Orange is the new Black (OITNB) was not just a great show- it was a turning point for mainstream television series.
The narrative is based on the experiences of American author Piper Kerman’s memoir published in 2010, three years before the show aired on Netflix. The series follows a young, blonde, white woman who smuggles drug money for her lover, ends up in prison with her.
Most of the plot unravels inside the women’s prison, but viewers also see flashbacks of the inmates’ lives prior to their imprisonment, thus humanising the incarcerated. It delves deeper into the characters as the show progresses, making viewers question and reconsider the initial label they may have assigned to them.
OITNB is characterised by plot twists, while exposing the flaws of the prison system, including systemic racism and corruption, all done alongside incredible music choices… and a chicken.
Inclusivity was a huge part in OITNB, which provided a platform for women from different backgrounds and identities, including women with mental and physical disabilities.
It was also among the most famous shows with multiple lesbian protagonists after The L World in the early 2000s.
The success of the Netflix series paved the way for trans visibility and shaped Laverne Cox, the black actress who portrayed trans hairdresser Sophia Burset, as a transgender icon. Several year later, she got a role in Inventing Anna, without the focus being on the fact she is trans. Way to go Netflix.
However, I cannot but mention how problematic it is that marginalised women gained a space in popular culture though a prison series, implicitly suggesting people who do not abide by the norm will be more likely to commit crimes to survive.
The series is also among the few that ran for seven seasons but still managed to close strong despite a slight inconsistency that followed an unspeakable moment at the end of season four.