Orang is the New Black show that has changed television for the audience Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black. To say in brief, to know what has made the show one of the most forward-thinking shows around you just need to look at the opening credits. As the sequence goes by through the faces of women of every culture, ethnicity, age, and facial feature, it embraces the female form in all its manifestations. “Refusing to conform to stereotypes, Kohan embraced the racial and ethnic “tribes” that exist in real-life US prisons and penned a show whose diverse cast exposed how much the rest of TV drama is dominated by two-dimensional, mainly heterosexual, white female characters.” (Ellis-Petersen, 2016)
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Since its premiere in the summer of 2013, Orange Is the New Black has been a critical and commercial success, winning Emmy, Golden Globe, and other awards. It helped set up Netflix as a legit producer of original content and thus paved the way for more. The show is revolutionary in both style and content. Since Netflix releases its episodes all at once, the series is now synonymous with television marathoning and content because it has indisputably changed the world thanks to its plot that puts a diverse set of women on the forefront.
It has also changed the way Hollywood operates. When TV executives saw the success of the show, many realized that people will watch stories that aren’t just centered around the cliched straight white people but slightly out of their comfort zones. Since then cable tv producers have begun producing more diverse programming with similar themes. However, with themes like race, class, and criminal justice, Orange is the New Black has promoted discussion beyond its characters.
According to Bustle, there are 7 ways that Orange Is the New Black has proven to be more than just a television show-
1. Advancing the visibility of the transgender community-
With characters like Sophia Burset, the show has used itself as a platform for telling stories of the people and empowering others like her.
2. Emphasizing diversity in casting
The large cast includes a variety of actresses and instead of playing a “token” to their identities, the show puts them on the front and discusses their issues head-on.
3. Promoting Empathy
By treating every character as a human being who deserves respect and going deep into their backstories, the show promotes understanding of people who are different.
4. Exposing corruption in the prison system-
The show puts light on the issues of abuse of prisoners, racism, transphobia, and transmisogyny which have never been seen on cable or network TV.
5. Challenging Heteronormativity-
The show has also normalized same-sex female relationships and demonstrated how sexuality is a spectrum, not something often seen on TV.
6. Humanizing inmates-
As Rachel Simon from Bustle explains-“as the series gains in popularity, more and more people are beginning to understand that a person’s crime is not their defining characteristic. Though that doesn’t mean former inmates can now easily find work or avoid discrimination, it does mean that the public’s greater understanding could begin to set progress in motion.”(Matlow, 2018)
7. Putting women in the lead-
The show has changed how people view women in Hollywood. It has broken the myth that women-driven shows can’t be successful. The success of the show prompted Hollywood to start putting more women in the lead.
Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red, a fierce Russian woman locked up for Mafia activity said to Guardian- “TV had been afraid to show this side of women up till now. Hollywood and TV networks are a big misogynist machine and it wants you to aspire to the perfect female form, and the perfect man seducing her, with the men pulling the strings. But that’s not true life and we know that. The men are not pulling the strings here and that is in great evidence. It is liberating and scary and invigorating to be a part of.” She added: “It’s a step forward on television because it represents truth. Jenji’s not interested in making you feel liberated as a left-leaning political person, as a gay person, or as a Latina. She’s forcing us all to go deeper because only then will things change.”
Based on the real-life experiences of Piper Kerman, who served 15-month service for drug trafficking, the show has dealt openly with themes of female sexuality of all ages as well as racism, homophobia, and religious extremism. It is also one of the first shows to feature a transgender actor, Laverne Cox, playing a transgender character.
The series’ unflinching scrutiny of the difficulties and discrimination faced by a transgender woman at the hand of other inmates has also proved at times a challenge for the cast. Jenji Kohan’s genius idea of airing people’s prejudices to change them has proved to be a bigger success than imagined. It is helping the audience all over the world to perceive women rightly as they should be. Mulgrew added: “But also it agitates and that’s what makes real change. This show will change the fabric of our culture.”