Orange is the New Black took the world by storm after it’s season one debut in 2013. The show is a Netflix original series is based off of Piper Kerman’s best-selling book about her time served in a women’s prison; she served 13 months out of a 15 month sentence for money laundering. For quite a long time I had heard amazing reviews about the shows content, the humor, the casting, and the character development, not to mention I was already a fan of Jenji Kohan, but I still never found the time to start it. It took me a long time to jump on the bandwagon, I was worried it was just all hype. Last Thanksgiving while stuck at school I finally decided to give the show a slot in my very busy Netflix schedule, and now I’m extremely glad I did!
Orange is the New Black may not be the most factual depiction of life in a female prison, but it’s also not entirely fictional. I think the believable circumstances are important when we take a look at many of the amazing characters. OITNB is an incredibly diverse show, and that diversity allows us to break through and crush social barriers. In just one episode that I watched earlier today the show discussed mother daughter relationships, the hardships of parenthood, rape, trans awareness and safety (especially in the prison system), and victim blaming. One episode allowed for discussion to open about any of those topics, and that’s powerful.
While watching the show I began to feel connections with many of the characters. Kohan and Kerman have created characters that connect with the audience despite socioeconomic backgrounds or personal experience. The audience feels empathy towards the characters, the more invested in the show you get, the more you view the fictional struggles as real struggles. I noticed the more I watched, and the more I learned about where these characters came from, the more I saw them as simply human beings, perhaps with a couple flaws.
In my opinion OITNB is a great show because it makes me feel the emotions the characters are feeling; it’s an emotional roller coaster in the best way possible. I noticed the empathy I felt for these characters in the show made me rethink what my gut reaction was to people in the real world. It’s hard to judge someone if you don’t know anything about them, yet somehow most people are surprisingly quick to judge strangers everyday. We can’t judge another person without understanding why they make the choices they make, but the process of understanding makes it difficult to truly judge someone.
The mass media can do great things for opening up our horizons and exposing us to perspectives we would never encounter on our own. OITNB sounds like it did that for you. Keep seeking out mass media experiences that do that!