The University of Toronto Mississauga campus was featured in the latest season of the Emmy Award-winning dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale.
Based on the novel by Canadian author and U of T alumni Margaret Atwood, the series is set in the former U.S. With the fertility rate plunging in the country and increasing political unrest, the totalitarian and theocratic group Gilead overthrows the U.S. government. Attempting to increase the birth rate, fertile women are forced into sexual servitude, and referred to as “Handmaids.” The former identity of a Handmaid is completely erased, and she becomes a property of her Commander.
The CCIT building was a production location in “Unwomen,” episode two of the second season. Masked as Tyburn College, the scene serves as a flashback for a former Handmaid named Emily (Alexis Bledel), a cellular biology professor.
The scene begins in the CC 1080 lecture hall as Emily is concluding a lecture. Emily proceeds into the CCIT atrium as she talks to a student, showing the student a picture of her wife and child on her phone. Afterwards, she meets her colleague Dan (John Carroll Lynch), with the MiST Theatre sign visible behind them. The two proceed up the stairs to the main walkway of the building as Dan, who is also gay but now keeps it a secret, informs Emily that she will not be teaching next semester. Emily is angered by this, questioning the decision. Dan explains that because of her being open about her sexuality and the rise of the homophobic Gilead, the school governing board is concerned about the “unwanted attention.” The tense scene utilizes the glass walls of the CCIT building, as the camera alternates its location inside and outside of the building while maintaining view of the two characters.
Filmed last year, parts of the Davis building and outside of the health sciences complex are also shown. The conclusion of the scene is shocking and disturbing, leading Emily to attempt but fail to leave the country.
The series has received critical acclaim, winning the 2017 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Along with its accolades, The Handmaid’s Tale has made a significant cultural impact. The red cloak and oversized white bonnet Handmaids wear have been used in various women’s rights protests around the world. Groups of women don the outfit in protest of leaders or legislation that are deemed oppressive to women.
This is not the first time UTM was used as a filming location for film and television. The same main walkway of the CCIT building was used in the television series Heroes Reborn in 2015. More recently, the Matt Damon film Downsizing (2017) used a snowy exterior shot of the UTM library, transforming it into a science lab in Norway.
With the increasing presence of the television and film industry in the Greater Toronto Area, don’t be surprised if you see UTM the next time you are watching your new favourite TV show or movie.