By Alice Koski
Orange is the New Black is my new obsession. Hilarious, dramatic and centred on women who are dealing with real, hard-hitting issues – what’s not to like?
If you haven’t heard about Orange is the New Black (or OITNB for short), let me fill you in. Original to Netflix, OITNB is a show which first aired in 2013 and is now two seasons strong. It’s been a huge hit with both viewers and critics and season three is currently in the works. Set in a women’s prison, the show follows its main character Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) along with many others as they serve their sentences with each other. It’s fascinating, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking to see how the characters deal with the different issues, from addiction and loneliness to tampons and chickens (watch to find out!).
But the thing that strikes me most about Orange is the New Black is that it’s one of the only popular shows out there that represents a truly diverse range of women and portrays each of them as complex individuals. Frustratingly, a lot of mainstream television fails to do this: women are often typecast into narrow roles beside their male counterparts, such as The Girlfriend or The Love Interest. This categorising of women sends out a message that there is nothing more to these female characters than the one-sided personas they are presented with. Furthermore, mainstream television often fails to properly represent minority groups such as LGBTQ+ women and women of colour, which again presents audiences with false ideas about what women are like and how they should be.
However, I believe that every woman who watches Orange is the New Black will be able to relate to at least one of the characters. The diversity of the cast is unparalleled – there are white women, black women, hispanic women, asian women; there are women of all shapes and sizes; there are gay, straight, bisexual and transgender women (Laverne Cox is brilliant); there are old and young women. Writer for the show Lauren Morelli has written that ‘Casting the show was thrilling. The array of skin color and the range of bodies were unlike anything I’d seen on television before… it felt important to be telling stories about women who are largely ignored in the mainstream media.’ It is not just OITNB’s inclusion of these different types of women that is appealing, however, but its portrayal of them as complex individuals. Although these women are criminals, the audience is shown that this is and not the be-all and end-all of who they are. OITNB digs deeper than surface level by revealing the characters’ pasts, complexities and vulnerabilities. No, they’re not perfect role models, but they’re real and they’re complex, and they are not limited to being The Love Interest or The Girlfriend. This is something we need more of, not just in television, but throughout the media.
Unlike most media that is about or aimed at women, OITNB does not rely on glamour and style to pull in viewers. The actresses’ make up is minimal and everyone wears the same unflattering prison uniforms. Of course, make up and styling is not inherently a bad thing, but it’s refreshing to see a show that isn’t obsessed with appearance. Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red, says ‘I think women get tired of the standards that Hollywood continues to impose. On our beauty, on how we should look, on how we should behave, on what is sexually desirable, on what it is that men want. Finally, this is a series about us, and people dig it.’ I think she’s hit the nail on the head. Unlike a lot of today’s media, Orange is the New Black does not set out to make its viewers feel inferior. At the heart of the show’s success is, I think, it’s raw and realistic portrayal of women. And quite frankly, I think it’s almost a criminal offence that the world has gone without it for so long.