Tag Archives: Orange is the New Black

Why Orange is Not The New Black

By Guest Contributor Kimberly Bernita Ross

The prison comedy-drama, Orange is The New Black (OITNB), is projected to trump House of Cards in viewership by the end of the year, giving it the distinction of being Netflix’s most-watched original series. The show is an adaptation of Piper Kerman’s memoir by the same name, which recounts her time in prison after being convicted for drug smuggling and money laundering a decade after the offense. Actress Taylor Schilling plays Piper in the series, depicting the sometimes-comical angst that the White upper-middle class, 30-something feels, upon entering what in real life was Danbury Federal Prison in Connecticut.

OITNB joins the ranks of other popular women in prison TV and film productions like Bad Girls, Stranger Inside and Prisoner: Cell Block H. All of these shows and films touch upon relevant issues facing real women in prison, such as a lack of physical and mental healthcare, sexual assault and separation from children; yet they also draw on some of the more sensationalized themes of an earlier generation of women-in-prison (WIP) exploitation films first popularized in the late 1960s and 70s. While OITNB is a significant departure from the B- Movie, WIP film subgenre, the show still relies on subjects of female subjugation, violence, and lesbian sex, themes heavily prevalent in WIP films. And just as WIP movies often cross into revolutionary plots and sometimes Blaxploitation motifs, OITNB delves into the stories of Black and Afro-Latina women in prison. Comparing the women-in-prison film genre with OITNB is a ripe opportunity to analyze changing representations of sexual orientation, gender and race on screen.

There is a dearth of critical examination within portrayals of race and the criminal justice system. Black and Latina women’s plot lines predictably include criminal women from the “menacing urban underclass” without much nuance or context. Writers rarely, if ever, analyze the racialized society that has created the prison industrial complex in which these women find themselves entangled. Jenji Kohen, creator of the show, has been quoted as saying she used the WASP character, fashioned after Piper Kerman, as a ploy to pitch the series to different networks—a sort of subterfuge to tell other stories that the industry is reluctant to touch. The White woman lens as a means of telling the stories of women of color has been a scheme in Hollywood for a long time, and is an oft-criticized element of OITNB. At the same time, much of the show’s appeal rests on this juxtaposition of race and class and the laughable observations of an ignorant Piper. While the stories of real women of color are still held hostage by Hollywood stratagem, OITNB has developed Black and Latino characters that differ from the static, underdeveloped roles of the WIP film subgenre. But how much has really changed?

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The Racialicious Links Roundup 11.21.13: The Best Man Holiday, Orange Is The New Black, Nelly, ENDA and more

Cast of “The Best Man Holiday.”

The Best Man Holiday is a success. That is not particularly a “surprise.” It did not “over-perform,” nor did it soar for a “race-themed film,” as USA Today originally wrote. To speak of it in these terms reduces The Best Man Holiday to thousands of frames of low expectations. It existed and won. As a film, it was 50% an above-average comedy and 50% an abysmal drama. But financially—the only metric that matters to studios—it was a knockout. Set in the present. Not filmed by Tyler Perry. Of which you can expect to see more.

Malcolm D. Lee’s movies, in fact, have nearly all been significant earners, from Undercover Brother toScary Movie 5. Only one—Soul Men, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac—did not perform well. It was also Lee’s most expensive movie, and was released three months after Bernie Mac died.

The Best Man Holiday, the director’s seventh film, cost $17 million and has already earned just north of $30 million on its first weekend. It premiered to an audience that was 87% African American and 75% female.

Again I think it’s very truthful to the world we live in. There are Latino people in our world who believe strongly that if you are Latino you should speak the language, you should eat the food, you should listen to the music, you should be proud. And when you don’t do those things, some people will look at it as if you’re neglecting who you are. But in the case of Daya, which is a wonderful character, look at the background that she has. Her mother isn’t exactly the mother of the year but she has heart. She hasn’t been the best mom so of course her kids aren’t going to speak the language, she wasn’t at home teaching them like my parents did. My parents made it a point that although I was born and raised in New York City I needed to speak Spanish because they wanted me to be able to communicate with my elders when I went to Santo Domingo [or] when my family came to visit from Cuba. So we have some people who place a lot of importance on that and a lot who don’t.

But you know I’m not one to criticize someone for speaking it or not. I, for one, do believe that we should speak the language of our ancestors and that’s why my daughter speaks fluent Spanish.

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Mistakes, Huh?: Watching Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black, Netflix Promo.

Orange is the New Black, Netflix Promo.

Perusing my usual monthly reading, I found myself amazed at how many stories were about the Netflix original show Orange is the New Black – and the similarities in language used to describe the plot. I had seen a few reviews here and there, and knew the show was about a privileged white woman who spent a year in a woman’s prison.

But what stood out was how often the word “mistake” came up. I saw the term so many times, it seemed like Piper Kerman ended up in prison due to bad breaks. Mistaken identity? Wrong place at the wrong time? Get dumped via post it note and almost get arrested smoking outside of a bar? (Hey, it happened to Carrie Bradshaw.)

In a Fast Company review – where the word “mistake” appears in the opening line, and is used twice more in the next two paragraphs – I finally found out why Kerman was locked up:

Kerman fell in with people whose lifestyles seemed exciting–as much because one of them ran money and smuggled narcotics for a West African drug lord as in spite of that fact. And when she agreed to help the woman who’d brought her in to that circle usher a suitcase full of undeclared cash from Chicago to Brussels, she made what she describes now as her “biggest mistake.”

