Five things to know about 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Outfits based on those in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" have appeared during protests around the world for women's rights.

"The Testaments", Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood's highly-anticipated sequel to "The Handmaid's Tale", is released on Tuesday.

The 1985 novel has been turned into a major television series and become a rallying point for feminist movements around the world in recent years.

Here are five things to know about the global phenomenon:

- Orwell -

Atwood began writing "The Handmaid's Tale" in West Berlin in 1984, inspired by George Orwell. The author, now 79, said the feeling of being surrounded by the Berlin Wall, with East Berlin on the other side, also formed the backdrop to its creation.

An era of silence and danger ended up in the novel, which depicts a United States taken over by a totalitarian theocracy, where fertile women are forced into sexual slavery.

These handmaids are recognisable by their uniform red outfits.

- Trump -

The release of the TV series in 2017, after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, was fortuitous. Fans saw it as a sign and the tale became a focal point for the anti-Trump movement.

The handmaids' outfits became an emblem: it was a common sight during protests against the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He was accused of sexual abuse when he was a high school student.

It also appeared during protests around the world for women's rights.

- Costume designer shocked -

The TV series costume designer who created the handmaids' red habit and white bonnet was shocked at how it became a powerful symbol for the #MeToo movement.

"For two and a half years, I was doing 'The Handmaid's Tale'. I did not really see the impact," Ane Crabtree told AFP last October.

"It's grown bigger than the purpose I designed it for.

"I wanted people to be afraid. I wanted it to be normal and terrifying. Sometimes the most terrifying things are the most normal things."

Crabtree's bet paid off, but she didn't escape unscathed.

The two seasons she spent working on "The Handmaid's Tale" dredged up sexual abuse that she suffered as a child. She left the series before the third season.

- Violence -

The television series took liberties with Atwood's novel.

Although the show has enjoyed global success, it has also been denounced for its many violent scenes, including stoning, hanging and electrocution, which were only hinted at by Atwood.

The New York Times newspaper said the second season was "brutal and not much else".

- Scientology and feminism -

The expressive face of actress Elisabeth Moss has become an emblem of the TV series. In playing the lead role of handmaid June, Moss, 37, has cemented her reputation as a feminist actress.

"I always try to make my characters end up being heroines and representing feminism," she told The Times newspaper in August.

Moss made her name in the series "Mad Men" playing Peggy, a secretary who makes it all the way up the ladder to become a chief copywriter.

Her personal life has been in the spotlight.

While "The Handmaid's Tale" depicts a republic under the control of a religious sect, the lead actress is a member of the Church of Scientology. She rejects comparisons.