A strange thing happened at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the first episode for Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, a new series based on Margaret Atwood's classic speculative dystopian novel. During a Q&A after the showing, the cast—including the exceptional Elisabeth Moss, who plays protagonist Offred with aching humanity—took pains to separate their show from its feminist roots.

"For me it's not a feminist story—it's a human story, because women's rights are human rights," Moss explained, in response to a question about similarities between Offred and Peggy Olson on Mad Men. "I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They're women and they are humans...It's about love, honestly, so much of this story. For me, I never approach anything with any sort of political agenda. I approach it from a very human place, I hope." If you're at all familiar with the book, in which religious zealots take over most of America and turn women into property whose value is judged by their fertility, I don't think I have to explain why people were understandably upset by the distancing.

The book's own author was perturbed at first as well, although she later came to the cast's defense.

There are a lot of reasons why the cast, and showrunner Bruce Miller, may have been so uncomfortable owning the text's 'feminist' reputation (the only exception to this was character actress extraordinaire Ann Dowd, who had no problem discussing the show's topical relevance). Part of the problem may have been the moderator, who kept returning to the same leading questions and didn't foster a conversation between the people onstage. It may have been that the cast was advised to stay away from anything too political, lest they alienate half their audience (as if men are too delicate to handle conversations about patriarchal societies).

What was most disappointing about it was the fact the cast and crew were seemingly capitulating to the most negative connotations of the word "feminist," playing into the false narrative around the term that has been used by Alt-Right trolls and misogynists everywhere to poison what is, intrinsically, a positive and progressive concept. Atwood, who was also uneasy with the term early on, described a feminist novel to the Times as, "a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are 'feminist'...[women] are not an afterthought of nature, they are not secondary players in human destiny, and every society has always known that."

Television shows in 2017 alone have proven multiple times over that there is a hunger and audience for so-called "women's stories" (dismissive as that term is), with the likes of the excellent Big Little Lies and Feud: Betty and Joan leading the pack—and yet, there is a still a knee-jerk reaction on the part of many to castigate "feminist" stories as too harsh, too divisive, and as Atwood mentioned above, not "inclusive" enough for men.

How fortunate, then, that this hesitancy is nowhere to be found in the actual show, which is the unapologetic feminist show—largely crafted by women, channeled through a female gaze—the country needs right now. In its depictions of a society that has undergone a near-unbelievable transition from democracy to totalitarian terror, it holds up a mirror to the men who seek to send women's rights back 100 years. If you need to avoid the word "feminist" to find The Handmaid's Tale inclusive, you might be too sensitive to handle the unrelentingly bleak vision of the world that the show so convincingly conjures up. It is a vision which unfortunately does not feel far enough removed from the one we live in currently.

When Atwood wrote the book, she made clear that every punishing detail about the treatment of the female characters was rooted in a real historical event, going so far as to carry around newspaper clippings to prove their accuracy to reporters: "I didn't put in anything that we haven't already done, we're not already doing, we're seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress... So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil." While the show began production with Obama still in office, it comes to our screens under a Trump administration, and as cast member Samira Wiley, who plays Offred's best friend Moira, told the Times, “Suddenly it was dangerously close to the climate that we were starting to live in. We were hoping to be relevant, but we weren’t hoping it would be this relevant."

No wonder that Gilead, the fictional religious nation in which Offred resides, has become a hashtag in response to things like a room full of white male politicians discussing women’s health coverage. (Other iconography from the book/show has also crept into the mainstream, such as the women who dressed in red dresses and bonnets and sat side-by-side in the Texas State Capitol to protest anti-abortion measures under consideration.)

It feels impossible, under the circumstances, to ignore the political context of the moment in discussing the show and the combustable ideas it carries. Regardless of how much the creators meant to, they captured the zeitgeist in dazzling and unsettling ways, updating Atwood's '80s-era references for a terrifying present. The book was already prescient enough, with refugees fleeing to Canada and a new regime leveraging terrorism to strike fear and take control of the government. But now the show has added lots more about intersectional feminism (with gay and non-white women taking a larger role in the story, instead of just being shipped off to a far-away place with other "unwomen"), "campus sexual assault," and slut-shaming references to apps like Tinder filling in the margins.

The United States has fallen apart because of a fertility crisis (blamed in part, of course, on women's promiscuousness), and given way to the Republic of Gilead, a militarized, theocratic regime inspired by social and religious fanaticism. Like the book, the show explores this world through the perspective of Moss' Offred, a handmaiden whose worth is tied to her ability to carry children for the infertile upperclass rulers. Her name is literally "Of Fred," referring to Commander Fred Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes, a notable physical upgrade on his book's equivalent), whom she is assigned to.

The first-person point of view, often told through wide-angle close-ups of Offred, create a panicked, claustrophobic gaze, pushing the audience to confront the horrors of re-education centers, public hangings, and sanctioned sex ceremonies. But the intimate voiceover, another carryover from the book, provides defiance and gallows humor (a moment involving "a priest, a doctor and a gay man" comes to mind in particular), which elevates what could have been a relentlessly grim recurring nightmare and turn it into a riveting journey (that's still pretty nightmarish). It's also one that is gorgeously conceived for the screen (thanks to director Reed Morano, who worked with Beyonce on Lemonade), as emotionally wrenching as many scenes are.

As you might imagine, Moss is superb in the lead role, taking a little bit of Peggy Olson's levity and applying it to a much more brutal reality than even the 1960's male-dominated advertising world. Hope may be in short supply for the women of this world, several of whom we will likely get to know more intimately as the weeks go by (especially since Hulu envisions this as an ongoing series). Other standouts include Wiley, Alexis Bledel's Ofglen, Madeline Brewer's disfigured Janine, and even Yvonne Strahovski's portrayal of Serena Joy, the Commander's infertile wife, which is much-more sympathetic than the book.

But all hope is not lost. The key line from the pilot comes via Ann Dowd's terrorizing Aunt Lydia, an echo for complicit women who feel empowered under the new regime. She chillingly instructs the handmaiden on their new subservient roles: "This may not seem ordinary to you right now, but after a time it will." For the women of The Handmaid's Tale, no amount of torture can make the new world order ordinary. The show pushes back against the normalization of violence against women, against a world in which rape culture has insinuated itself into everyday "locker room talk," influencing and indoctrinating a generation of impressionable young men into the toxic philosophies of MRAs. The story is a stark and timeless reminder that this should never be normal. If that's not feminist, I don't know what is.

The first three episodes will be on Hulu this Wednesday, with the rest of the season coming one at a time on a weekly basis.