Season 3 of Orange is the New Black is here, and I’m pumped.
With its great writing and powerful storylines (that explore race, class, and sexuality), OITNB is a groundbreaking addition to TV. In a world where representation of women (and other gender minorities) is scarce, often clichéd and highly sexualized, OITNB depicts a haven of diverse, real characters. And those characters are mostly women.
Some people have been up in arms about the show having “bad male representation,” to which I’d have to disagree. Instead of going into that, I will direct you here and focus on the many things the show does well.
Sooo… who do we have here?
WOMEN! In 2014, women only made up 30% of speaking characters–so it is great, long-awaited, and highly necessary to have so many women comprise the cast. When we see women on screen, most of the time we either get a sexualized virgin “good-girl” or a sexualized femme-fatale “bad-girl.” Both are usually white, thin, cisgender, heterosexual and conventionally attractive. OITNB instead presents us with this:
The women on the show don’t necessarily meet societal beauty standards, with its cast full of diverse races, body types, and gender expressions. There isn’t much unrealistic “bodily upkeep” (plucking, makeup, etc.) that wouldn’t happen in a prison environment–which is refreshing when many women characters in perilous and dystopian settings manage to have smooth armpits despite their circumstances. We also engage with a diverse group of women throughout–black and latina women are represented in the show (although the Asian American representation is a bit lacking). Although the protagonist is a cisgender, privileged, white female, significant screen-time is dedicated to exploring the lived experiences of women of color, queer women, trans women and working class families. These are narratives that are too often omitted from TV today.
LGBT characters! The show gives a lot of attention to the complexity of sexuality. Larry, straight fiancé to main character Piper, is very confused while trying to define her sexuality. He calls Piper a lesbian “at the time” of her relationship with a woman, and struggles to figure out “what she is now,” to which Piper’s brother excellently responds:
The show explores Piper’s (and others’) sexuality–how it can be fluid and changing, how it can indeed be confusing. We have yet to see a “definition” of how Piper identifies sexually, and honestly, I think that’s great. So far, Piper is Piper. She’ll have sex with who she likes and that is that. We also get openly gay characters played by openly gay actors. Lea Delaria and Samira Wiley playing Big Boo and Poussey, respectively.
In addition, we get to see the magnificent Laverne Cox playing a transgender woman named Sophia Burset. During the show, we see Sophia struggling to get access to her hormone medication (which prison administration deems “unnecessary”), highlighting a very important issue that trans people face in real life. Cox’s presence also brings attention to other ways in which trans folk in the prison system are discriminated against,such as being misgendered and placed in the wrong prison as well as being subject to abuse and gendered harassment..
Since the role, Cox has become a household name and continued to be a champion for transgender rights, speaking at colleges across the country and creating a documentary on trans teens called “The T Word.”
Now we get to start binge-watching Season 3 of this fabulous show. This time, we get the addition of genderfluid actor and model Ruby Rose playing Stella Carlin. Rose will push the show’s boundaries even more regarding gender expression, and Season 3 will undoubtedly be a hilarious, intense, and incredible ride. Personally, I can’t wait.