‘Orange Is the New Black’ shows refreshing portrayal of gender, race, sexuality

Mollie Cahillane, Blogger

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With the launch of several original shows and the revival of the classic “Arrested Development,” 2013 was quite a year for the on-demand Internet streaming giant Netflix. However, no other show had quite the same cultural impact as the Netflix original show “Orange Is the New Black.”

“Orange is the New Black” is based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. What’s most interesting about “Orange” is that it is comprised almost entirely of unknown female actors. “Orange” is a show starring women and created by women, but it is not marketed as a show for women.

What “Orange” has done is nothing short of incredible. I cannot remember the last time a show with this many women in it has been so widely popular.

“Orange” is a prison drama. The often unlikable protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), once carried a suitcase full of drug money for her then-girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Piper voluntarily surrendered years after the incident, and she quickly learned in prison the true threat isn’t only the other prisoners, but herself. Prison forces Piper to reflect on who she is, and the Piper at the end of the season is almost unrecognizable from the person in the beginning.

Piper enters prison with a fiance, Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs). However, their relationship quickly becomes strained when Piper discovers Alex is in prison with her. To make matters worse, Piper’s prison counselor (Michael Harney) initially seems friendly and supportive, but quickly reveals a darker side.

Each woman Piper meets in prison has her own unique backstory, with each episode focusing on a different woman. Whether it is Russian prison cook Red, the meth-addled religious fanatic “Pennsatucky” or lesbian ex-heroin addict Nikky, each character is uniquely written and propels the show forward. Comedic relief comes in the form of best friends Taystee and Poussey.

“Orange” is not only full of women, but it is full of a diverse representation of women. The show isn’t just straight white women. It’s queer women, women of color, queer women of color and women of different ethnicities. The show portrays a wide range of sexualities but avoids making the characters’ sexualities their main talking points. Schilling’s character Piper is a phenomenally honest example of bisexuality. Alex and Nikky are both lesbians. Most powerfully, in my opinion, the trans character Sophia is actually portrayed by a black transsexual woman, Laverne Cox. Cox’s character is multidimensional, intricate and, at times, heartbreaking.

“Orange Is the New Black” has everything one could want in a show. You’ll laugh until you cry, and then cry at some of the heartbreaking story lines. Basically, stop what you’re doing and go binge-watch “Orange.” Get caught up quickly: Season two is expected to premiere in full on Netflix this spring.

Email: molliecahillane2017@u.northwestern.edu
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@molliecahillane

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