US women’s prison drama, Orange is the New Black, tells the story of a woman imprisoned for transporting drug money. The show has been has been tentatively praised for its representation of a range of female characters. Lola Ripley watches and finds the strong and prevailing message that we are all just one choice away from losing our liberty, particularly those without safety nets.
NB: Links to character descriptions contain spoilers.
You’ll notice that, for once, that word ‘women’ is being used without a qualifier, with no need for an asterisk or parentheses to elaborate further. Women of varying sexualities, races, ethnicities, socio-economic class, gender identity, shapes and sizes all have space, not just over the course of the 13 episode season but from the very first episode.
This is one of a handful of new shows offered exclusively on Netflix. The major upside of that is that the release dates (as with House of Cards and the fourth season of Arrested Development) coincide with the US release dates. No more being spoiled by the internet when you start a new show and no waiting six months for a UK channel to pick it up. As a model, it’s an improved one for the impatient.
It may seem at first glance that show creator, Jenji Kohan, has offered an alternate take on her eight season hit Weeds, namely because there’s a whiny white girl protagonist knee-deep in the criminal world. But the demographic occupied by lead character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is really the only similarity apart from the often risqué humour and killer one-liners. This isn’t just Bad Girls with jokes but Orange does attempt to keep the grit and compassion along with the snappy dialogue…
A selection of characters from Orange is the New Black stand in a grey prison toilet setting, with the cubicle doors separating each tableau. Left to right: Prison guard, George ‘Pornstache’ Mendez, stands in a macho legs-astride pose (his left hand hooking his belt and his right hand touching the buckle), looking down over his left shoulder at Red, who looks at the camera, with folded arms and also stands astride. Next along and just behind Red (in a cubicle) are Nicky Nichols and Lorna Morello locked in an embrace or possible struggle. Piper Chapman sits on the top of a toilet in the middle, with her hands clasped between her knees and appearing glum. Suzanne Warren is on her right, looking around the corner of a cubicle. Taystee stands next to Suzanne, looking into the camera and smiling, with her arms hugging herself. Finally, Alex Vause is at a door at the end of the row, leaning against a cubicle wall, with her right knee bent so that her foot also leans on it, reading a book.