The newest season of “Orange is the New Black” was released on Netflix today – and if you’re not familiar with it, you’re probably wondering what all the hype is about. What is “Orange is the New Black”? (A show, produced by Netflix, about a women’s prison, based on the real-life story of Piper Kerman.) Who is this “Piper Chapman”? (Thankfully, Jessie answered this on Monday!) And why should you care?
Here are 7 reasons why you should tune into “Orange is the New Black.”
1. It’s one of the only shows with an almost exclusively-female cast.
Because it’s set in a women’s prison, it would be hard not to have an overwhelmingly female cast – but it’s still kind of shocking to see a cast with this many women in it. You don’t have to struggle to find a female character to root for; instead, there are so many, you’ll struggle to choose just one favorite.
2. The diversity is unparalleled.
There are more women of color in this space than in any other show currently. Where else can you find 10 women of color sharing the screen? This show also features gay women. It features bisexual women. It features trans women. It features fat women, old women, unconventionally attractive women. So! Many! Women! And the actresses? They’re all amazing.
3. It feels real.
“Orange is the New Black” touches on some very real issues, including class, race, privilege, depression, sexuality, gender identity, and more. As far as characters go, you can’t help but root for them — even though they’re imperfect. That’s what makes them so great; you feel for them. Plus, the portrayal of relationships between family members, between prisoners, and between friends all feel relatable.
4. An actual trans woman plays an actual trans character.
In a world where it’s normal for heterosexual, cissexual actors like Jared Leto (in “Dallas Buyers Club”) and Andrew Garfield (in Arcade Fire’s music video “We Exist”) to be hailed for their “bravery” in “daring” to portray a trans women, this is revolutionary. Roles for trans actors are few and far between in Hollywood, so it’s a slap in the face when actors who are not trans snatch up the very few roles that do exist for trans women (or men) to fulfill. The fact that Laverne Cox was tapped in to play Sophia Burset kind of changes everything. Her existence on the show – as well as her activism – has helped to spark a much-needed conversation about what it means to be transgender and transgender rights. Plus, representation matters! So Laverne’s presence will improve visibility for trans women.
5. It’s feminist.
It’s feminist at its core for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned. In addition to that, every episode passes the Bechdel test, a test created by Alison Bechdel, which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. (You would be astounded to realize the number of television shows, books, and movies that do NOT meet this very, very simple criteria.) Although this test doesn’t automatically indicate that a piece of fiction is feminist, it has been widely embraced in feminist circles as a great starting point. More than that, “Orange is the New Black” also passes the Mako Mori test. This test, similar to the Bechdel test, is based on the character Mako Mori from the film “Pacific Rim.” (Awesome movie. Add it to your “Must Watch” list.) This new test asks whether a work of fiction features at least one female character who gets her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story. This test is much harder to pass – but “Orange is the New Black” does, and with flying colors.
6. It’s inspiring interesting, and very important, conversations.
In spite of all the wonderful aspects of “Orange is the New Black,” the show is not perfect. No show is. But this program has helped spark some really interesting debate and analysis, including:
- Why is it necessary for a white woman to be the central character in order to tell the stories of women of color? (This fact was admitted by Jenji Kohan, the show’s producer.)
- Why are Hollywood’s portrayals of WOC, especially black women, sometimes so problematic?
- What kind of life is out there for people who get OUT of prison? (Taystee’s storyline in season 1 is all too real.)
- How does race factor into the incarceration rate?
- How does privilege impact how people are treated in prison? …And in real life?
- Is it time for prison reform?
While there may not be answers to these questions yet, just the fact that people are thinking and talking about these issues is a good start.
7. There’s a little something for everyone.
For a show that centers around Piper’s prison experience, it’s about so much more than Piper. It’s about Taystee and Poussey’s friendship. It’s about Red. It’s about Daya and her relationship with her mother. It’s about Sophia. It’s about womanhood, friendship, and life.
Photo credit Netflix.