TV

‘I'm hopeful because there is anger’ – Naomi Alderman says The Power is an outlet for female rage

Naomi Alderman has adapted her electrifying feminist novel The Power into a new TV series. She says it's time we saw more powerful women and fewer bruised female corpses on screen.

Toni Collette as Margot Cleary in The Power.

Toni Collette as Margot Cleary in The Power. Credit: Katie Yu/Prime Video

“The sheer quantity of horrible things that happen in the world to women’s bodies is so impossible to imagine… So, yes, I think there is a role for creating images of powerful women electrocuting the shit out of people.” It’s a bit over six years since Naomi Alderman’s searing feminist novel The Power electrified readers, and she’s looking forward to reaching an even bigger audience through a major new TV series starring Toni Collette.

“I hope it sparks more conversations,” she says. “I hope that some blokes sit down and go, ‘Oh, this looks like an exciting, thrilling show’ and then just get their heads blown off.”

The Power writer Naomi Alderman. Photo: Annabel Moeller

Whether on page or screen, The Power is based around one big, wild idea – what if humans developed the natural ability to deliver a powerful shock, a bit like a souped-up electric eel? And what if it were only the women that got this new power? The patriarchy goes up in flames, our power dynamics inverted in one fell swoop. No longer are women afraid of male violence. Men are terrified they’ll be fried if they step out of line.

If you’ve ever been the victim of male violence against women, or walked home with your keys in your fist, or wondered if that guy is following you, or been pawed at by a predator in a bar, or hollered at on the street, or made to feel small and scared in any of the myriad ways women are made to feel small and scared every single damn day, there’s undeniably pleasure to be found in seeing the tables turned.

“That’s totally deliberate,” Alderman confirms. “Enjoy the image of women being powerful! There’s still not a lot of images like that in the world. Even stuff that is supposed to be about women’s power ends up saying women’s power comes from our sadness. It comes from our tears. So, I am very happy to be out there supporting the idea that women’s power might come from our tremendous rage.”

Almost as soon as it came out (with backing from Alderman’s mentor and friend, grande dame of high-concept feminist fiction Margaret Atwood), The Power was at the centre of an adaptation bidding war. In the end, Amazon Studios won out. Alderman has stayed on as writer, working with showrunner Raelle Tucker (previously known as a writer and producer on True Blood and Jessica Jones) to bring the matriarchal vision to life. They were determined to make something that kicks against the way violence is normally shown in the media.

“I don’t watch TV shows that start with a naked bruised woman anymore, and it rules out a surprising amount of stuff,” Alderman explains. “Like Westworld: the first scene is a naked woman with scratches on her. It’s supposed to be fine because she’s a robot. But it’s not fine. That show Marcella, which is supposed to be about his strong female character, starts with her crying naked in the bath. Yellowjackets, which people tell me is amazing and has fantastic female characters. But in the first five minutes it has a semi-naked woman running, screaming on a forest path. I’m like, I’m out. I don’t watch that.”

Alderman didn’t even feel she could watch the much-lauded TV version of her friend Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. “I watched the first episode and I thought, you know what, I don’t feel like I need to see this on the screen,” she admits. “I feel I understood the concept of reproductive violence against women, sexual violence against women and physical violence against women. Obviously, the book is amazing. I fully support the existence of the show; it brings in a completely different audience. But I felt like for myself, there is a limit. And I may have reached my lifetime limit on how much violence against women I can watch on the screen.”

Auli'i Cravalho as Joss Clearly-Lopez in The Power.
Auli’i Cravalho as Joss Clearly-Lopez in The Power. CreditKatie Yu/Prime Video

The Power is different. “I mean, I wanted it to be exciting,” says Alderman. “But what I also want out of my show is that it might end up being a safe place where we watch it going: okay, I’m going to see women involved in violent scenes and yet you’re not seeing those same naked bruised women.”

With crushing predictability, Alderman has already faced a Twitter pile-on accusing her of supporting violence against men. She’s braced for more of that once it’s on TV, but if you stick with the story that’s certainly not the message of The Power. “There was a certain kind of men’s rights activist who went, ‘Oh, this evil feminist supports electrocuting men’,” she says. “The thing is, if I thought that violence was the answer, I would not have written a book, I would have done violence. In fact, the answer is communication and ideas.

“So, we start off in the book and the show with: enjoy the fantasy. And then I deconstruct the problems with the fantasy.”

That fantasy helps fuel the often thankless task of getting up each day to keep fighting. In a word in which women don’t seem to be having any leaps in electroshock evolution, how hopeful does Alderman feel that the patriarchy can be challenged? “I’m hopeful because there is anger.  And if you’re able to be angry and express your anger, then we can get somewhere. We may not get there as quickly as any of us wanted. But if we’re in this conversation, then we’re on the road and we’re on it together. I rely on the solidarity of other women.”

The Power is on Prime Video from March 31.

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