SPOILER ALERT: Don't read if you haven't watched the entire first season!
As a college student who has been home on winter break for the past three weeks, I have found myself content in my natural habitat: on my bed consuming as much Netflix as humanly possible.
This week, I decided to watch the Netflix original series, "Orange is the New Black." I had heard from multiple friends that it was awesome so I figured I'd take a stab at it. I was not disappointed.
The show is a feminist's dream. Since it takes place in a women's prison, a large majority of the characters are female. Many of these female characters are multidimensional and force the viewer to set aside stereotypes and remember that prison inmates are human too. You can't help but feel sympathy for these women. The stories of how they ended up in prison are told, and you see how being isolated from society can really change a person.
There are three things in that this show does well that really stood out for me, and they are diversity, the presence of multidimensional queer women, and the tackling of controversial subjects.
As Francesca Lewis writes in Curve Magazine, "To say that the show contains a lot of diversity is a laughable understatement up there with “Ellen is funny” and “Portia is beautiful." Not only are the characters racially diverse, but different socioeconomic classes, sexualities, and gender identities are also represented.
However, OITNB is not perfectly diverse. The show has been criticized for it's appropriation of women of color as little more than comic relief. However, there are several women of color in the show who serve as more than just props. We have Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson, a woman who gets released from prison but then decides to re-offend, landing herself back in. She explains how tough the life of a poor ex-con is, and concludes that at least in prison she has food, shelter, a job, and friends.
Another woman of color with a complex story is Dayanara "Daya" Diaz, a Latina who falls in love with the adorable corrections officer, Bennett. About halfway through the series, Daya becomes pregnant and must find a way to protect the futures of Bennett and herself while still keeping the baby.
Being set in a women's prison, the show is bound to depict lesbian relationships. There are women who identified as lesbian prior to landing in prison, but there are also women like Piper Chapman and Lorna Morrello who get involved in relationships with inmates in order to fill a void caused by being separated from their male fiances. The show depicts the fluidity that is sexuality better than any other show I have seen.
OITNB tackles subjects that many shows are afraid to even mention. The most obvious one is prison. In the U.S., women are the fastest growing prison population. By choosing to tell the story of female inmates, OITNB has the potential to change this statistic.
The show also critiques professionalism, as shown through the relationship between Daya and Bennett. The couple is in love, but they cannot let any of the officers know, for Bennett would lose his job and end in jail himself.
The subject tackled in OITNB that really got me riled up was the separation of church vs. state, as seen through the character of Tiffany "Pennsyltucky" Doggett. Pennsyltucky is your stereotypical Bible-worshiping hick. She believes that God has given her the power to heal and condemns every inmate that does not love Jesus as much as she does.
Pennsyltucky's back-story was the most shocking to me. Turns out she shot an employee at an abortion clinic, but not for reasons you might think. She didn't shoot the woman for performing abortions, but for "disrespecting" Pennsyltucky by joking that she should get her sixth abortion free as a frequent customer. Catching wind of the story, a lawyer from a Christian firm approaches Pennsyltucky and asks to represent her, free of pay. She agrees and in the courtroom, pro-life supporters cheer for a visibly flattered Doggett, believing her act to be one against the clinic's practice itself. Pennsyltucky becomes a religious zealot upon entering prison.
This story made me particularly angry, as it shows how some radical Christians take advantage of the poor in order to promote their own agendas. We see this practice in the Tea Party, and Pennsyltucky's story in particular reminds us of a time when bombing abortion clinics was all too common.
In conclusion, OITNB is not only an entertaining show, but it's also progressive in many ways. From its diverse cast of female characters to its tackling of controversial subjects, the show is a feminist masterpiece.
|The Characters of OITNB as Cats|