Motherhood. Faith. Responsibility. Unexpected. Volatile. Badass. These are a few of the (and, let’s face it, some of the only) words that the "Orange is the New Black" show creator Jenji Kohan and her cast used to describe the Season 3 arcs of Netflix’s dark horse hit about the inhabitants of a women’s prison in upstate New York.
"I’ve been saying it’s a season of faith and motherhood," said Kohan at a Netflix For Your Consideration event for "Orange is the New Black" on Wednesday. Selenis Levya, who plays Gloria on the show, agreed, saying "you’re going to get to see what happens when a mother is protecting her own, and when she’s protecting what she’s created in prison to be her own."
Kohan joined Levya and her fellow cast members Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Laverne Cox for a post-screening panel discussion and Q&A at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. The recent Emmys controversy over the show’s placement in the drama category was very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and questions about it kicked off the 45-minute panel.
"It’s very important to me to play in both worlds, because I don’t think anything is all serious or all funny," explained Kohan when asked how she feels about the genre confusion. "I remember watching dramas and thinking, when there was no humor or no comic relief, that they did not reflect any sort of reality, because there’s no such thing as life without humor."
She went on to explain that humor is particularly important as a defense mechanism for the incarcerated women. "I mean, the true reality of their situations is… you can’t survive if you can’t laugh about it. As someone who’s writing this and spending her days typing like today, I couldn’t survive without it."
Choices and Discovery
"The thing that I think is interesting about Piper is that she did make some wrong choices," said Schilling while discussing the aspects of her life that she drew from for the show. "I think that I can certainly look back on my own life and see places where, had I made a left turn instead of a right turn, things would be different, and it’s how do you negotiate with that."
Similarly, Cox didn’t believe that her character Sophia had any regrets for the choices that landed her in prison. "So many transgender people for decades have been doing what they have to do to survive, to get to the person that they know that they are going to be," she explained. "There’s a reason why we make choices and we can rationalize those things as important when we’re constructing a character to find that rationale."
Nudity Concerns (And the Infamous Anatomy Lesson)
Asked if there was anything in the scripts that caused them to call Kohan for a pre-shoot pep talk, that cast was hard pressed to come up with an answer. "Gosh, I would never do that," answered a nonplussed Levya. "That’s like going to God and saying ‘Listen,’" she continued with a laugh.
Schilling, on the other hand, has had lots of discussions with Kohan. "I’ve been scared of the nudity," she said. "What it always comes back to, and why I think these conversations are so valuable, is that we get to the truth of the scene, and there’s never anything gratuitous on this show."
Kohan agreed with her star, adding, "It’s asking a lot to say get naked in front of the crew and be vulnerable, so I better have a good reason."
Discussing the origin of the female anatomy lesson that Sophia gives her fellow inmates in Season 2 led to a lot of laughs. "Well, that started in the room, because we were all getting confused," explained Kohan to laughs from the audience. "We had a lot of very intimate discussions, and finally it was just like… why are we all not squatting over mirrors?"
On Being Beautiful (Or Not)
Body positivity was another theme of the night, and one which the panelists kept returning to over the course of the discussion. "We still have this prudish, puritanical culture but we also have so little exposure to a diversity of bodies," said Kohan at one point. "Bodies are beautiful and great and compelling."
Mulgrew had a sassy comeback ready to go. "Or not," she responded with a laugh.
Cox had a lot to say as well — on a more serious note — about the many different types of bodies on the show. "It validates people’s experience. So many people, I think, have watched our show and felt their experiences, their bodies, their gender identity, their sexuality, their age validated in the diverse women that are portrayed on our show. When you see someone like you on TV it’s like ‘Okay, I exist now.’"
Earlier in the night, she brought up the response that the trans community has had to her nudity on the show. "I met with a trans friend of mine here in LA last week, and we hadn’t talked in awhile and we were talking about the show. She said when she saw me–my bare breasts and booty in Season 1–as a [fellow] black trans-woman she was like, ‘Yes! We have a new narrative for transgender bodies. We’re not trapped, we’re not hating our bodies, we have this new narrative.’"
Brooks got emotional while talking about her own body struggles in relation to the show, citing how happy she is to be an object of love and affection even though she doesn’t fit the fashion magazine’s standards of beauty. "Being a woman of curves, I really find that it’s very important to talk about loving your body where you are," she said. "I didn’t see many examples of myself [on television], and to be that girl that I wanted to see, I’m grateful for that."
Anticipating Season 3
"You’re not going to get away without telling us a little something about Season 3," Kohan was told near the end of the panel. But she stayed strong, refusing to divulge much information about Season 3 other than the broadest of strokes and scolding the audience for being impatient for spoilers. "It’s a little lighter than Season 2, [which] was sort of ‘Oz’ came to Litchfield," she eventually relented. "As it progresses you get to know these people more, and that’s really exciting."
In keeping with the tight-lipped theme of the night, Mulgrew was cryptic as well about Red’s Season 3 storyline. "I redefine my motherhood in Season 3 and I venture into waters that are uncharted, and they may be dangerous waters," she told Indiewire before the screening. "Keep your eye on my bobbing head, because I may be surfing those waves."
The wait is almost over for fans of the show — all 14 episodes of Season 3 will be via Netflix on June 12. Until then, happy re-watching!