Whenever a book is adapted into a movie or television series, we assume the author of the book gets a nice, fat check. Unfortunately for Margaret Atwood, when it comes to the Hulu series based on her classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s no fat check involved. In 1990, there was a film adaptation of Atwood’s book that paled in comparison to the Elisabeth Moss-helmed series, but because of it, the film studio owns the rights to the book, not Atwood.
“The Handmaid’s Tale television series was not my deal,” Atwood wrote in a piece for Wealthsimple. “I sold the rights to MGM in 1990 to make a movie — so when the TV rights were sold to Hulu, the money went to MGM. We did not have a negotiating position. I did get brought on as an executive consultant, but that wasn’t a lot of money. People think it’s been all Hollywood glamour since the TV show happened, but that’s not happening to me. But book sales have been brisk, so there’s that.”
It’s frustrating that an entity like MGM is making money off a woman’s creative work all because of a single business deal that happened nearly 30 years ago. The irony of her situation, considering she wrote about women without financial autonomy in The Handmaid’s Tale, is not lost on us.
Elsewhere in her Wealthsimple article, she mentions that “every election, there’s a surge in book sales,” which is encouraging for Atwood’s pocketbook, but scary for the state of the free world.
In general, Atwood has a badass and self-reliant attitude when it comes to money. “I was never told that I should marry a rich man and lie around in a negligee and eat chocolates,” she wrote. “I’ve always been expected to support myself and I always have.”
No idea how much a single book sale helps Atwood’s bottom line, but here’s to buying a copy of her classic novel from a local bookstore instead of only watching the story on screen.