Daele & Russell, they appear to be channeling the viral picture into what they believe is activism. Nearly every commenter on their Facebook page has received a copy and pasted response asking them to stop being a “keyboard warrior” and instead pivot to “engaged activist.” The statement reads:

We actually totally agree with ALL OF YOU! Mission: accomplished! Everyone is talking about this issue now, rather than binging on a television series and then not doing ANYTHING about what they’re SO worked up over until the next season comes out in the spring. What’s sad is that the oppression and hatred, the division, fear and breakdown of HUMANITY & COMPASSION is being perpetuated in every one of these comments. Take a step back and consider you may not actually know the facts, either – that this image was CREATED and put out by a pair of “Gender Traitors” who are no strangers to many of the subplots of oppression, violence, and inequality that run through Margaret’s brilliant work. What’s sad is that everyone is REACTING exactly as expected – just like in Gilead – and missing the opportunity to think for themselves, to educate themselves and become ENGAGED ACTIVISTS instead of simply keyboard warriors. We’d love to see you out in the streets participating in women’s marches, supporting equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, and so many other important causes, instead of sitting here scrolling through Instagram, knee-jerking your way through comments. You’re correct – it’s gross, disgusting, and a horrible reality that is rampantly becoming more “real” in the world day by day – and comment by comment. There’s no more “us” – only division and hatred, and no more curiosity to learn, to help, to actively become engaged in correcting humanity’s breakdown instead of instantly ATTACKING. Congrats for adding to that today! WHY exactly are you offended? Have you asked yourself? And what are you actively doing about it IN THE REAL WORLD? We’re thrilled that this is starting a conversation! THANK YOU for being moved by an issue that deserves much, much more attention. And don’t forget – if this had been a happy couple surrounded by superheroes like Batman and Superman, you wouldn’t have even stopped scrolling to comment. June – along with every fighting Handmaid or human in the midst of struggle and oppression – is the ultimate superhero. Xo S&C

Jezebel reached out to Van Daele & Russell to ask about the motivation for behind the photograph, and why they compared disgruntled commenters with the fictional state of Gilead. They informed me via email that they’re a gay married couple, “in Canada thankfully,” and that it’s a “shame people are attacking without first learning” about who they are, though did not elaborate on how that might change the context of the photograph, or illuminate more about its intent.

Regardless, they stressed to me that this was “one photo in a series of thousands” from a regular, non-Handmaid’s Tale themed wedding. They said they believe that if the cast of the Handmaid’s Tale had shared the photograph, “it would be an entirely different reaction from everyone,” because their behind-the-scenes posts are “received with so much love, while they’re out there having fun while filming it.” Here’s the rest of Van Daele & Russell’s response to Jezebel:

“The couple as well as ourselves are HUGE fans of the TV show (and obviously, first, the book). Anyone who would put out an image like this without understanding what it implies has bigger problems than upset people on social media. I knew when creating the image that it would possibly upset people, but that’s sort of the point...to WAKE PEOPLE UP. The groom wanted photos on the “hanging wall” which is where we were taking their wedding photos; I joked about adding in some handmaids (since it seemed the natural thing to do since we were there...I’m certain any “creative” or photographer would have the exact same thoughts). We didn’t expect the photo to go viral, but we are SOOO HAPPY IT HAS because hopefully it will wake people up to how they too contribute to the oppression and hatred that they’re rightfully worked up over.”

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It’s still unclear how a series of befuddled Facebook commenters are akin to the enslavement of women in Gilead, or the disenfranchisement of non-fictional women in Canada, but Van Daele & Russell “don’t need to defend ourselves from the conclusions everyone is jumping too.” And some questions—like “What would a normal couple look like posing with some Handmaidens on their wedding day?”—are better left unanswered. Congratulations to the happy couple!

This post was updated to correct the streaming video service which airs The Handmaid’s Tale. It is Hulu, not Amazon. 

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