Okay, so.... I don't know about you guys but I shotgunned all 13 episodes of OITNB on Thursday when they premiered and I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!
Firstly, *BLANKET SPOILER ALERT*. I'm not good at talking about things without details. So, if you haven't seen it yet, and don't want to be spoiled accidentally, STOP READING RIGHT NOW.
Firstly, I love that even though the show is billed as being about Taylor Schilling's character Piper, the show is actually really about ALL the women. At the heart of it, the show is about women. Each episode you get a nice little glimpse into the lives one of the inmates had before she ended up in prison, and you learn about her motivations for her decisions, and the reason for her outlook on life.
My favourite episode was episode three, Lesbian Request Denied. The episode largely stars transgender actress Laverne Cox, playing transgender character Sophia (my favourite character). I really, really, really, loved seeing a trans woman of colour being represented in media so well and with so much depth. Laverne is a SPECTACULAR actress, and I almost cried several times during her episode.
Basically we see that before her transition she was a fireman. She is married with a young son. Her wife is very supportive of her transition, but begs her to keep her penis. The rest of the episode deals with Sophia coming out to the people in her life. Her son is not too fond of the situation and acts out a lot. She runs into a ex-co-worker while out buying shoes with her son. The co-worker freaks out and leaves, causing the son to run off. Later she gets arrested for having stolen credit cards, and if I read the scene right, it was her son that turned her in.
There is also a scene early on in the episode of Sophia dressing as a woman for presumably the first time with the help of her wife. She looks silly because she's wearing teen clothing, so her wife gives her one of her own dresses to wear instead. She can't zip it up because she's taller and bigger, but it fits her relatively well, and she looks into the mirror and says "Oh my God. I'm hot." It was such an amazingly beautiful moment. If you didn't cry you are a robot. Later in the season we also see Sophia freak out when her estrogen pills are taken away due to "budget cuts". She completely loses it, worrying about the changes her body will go through without the hormones.
I don't know about you guys, but I have never been so firmly been slapped in the face with my privilege as a cisgender woman. (In a good way). I can't even conceive of what it must feel like to not just fight all your life to be the person you know you are, but then to risk losing it all because of bureaucracy bullshit. You can feel Sophia's desperation at knowing that her facial hair will grow back an her boobs will sag etc. I have a whole new respect for trans women because of this show. I even tweeted Laverne Cox to say so and she replied (!) to say that trans women are some of the most courageous people she knows.
But enough about Sophia. (NEVER!) There are so many women and characters in this show and they're all amazing. There's Taystee, who actually gets out halfway through the season, then purposely gets thrown back in, because she finds adjusting to life on the outside so difficult. There's Janae, who was on the way to becoming a track star, but wanted to let loose, and ended up taking the rap for a robbery. There's Crazy Eyes, who is slightly off kilter, but has a huge heart. She initially tried to make Piper her wife. There's Red, an older Russian lady who runs the kitchen and takes so much pride in feeding everyone. She has helped several of the inmates get off drugs. There's Daya, who falls in love with and gets pregnant by one of the guards. (Yikes!) The pregnancy however helps patch up her relationship with her mother Maria, who is also incarcerated. There's Piper's roomie Miss Cladette who everyone is afraid of because she's rumoured to have murdered someone.
There are all these women, these people who, though in jail, have found ways to keep their identities, and their individuality. For me, that was the best part. The fact that the show went out of it's way to show that each person has a story, and a history.
The show also deals with race quite delicately and quite well. The prison is divided along racial lines largely, but the women understand the symbiotic nature of their relationships to each other. Where race really comes in, is in how Piper is treated on her arrival: the warden Healy (a white guy. Natch), essentially tells her that he'll look out for her because her knows that "she's better than these other women" by virtue of being white and educated. There's also Pornstache. OH HOW I HATE PORNSTACHE. (That is literally his name for like 9 episodes! Lol) Who abuses his power, intimidates the women, and oh yea, runs a drug smuggling ring through Red's kitchen. FUCK PORNSTACHE.
I also loved the way they dealt with the relationship between the women and the mostly male guards. There is this intense power dynamic. Not only are these women criminals, but they're women whose safety is literally dependent on the whims of a group of men who see them as little more than animals. Aside from a younger female guard who comes in later in the season, they treat them as though they aren't even people, and disregard the very real concerns that they have as PEOPLE. Healy even throws Piper in solitary at one point because he's so personally upset that she has reconnected with Alex, her ex-GF, and fallen into "lesbian ways". (They were grinding at a thanksgiving party) I can't even go into it too much because it makes me so ragey. If the real Piper's experiences were true to the show, I'm not at all surprised that she ended up doing so much work in the prison system. I wanted to do exactly that after watching the show.
OMG that was really long. Sorry. But what did you guys think? What did you think about the depictions of these women and their stories? There are also a TON of WoC on the show which I love, but it also just occurred to me that that fact might be less about inclusion in Hollywood and more about accurately reflecting the demographic spread in prisons... *balloon deflates*. But I'm still happy about it, and I'm EXTREMELY happy about the way the show deals with sexuality. Piper even says at one point that sexuality is like a sliding scale. I love this show so hard, and I can't wait for season 2.
WHAT DID YOU LADIES THINK?!?!?
PS. Fun fact, Jill Greenberg, who took the above photo, is the same woman who did those crying baby, take-away-your-candy photos that were so hilarious!