As with every Netflix Original series, ‘Orange is the New Black’ is released in batches to satisfy the inner binge watcher in all of us. With Season 5 having been released in early June, it would be a good idea to take up OITNB as this summer’s stay-at-home, daily watch. You may be thinking ‘its just another prison show’, but its not. This show shines a light-hearted spotlight on the untapped and quite frankly, interesting phenomenon, that is female prisons.
The plot of OITNB begins by tracking the unfortunate events that land a stable, privileged, and innocent looking woman by the name of Piper Chapman in a 15-month sentence to Litchfield female prison. The protagonist is portrayed as a very basic Caucasian woman, leaving watchers confused about the turn of events in her life. This is until it is made clear that she had a very different and rather wild past that has come back to haunt her future and family plans. As the transition into prison begins it becomes clear that there may be issues to come when Piper runs into the people from her past and is placed in very uncomfortable positions of balancing long term priorities with the need to survive in prison.
The success of this show is largely due to its empowerment of women, it is one of the few shows or movies that discuss female prisons. All the inmates in the show, from the timid and silent to the gang leaders are female, this provides an insight into social roles that women do not conventionally take on. After watching dozens of movies about male dominance and aggression in prison, the idea itself is quite refreshing. That being said, the gender roles remain very evident as male dominance is shown through corrupt corrections officers that look down upon the women that are supposedly within their protection. This controversy is very fitting for current world issues as the way these women tackle their daily struggles would likely resonate with many feminists and activists in 2017.
Another reason this show has been received on a relatable level is that many of the issues that this born-rich girl faces are applicable to the basic viewer. It is really easy to put one’s self in her shoes as she is displayed as a genuinely raw and innocent person entering the rollercoaster that is prison. This aspect makes the show a lot more vivid and entertaining for women that have never considered the idea of dealing with such issues. The whole plot does somewhat shift away from the social conventions, with transgender and lesbian characters playing a dominant role, however, this does not mean that race has been taken off the table. The significance of racial groups and sticking to one’s own is very much emphasized inside the gates of Litchfield prison, in fact it is one of the hurdles that Piper has to face as she does not fully belong to any group or clique. The racial aspect is also used as a tool in the development of relationships and the building of tension within the community. These dynamics within the prison are the reason this show makes watchers cry sometimes and find them selves holding on to their seat at other times.
OITNB has successfully empowered women that come from many different backgrounds without being vulgar or excessive. The corrupt legal system in the US is very strategically criticized by acknowledging that empowered women can still be vulnerable in today’s society. The way the plot develops based on the behavior of inmates makes the show all the more worth watching, the story develops into a comedy as the characters start to become more comfortable with one another and make use of the cards that life has dealt them.