Imagine you are a cliché white girl who has never been harassed, targeted or looked at twice by the police.
Now, imagine you also dabbled in some lesbi-honest activity ten years ago and fell in love with a member of an international drug cartel who just so happens to be Donna from “That 70’s Show.” You are lovingly coaxed into “helping” carry some dirty money through the airport by “hot Donna” and, ten years later, (after you’ve made a cozy life for yourself with a nice Jewish journalist fiancé), your past returns to bite you in the ass. You end up in prison.
Your name is Piper Kerman, your life has now been sensationalized into Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”
For the past two weeks my fiancé and I have been binge watching season one of the series. Now I’m way too excited to see what’s in store for season two. I was initially pretty skeptical of the series–I usually don’t succumb to hype, and I was also hesitant because I assumed the lesbian prison activity was going to be super graphic and male-oriented in the sense that it’s typically the sexiest chick with the hottest body who just so happens to get naked. Surprisingly it turned out to be the complete opposite: Bodies of all shapes and sizes are portrayed in an admirably raw manner.
Although the series is based on true events, there is a degree of fiction. According to the article that the real Piper Kerman’s then fiancé (now husband) Larry Smith wrote for the New York Times, “We considered every question and configuration about what goes on between a committed couple when one of them is going to prison for more than a year. Would there be conjugal visits? No. Was I allowed to see other women? No. Was she allowed to see other women? I told her to do whatever she needed.” Although the series leads us to believe otherwise, Piper and her former lover/business partner never had sex in prison and actually never even dated but were merely “friends with benefits.”
The barriers that “Orange is the New Black” is breaking, however, are far from fabricated. Unsurprisingly, Jenji Kohan (who also is the creator of the hit series “Weeds”) does an impeccable job challenging gender roles, particularly female stereotypes. Beyond the notion of a Caucasian woman ending up in prison, the show encompasses a wide array of female narratives within the prison-industrial complex, from a disgruntled, meth-addled-turned-Jesus freak to an ex-track star. The creators also choose to celebrate individuality by showcasing all types of nude bodies, not just the ones that are desirable in the conventional Hollywood sense.
Arguably the most groundbreaking aspect of the series is the positive representation of transgender inmate Sophia Burset, played by Laverne Cox. In her Time Magazine interview the actress describes her own internal confusion as a young boy coming to terms with the difference between boys and girls, confessing what it was like to not feel accepted by the general community. In an explanation of transgender identity she stated, “There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience. And I think what they need to understand is that not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth, based on their genitalia. If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied healthcare. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence. … That’s what people need to understand, that it’s okay and that if you are uncomfortable with it, then you need to look at yourself”.
We can only hope that season two will be as influential and thought-provoking as season one. I sure as hell know I will definitely be tuned in to find out!
Featured photo courtesy of: flicksided.com