I know I’ve been busy, but I had to take some time to watch the new season of Orange is the New Black. I unfortunately wasn’t able to watch it on the day it was released due to traveling, but after things wound down a bit, I reactivated my Netflix account! It is one of the few shows I follow since I don’t have a ton of time for TV shows.

After a recommendation from my Mom (of all people), I became obsessed with OITNB. It was riveting, emotional, and is one of the few series out today that truly portrays individuals from all walks of life. The funny thing about OITNB, is that it began as the story of prison from the eyes of a privileged white woman, and became so much more as the series progressed. I had read in another article when the series was first released that the character of Piper Chapman served as a gateway to the stories of these minority women.  They are often not given a chance to be seen or heard. Although Piper spawned the OITNB world, she has quickly become a supporting act. Let’s face it, the other characters’ stories are far more riveting and Piper is quickly becoming the next Larry.

Photo Still from OITNB Season 4

OITNB is one of those shows that had changed me forever. It challenged my thinking and perceptions, and helped me to want to make a difference in entertainment. OITNB’s cultural significance is huge. It challenges its viewers to think, and hits many topics facing our society today. The list is huge, and I had trouble whittling it down for a post. Some other issues OITNB touches on are:

  • Government Corruption
  • Federal and State Funding
  • Suicide
  • Depression
  • The War on Drugs
  • The US Economy
  • The Education System
  • Motherhood
  • Mass Incarceration
  • MANY OTHERS

To expand, here are some reasons why OITNB is so significant to me:

DiversityOITNB is probably one of the most, if not the most diverse shows on TV today. It portrays characters of different races and ethnicities, belief systems, sexualities, and social backgrounds. One of the harsh realities of prison is that individuals of all types commit crimes. The theme of the show is time, and that is all the inmates have. With this currency, we can see their stories.

Rape and Consent– Seeing as Pennsatucky was a major villain in Season 1, her character development has been the most well-written of all the characters. In the beginning she as reviled, but now she is someone we sympathize with and are rooting for. With the excessive sensationalization of rape in so many films and shows, OITNB paints it as the bleak picture it truly is. During the scene itself, there isn’t focus on her body, but the dead expression on her face.  The most heartbreaking turn is when Tucky bonds with Big Boo, and she exclaims, that she is not angry- just sad. The biggest kudos goes to the writing of the relationship with Tucky and Big Boo, who educates her that rape isn’t right.

Sexuality– This show addresses human sexuality perfectly. In the case of Piper- she isn’t really defined by a label. She’s not a lesbian, straight, or bisexual. She just is what she is. “I like hot people.” she exclaimed in a flashback during Season 1. OITNB also explores the topics of sexual fluidity and transexuality extremely well.

Racism– Black Lives Matter rang heavy in the most recent season of the show. Everyone may not agree with the handling of the topic, but the writers of OITNB took some bold steps in making a statement. Additionally, OITNB has constantly shown since Season 1, the effects and current status of racism. The show actively turns stereotypes on its head, proving that race does not determine intelligence or moral character. The series has strived to educate its scores of viewers about the effects of institutional racism and ignorance.

Abortion and Pro-Choice– Big Boo is an amazing character, and I am bummed she has not had as much screen time, since she has had some of the best monologues throughout the series. One of the most brilliant scenes in the series is Big Boo educating Pennsatucky on why her abortions were justified. To date, it is the best pro-choice argument I have ever seen. Below I have a poor quality video of the monologue.

Mental Illness– In modern society, mental illness is a leading cause for incarceration. As many as 58% of inmates have a diagnosable illness. With the flashbacks of the characters, we can see that characters such as Suzanne and Lolly never seemed to do anything truly wrong to end up in prison in the first place. There are very large stigmas against mental illness, and OITNB shows that many of the ill are placed in prison instead of given the treatment they need. They’re often misunderstood and mistaken as menaces to society. Then there are characters such as Morello, whose crimes were driven by her illness.

Without spoiling Season 4- I hope during the next awards season, OITNB receives all the Emmy’s. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll think.

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