I procrastinated writing this piece about Orange is the New Black by sitting and binge watching Orange is the New Black… Don’t judge. You’d do it too.
Orange is the New Black is an American TV show that got popularised by Netflix. The show has had me thinking about women in captivity a lot. It really opens up your mind to so many different aspects of life. Not only does it just focus on the lives of women in prison but it also goes into the stories of these criminals separately, it tells people about the problems of women from various backgrounds and why they are what they are today. What Glee tried to do, OITNB manages beautifully. It balances out various harsh realities with occasional humour while also putting the point across. All in all, it seems real.
I remember being grossed out by the excessive nudity when I watched the first season of the show. I told myself that I didn’t want it watch it again. However, thanks to my friend Melvin’s constant whining, telling me to watch it, and the introduction of Ruby Rose in the third season I got back to watching the show. I realised, that the nudity was good. It was good for my health. Allowing me to see real bodies that weren’t photo shopped to the point of plasticity and having a ton of different shapes and sizes, especially the inclusion of fat people. (I’d like to point out that my use of the word fat here is deliberate. I don’t believe that fat is or should be used as an insult. Rather, a descriptive word like saying short or tall.) A cast that is the widest range of skin colours, ethnicity, sexualities, and religions that I have ever seen on television, I felt was helpful in making me see the world a little better. It takes away the idea that America is filled with pale skinned blonde haired women with perfect skin and hair, beautifully sparkling white teeth, flawless bodies, and no problems but having their hair out of place. The range of diverse bodies made me accept my own so called flaws. All the rolls of fat that make up my stomach I now caress; when at one point of time I would stand in front of my mirror with a pair of scissors and wish to cut away. My hair that I always wanted to have long I now shave a side of because I love it. It’s freeing and different. Makes people look at me either enviously and awed or as if I need God. I’m somewhat accepting of my body because of the normalisation of the many bodies on the show. I remember my teacher asked me what I think of shows being so explicit now and honestly I hope this answers the question.
OITNB is brutally honest. It will show drug addiction, theft, murder, and all kinds of problems. It comes across as harsh but it is the truth and it does take a bit of time for a person to get used to it. In the third season there is a discussion that is raised of rape. We see Penssatucky growing up with an idea of rape that is absolutely messed up. She feels sorry for her rapist, doesn’t talk to anyone about her problems, thinking that if he buys her gifts and says sweet things to her, taking her out for ice cream and to see ducks, then isn’t rape. The powerlessness that prisoners have during their time in the prison is sad and frustrating. The women are repeatedly treated inhumanly by the guards especially the disgusting character of George Mendez aptly named “Pornstache” by the inmates. I remember feeling the helplessness of the inmates, when I was watching how Pornstach would sneak drugs into the camp, threatening them if they didn’t do as he ordered. It was because of him that one of the sweetest characters died. I felt anger at that.
In the later seasons, when Litchfield gets handed over to the MCC which is a profit making company, the change in the prison is enormous. The prison gets more prisoners. The audience is shown a peek of what it’s like to manage a prison as well, and it is shown that everything that the management does is for the profit of the company itself. The guards are more ruthless. No one dares to say anything until the end when the prisoners have had enough of being treated as less than human and decide to take a stand. But this takes a long time and by the time they do it, it’s too late. Losing another member of the fake prison family is hard.
The show also quietly but at the same time quite strongly took a stand on the Black Lives Matter movement. In the third season a lot of the black girls’ backstories were shown. Parallels could be drawn between these and the innumerable shootings in America where black people were unnecessarily gunned down. What really hit me was when in the fourth season (SPOILER AHEAD), P was pinned down by an untrained officer who held her in a chokehold till she couldn’t breathe. Sound familiar? Does the name Eric Garner ring a bell?
I think OITNB is good for all of us. The bitterness and the raw humanness of the characters is so clear and beautiful. It’s better to know. To be aware of the shit that goes down in not just our prisons bit also our societies. I know that this piece hasn’t done justice to the level of amazing that this show reaches, but it does cover some important parts. Important to me at least.