By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire August 6, 2013 at 4:00PM
As one of the only television shows currently in production that features a cast of more than a handful of women in of color, "Orange is the New Black" has seen its fair share of Internet punditry.
Writing for the progressive magazine In These Times, Yasmin Nair gives the series "an 'A' on queer issues, a 'C' on race and an 'F' on class." She continues to cover the series' portrayal of the prison system in general by saying, "Rather than recognizing the prison as the Prison Industrial Complex and questioning a system that keeps recirculating people (mostly of color) through its doors in order to survive, the show sees prisons as housing units, almost like sorority houses. The rationale here is that prison can be a fun place, if only some of the worst elements, like solitary confinement or bad food, were taken away."
Salamisha Tillet writes in the Nation, as part of a series of essays about the global epidemic of sexual violence against women, about the show's questionable depiction of sexual assault in prisons, saying, "The show not only reproduces stereotypes that women in prison are untrustworthy and lie about sexual assault, but also cushions the real violence experienced by women in prison as romance."
Some writers are impressed by the way the show deals with queer issues and white privilege, with Von Diaz writing in Colorlines, "A white woman grappling with her diminished privilege in an enclosed space where she is surrounded by people of color is not a typical storyline, but it's at the center of what moves Chapman's otherwise obnoxious persona into something that’s quite interesting to watch. And she doesn't come to terms with her whiteness like, say, Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Dangerous Minds,' a character who suddenly dresses differently and raps with the brown and black youth... Most of the inmates' attitudes towards sexuality are flexible and open, and this fluidity is treated with both tenderness and humor instead of judgement... You certainly have more typical butch and femme dichotomies in the show, but they are mixed in with women who seem simply enjoy having lesbian sex sometimes, a transwoman who is still with the woman she married pre-transition, and the complex emotional love triangle between Chapman, her fiancee, and her ex-girlfriend who's also on the inside."
This weekend, three of the shows actors -- Kate Mulgrew (Red), Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes) and Laverne Cox (Sophia) -- joined "Orange Is the New Black" author Piper Kerman for a talk with MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry.
The roundtable showed that the women are clearly engaging with the politics explored in the show. Cox, who is a prominent trans activist, talks at length about the ways that Sophia's story is a way of dealing with the especially pressing issue of the disproportionate incarceration of transwomen and the harsher sentences trans women have been facing in recent history.
Harris-Perry sets up the conversation by saying that the show is a chance to bring up the issues around prisons in America in a watchable narrative, in a way that makes apparent the dehumanizing that goes on every day within our nation's prisons, all the more important in the nation with the world's largest prison population. Harris-Perry goes on to say that the show's power comes from the way it plays in stereotypes, and the cast is smart in defending the way the show treats its characters. Watch the cast and Kerman field Harris-Perry's questions and start a valuable conversation that should continue as the show does.
Take a look at the clips from the appearace below: