Margaret Atwood Says Bulk of Hulu 'Handmaid's Tale' Profits Went to MGM

"People think it’s been all Hollywood glamour since the TV show happened, but that’s not happening to me," Atwood writes in a new essay.
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In a new essay on financial discrimination against women and her own relationship with money, Margaret Atwood says that, contrary to popular perception, Hulu's adaptation of her best-selling novel The Handmaid's Tale has not padded her bank account. 

"The Handmaid’s Tale television series was not my deal. 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," Atwood wrote in a story published on Wealthsimple, in which she also discussed eating whole potatoes, onions and hot dogs to save money and being told to get married, rather than go to graduate school, by her undergraduate adviser.

MGM's 1990 film, starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, was released to mixed critical reviews and reaped in less than $5 million at the box office. In contrast, Hulu's series won eight Emmys and two Golden Globes in its first season and helped boost subscriber signups to Hulu by 98 percent in 2017.

"We did not have a negotiating position," Atwood continued, regarding the MGM Television-produced series. "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."

There has been a financial bright side to Hulu's adaptation for Atwood, however: As Atwood notes, "book sales have been brisk." In 2017, The Handmaid's Tale was Kindle's most read book of the year, according to Amazon, and Atwood's publicist told NPR last February that sales had risen 60 percent in 2017 compared with the year prior. The 2016 presidential election appears to have helped the sales spike, too. Sales were up 200 percent in February 2017 compared to before the election, according to the publicist.

In the same piece, Atwood discussed the "Me Too" movement, which she described as a "symptom of something bigger" and "a wake-up call, not a solution." Atwood called for great "structural change," which she said had been allowed to lapse, to fix the inequity exposed by "Me Too."

The essay did not address Atwood's role in Alias Grace, Netflix's 2017 adaptation of her 1996 novel of the same name, nor what she earned from the bidding war to rights to her MaddAddam book trilogy, which went to Paramount TV and Anonymous Content earlier this month. (It is awaiting a network home.)

The Handmaid's Tale will return with a second season in April.