The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

‘Orange is the New Black’: Revelation or exploitation?

This July, Netflix released its original series “Orange is the New Black.”

Soon thereafter, Netflix subscribers picked up the show and raved about the diverse cast and portrayal of queer women. That is, until the media slandered the show for being ridden with what they called racial stereotyping.

While media sources made racist claims about the show, I believe the show’s writers did a superb job of developing each character and giving them a personal story.

This was often accomplished through flashbacks to their lives before prison. In doing so, they gave each woman authenticity.

Each character is portrayed as an individual who made a faulty decision which brought them into the prison system.

In contrast, the media has pointed out that while there is a range of diverse female actors on the show, they play the role of prisoners.

“I’m simply not entertained by shows that feature large numbers of black people exiting, entering or already in prison,” wrote Allison Samuels in an editorial for The Daily Beast.

Media sources such as Aura Bogado, contributor to The Nation, have compared the concept of “Orange is the New Black” to a slave narrative. This is the idea that a white person must authenticate a black person’s experience before it becomes credible.

“All of these characters must be filtered through Piper Chapman, the white protagonist who will experience the inevitable erosion of yuppie convictions that make her so wide-eyed,” wrote Doug Barry in a similar editorial for Jezebel.

The real-life Chapman, Piper Kerman, wrote the book “Orange is the New Black” with the intention of reforming the prison system, although the media attributes Kerman’s rise to fame to her being an out-of-place white woman in the prison system.

But the show’s popularity shouldn’t be accredited to the fact that a white person validated this story, and should instead be attributed to creator Jenji Jones for her ability to present such a compelling show.

“I think the intention was to portray her story in the truest form, so I credit the popularity to how realistic her story is,” said sophomore Kaitlin Sullivan.

While some reviewers denounced the show for its racial implications, many have praised the show for the portrayal of queer women on television, as there were multiple, intricate lesbian relationships on the show.

“‘Orange is the New Black’ does a solid job representing queer women as part of a larger spectrum beyond sexuality,” wrote Michael Gold in an editorial for The Baltimore Sun.

Progressive for the entertainment industry today, the cast includes transgender actress Laverne Cox, who plays a transgender prison mate. In an industry that typically places transgender individuals in prostitute roles, this show provided Cox the opportunity to portray a character with depth.

“The topic of transgender individuals has become more mainstream over time, which can be seen as a sign of progress,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Naadiya Hasan.

These racial accusations only became an issue when the media created this controversy. The industry thrives off of creating scandals that will appeal to the general public.

Mass media ultimately controls the information we receive and the way we perceive our world, which is unfortunate in cases such as this when racist accusations are made against a high-quality production.

In order for progress to be made, we must first create our own stance on an issue before considering the media’s biased message. This will prevent the spread of embellished information cultivated by the media with disingenuous goals in mind.

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