What ‘Orange’ Taught About Women in Prisons

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Photo by cygenta via flickr

Over the seven seasons the Netflix series Orange is the New Black was in production, the scenarios it depicted — based on “the understanding that ‘liberty and justice for all’ is a lie” — became more and more prominent in the news cycle, The Atlantic reports.

An assessment of the show’s impact, as it launches its final season, concludes that its depiction of life in a women’s prison in upstate New York has compelled viewers to see how corrupt institutions can be; how black and brown people are set up to fail by racist systems; how bad luck is often the only thing separating the people in prison from the people outside.

Loosely inspired by Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, Orange‘s Piper Chapman was really just a “Trojan horse” for the other characters whose lives writer Jenji Kohan wanted to explore. Its sprawling, predominantly female cast reflected the demographics of the prison system itself, with a multiplicity of races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

It was among the earliest TV shows to feature a transgender character, Sophia Burset, played by a trans actor, Laverne Cox, and to use that character not for an easy punch line, but to explore the myriad challenges Sophia faced in prison.

Season 7 deals with the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, which leads to the question of how the show will end: With hope, or with realism? With tragedy, or with redemption? “I love situations where people are forced to deal with other people who are unlike them, who have very different experiences, who come from a very different place,” Kohan said. “In those interactions, you have to find common ground and find a way to deal — or not.”

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