Many of you have undoubtedly heard of the riotous and raunchy Netflix hit, Orange Is the New Black. Many of you have probably even taken part in the great yearly binge that occurs each summer a new season is released. This year, I finished my turn in just under a week; not my best performance, by any means, but I had much more on my plate this time around. (Forgive me, Norma.) In case you haven’t seen it (and you absolutely should, I mean really, what are you waiting for???) I will try to keep the spoilers at a minimum. The series summary, posted to IMDB, reads as follows: “The story of Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to fifteen months in prison after being convicted of a decade-old crime of transporting money to her drug-dealing girlfriend.”
For a show that seems (from the outset) to be centered on one (maybe two?) main characters, it exceeds any expectations someone might’ve had going in, as far as it’s open and honest representation of women, and the cross-section of America it examines. What Orange is the New Black is at its heart, at very core, is a character study. The prison population, as is the case with most social situations, is broken up in to various clichés. In times of stress, human beings flock together; we go with what we know best, with what is familiar to us. So, naturally, the African-American inmates stick together, the Hispanic inmates stay a tight-knit group, and the same goes for the Asian inmates and various other populations. There is a transgender character, a Russian cook, a pregnant woman, young women, old women, gay, straight. You name it, this show has it, and it is an incredible (and refreshing) sight to behold.
The truth is that you don’t have to have gone to prison to appreciate the girl power that this program exudes. Orange is the New Black is a great example of a show that uses its platform for good, acting as a sort of social commentary, as opposed to relying only on its value as a form of entertainment to make a splash. It addresses a number of intersecting issues, issues that work perfectly in conjunction with feminism, most (if not all) of the time. Whether the show-runners are highlighting health standards for trans inmates, gender roles in the prison community, or familial dynamics between prisoners and their kin, this show confronts said topics head on, without fear of insult or stepping on toes. There are several amazing moments (from this last season, alone) that come to mind when the inmates cross racial boundaries and interact socially (even becoming friends), sometimes banding together to accomplish a task or goal. The inmates often end up connecting on a deeper level, and it’s these real human moments that make the viewer stick around, no matter how funny Nicky’s one-liners can be.
My sole gripe – and it’s one that has come up a number of times amongst viewers on social media outlets (such as Tumblr, for example) – is the glaringly obvious fact that the writers have clearly failed to address Piper Chapman’s sexual orientation. At this point, they almost seem afraid to be the writers who cried “bisexual”, or at the very least hesitant. In an article written in October of 2014 entitled, “Orange is the New Black: Bisexual Erasure” by Danica Leninsky, the author states that, “Piper Chapman is bisexual, yet the show treats the word “bisexual” as taboo. In 26 episodes, the word “bi” is uttered one time. Piper is not a character who is unable to come to terms with her sexuality. […] To say that Piper is simply “confused” or unable to consider the possibility that she is gay is to completely dismiss the obvious love she has for Larry at the start of the show and her love for Alex in the past and present.”
Granted, sexuality is not black and white, it is a spectrum; it’s entirely possible that as it stands in the canon of the series, Piper may not feel the need to label herself as one thing or another. Still, with views on bisexuality changing every day (for the better), it would be nice for a show that has done so much for women and sexuality already, to validate Piper’s orientation, giving a nod to its bisexual viewers in the process.
Regardless of whether or not they follow through with any of the points on my wish list, this show has done a lot to progress the feminist movement, as well as educate its audience on lesser-known or hot-button topics of discussion amongst viewers and the mass media. It is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs. Almost as fiercely as Poussey Washington, who I am convinced more and more each season is actually made of rainbows and sunshine.