Orange Is The New Black is Taking The Lead

Finally a show that takes intersectionality to the max: Orange Is the New Black.  It’s a show entirely about women. It’s a show about women’s relationships with other women, women’s experiences, and women discovering their true sense of self.

You could say, women run the show.

So, it’s a show about women? So what? Is this really such a monumental accomplishment? Well, yes. The sad reality of the film and entertainment industry is that most movies don’t even pass the Bechdel Test. Yes you read that right, most movies don’t pass the embarrassingly low standard of: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

Buzzfeed recently did a piece on 11 filmmakers who answered the question “Why Do you Write Strong Female Characters?” And I think Josh Whedon, writer and director of The Avengers and the creator of the Buffy The Vampire TV Series had by far the best answer: “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

The women in #OITNB range from every background, shape, color, nationality, and socioeconomic status. Having this diverse representation of characters, and making it seem so seamless, is still a rarity in today’s entertainment industry.

Oh and did I mention that the Creator and Executive Producer is a woman? Jenji Kohan, also the producer of Weeds, is head honcho of the entire show. And let me tell you (for once), it is pleasantly obvious when watching the show that women are the ones calling the shots.

If I had to narrow it down, I’d say my two favorite aspects of OITNB are:

  1. Unveiling the Transgender conversation. Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, actually plays the transgender character of Sophia on the show. Tell me how often that happens. Sophia’s character has definitely given inspiration to the trans community and also speaks to the issue of black women actresses being casted into very limiting roles. Laverne Cox is a successful example to the entertainment industry that “you can cast women of different races. You can cast women of different ages and body types and folks will tune in and be interested. The public is craving that.” So major props to you girlfriend!

  2. Accessibility. The accessibility of this show allows audience members who may not be in tuned with these topics normally (i.e. us feminist gender analysis folks), to join the conversation. Talk about a great way to Take The Lead: OITNB is able to open the conversation surrounding transgender issues, same sex relationships, and race in a way that is captivating and inviting to those not normally engaged. The show does not paint this unrealistic picture of a prison where race, class, and background don’t matter. Instead OITNB highlights the segregation, extreme racism, and hierarchy, which in and of itself invites dialogue around these issues. This sort of accessibility gives the audience a way to see how messed up the incarceration system is in this country, as well as the skewed gender power relations, without painting an unrealistically rosy picture.

So if you have Netflix, please do yourself a favor and start watching Orange Is the New Black if you haven’t already. You will cry, laugh, and be on the edge of your seat. My recommendation: make sure you have an open-minded girlfriend that you can freak out with each time something amazing or shocking happens. Which is all the time. Obviously.

About the Author

Kaitlin Rattigan is a recent graduate with an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in Gender and Peacebuilding. She is a firm believer in social media as an effective and meaningful tool to promote positive societal change. Never underestimate the power of 140 characters. Kaitlin is a voice for the Millennials, a constructive disruptionist, an advocate for women’s leadership, and is a believer in challenging and expanding the definitions of what it means to be a feminist. For gender-analytical fem-tastic commentary on current events, follow Kaitlin @KaitlinRattigan. Do you have an issue you want highlighted on The Movement Blog? Is there an area within women’s leadership that you feel passionate about and want to share with a wide audience? Feel free to send Kaitlin a DM or Tweet to @KaitlinRattigan with the hashtag #Women2025 and let’s keep the conversation going and work together to propel women into their equal share of leadership positions by 2025.