So she was banging a drug smuggler and agreed to run some money for them – yeah, could have happened to any of us really. Just minding your own business, taking a suitcase of cash on an international trip…

Anyway, despite my skepticism, I tuned into watch the show. While I’ve been intrigued and interested by the developments in episodes the first five episodes, there’s been this strange undercurrent dulling my enjoyment of the show. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, until I read an excerpt of an interview with the showrunner, Jenji Kohan:

You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”

Fascinating – particularly since the most compelling stories to me are about the side characters. I’m not watching for Piper, though it’s been interesting to see her (and her family) coping with her new reality. I am watching to hopefully see how Sophia works out her relationships and medical needs, and to figure out why Daya and her mother have such an acrimonious relationship. But I suppose I’m not in the network’s idea of ideal demographic, and I just have to hope Piper’s development leaves a little space to revisit some of the supporting characters.

I’ll keep watching before I do a longer analysis, but readers, what are your thoughts?

Racialicious Links Roundup 8.8.2013: A Black Batman — And More…

By Joseph Lamour

blackman

    • Why Batman Can’t Be Black (Blogtown/The Portland Mercury)

      People don’t like the implication they could be the bad guy on this issue. Racism is bad. That’s axiomatic. Thus, arguments against changing Batman’s race tend to go like:

      “It’s not that I don’t want Batman to be black. With the right writers, I bet it’d be cool! I’d love for popular culture to be more diverse! It’s just that, unfortunately, it simply can’t be done in the case of Mr. Bruce Wayne. There’s too much history and continuity. It’s a shame, but that’s just the way the world works.”

      Which is bullshit. Bruce Wayne doesn’t exist. He’s not real. It wouldn’t take a miracle of genetic engineering to somehow flip the needed switches in his DNA to transform him from a rich white guy to a rich black guy. He’s completely fictional. Of course he can be a black man. He’s been a lot of things over the course of his 70+ years in existence, most of them infinitely more ridiculous and unbelievable than possessing a darker skin tone.

 

    • Jew Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me: Weiner, Spitzer, Filner … Are Jews less likely to cheat? The data says no. (Slate)

      “What’s the matter with Jewish men today?” Josh Greenman, the opinion editor of the New York Daily News, raised that question after Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting relapse. Jodi Kantor, a Slate alumna and New York Times correspondent, responded with a 1,200-word essay on the troubles of Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Although the three cases are very different, these “libidinous, self-sabotaging politicians are causing grimaces among fellow Jews,” Kantor noted. They’re discrediting the assumption “that Jewish men make solid husbands.”

      Where did we get the idea that Jews are faithful in marriage? Sounds to me like an old yente’s tale. The data don’t support it. Jews stray as much as—if not more than—spouses of other faiths.

 

    • An In-Depth Look at How “Orange Is the New Black” Compares to Real Life (Bitch Magazine)

      It’s historically been difficult to generate activist attention around criminal justice reform, but increasing media attention could add more hearts/minds/bodies to the thousands who’ve been battling these issues tirelessly for years, like The Sentencing Project, The Women’s Prison Association, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and The ACLU.

      And now we have Orange is The New Black (OINTB), the first American television program since Oz to so poignantly dramatize, eroticize, and criticize the system. Plus, OITNB does a thing Oz rarely did, which is make us laugh. As formerly incarcerated writer Joe Loya wrote about why he prefers the new show to Oz: “The show — though not a biopic, therefore not literally accurate — still captures truthfully the zaniness of prison. And the sex agonies. The fortunate camaraderie. The hidden likenesses between the guards and prisoners. The collaborations. The antagonisms. The pain of family visits.” Also: The humanity. You cannot write these people off.

 

The Racialicious Links Roundup 8.1.13: Profiling, Civic Tech, And A SMH Moment Care Of Zimmerman

By Joseph Lamour

  • George Zimmerman Speeding, Pulled Over With Gun In Car (HuffPo Black Voices)

    Zimmerman, who informed police that the weapon was in the car shortly after being pulled over, was asked where he was going, to which he responded, “nowhere in particular,” according to the site.

    CBS News reports that, during the traffic stop, which occurred at 12:54 p.m., Zimmerman also asked the officer if he recognized him from television.

  • Motorbike riders file lawsuit against DC police (WJLA News DC)

    “They’re not really letting us acknowledge them as police officers,” he told ABC 7. “They’re just doing it. We the police, we can do it. No you can’t. You have laws to live by too. It’s not right.”

    Attorney David Shurtz does not condone illegal riding, but said that targeting riders with deadly force for a minor offense is outrageous and indicative of racial profiling:

    “No one else is being knocked off bikes except young black males in bad sections of town.”

  • Why Civic Tech Needs More Minorities and Women (HuffPo Black Voices)

    The population of U.S. women and minorities combined are a literal majority. Yet these two groups remain under-represented in boardrooms, governments, and the tech industry in general. For Code for America’s (CfA) purposes of improving the community, this has to change. Simply put, it’s completely unrealistic to assume that our governments can be inherited by the same homogenous group that came before us. We need to be at the planning tables.

  • PODCAST: The Culture Gabfest “The Duchess Has a Vagina” Edition (Slate)

    On this week’s episode, our critics discuss the new Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black, which chronicles the 15 months one woman spent in federal prison and is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name. What does the show say about our obsession with fish-out-of-water middle-class characters caught in a world of crime? And does it continue Netflix’s promising track record of original programming? The gabbers then dissect the unsettling, gorgeous, and absolutely original new documentary The Act of Killing. The film follows several perpetrators of a mass killing of alleged communists in mid-1960s Indonesia as they stage re-enactments of their harrowing techniques and confront their own deeds in the process. Lastly, Simon Doonan joins to add a British perspective as the gabbers chat about the newborn royal baby and ask the key question: Who cares?