Female Driven Drama: “Orange Is The New Black”

–Heidi Belec

Who would have ever thought that women who laundered money for her lesbian lover in 1993, and then is convicted of that charge a decade later would turn everything around? Piper Kerman did. She went on to write a best selling book Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, and help create a top rated story for Netflix Original series beginning in 2013 (approximately 20 years after her ill fated escapade). Because of her stint in the women’s prison in Danbury Connecticut she also became a great advocate for prisoner welfare. She currently serves on the board for Women’s Prison Association according to an interview on YouTube Piper Kerman, Author of Orange is the New Black Interview by Sarder TV and is an advocate for these women.

With the help of showrunner Jenji Kohan, and a diverse ensemble cast this Netflix Original Series Orange is the New Black burst out of the starting gate with full force and exuberant energy. Mrs. Kohan, who is well known for her union with the Showtime’s TV series Weeds, and with her how unique flare with her beautifully fashioned multi-colored hair, and cat eye black Zyl frames she takes on Orange is the New Black that is heading in for its third season.

The protagonist of the show is Piper Chapman played by Tyler Schilling who portrays the Piper Kerman type character as white, upper middle class, educated women that is on the verge of getting married, and has her whole life in front of her. Paralleling the complicated demotions of Kerman’s life, she plays a bisexual female going though the hells of the court system to land in a Federal pen for 15 months. Federal Prison is a huge learning curve for Piper as she is in processed though the federal system. She is strip searched, photographed, and given the typical prison garb. Little by little she is striped of her individuality as well as her independence. In one scene in the first episode she receives some sage advices from an inmate that is known as Yoga Jones. She so eloquently juxtaposes a story of the crafting of the Tibetan Mandala to Chapman’s time in prison. Work hard, create something worthwhile and then erase it and leave it behind.

From the very first show of the season it is obvious it is not like any other female driven drama. The 2013 article Difficult Women in The New Yorker by Emily Nussbaum highlights past shows such as “Golden Girls” and “Sex and the City” where there are stereotypical characters such as the Slut, the Prude, the Career Women and the Heroine. These are enduring characters that many of us learn to expect and love; however the characters in Orange is the New Black supersedes those confines. Like many real women these ladies don’t fit so neatly in to one of four categories, and there are the rises and pitfalls that many women face. Some these issues are due to their own misgivings, and others to nature of their environment provides them with little other alternative.

Sophia Burset is a post surgery Transsexual female that was arrested for fraud charges. It is inferred that as she made some very difficult decisions on her path to becoming who he was today. One of them was to commit fraud by lifting bank account info and opening up credit cards to pay for many things (including Shoes for her son, and to complete her change) It was eluded that her son turned her in and won’t have anything to really do with her now. Generally she is a mild mannered person, but when the federal Prison board cut back on medication they cut back her hormones because it is view as non-essential medication. She right now is making due with what she has though, and she uses and trades commodities for her working position in the BOP program to run the hair solon in the federal prison. (i.e. Example taking Pipers hair and using it for extensions for Tastee)

Alex Vause is Piper’s drug runner ex girlfriend who gave up Piper’s name to the Feds when she arrested. She initially denies to Piper that she gave up her name, however with some research though her Fiancé and his Lawyer Dad she ends up finding out the truth. Piper and Alex end up having an on again off again relationship though out the first couple seasons. Despite in season two Alex hangs Piper out to dry when she coaches Piper in her denial in knowing the drug dealer that Alex worked for, and then turns around and tells the court the truth on “her involvement with the Drug Dealer”. Alex walks free for a time while Piper goes back to Litchfield Pen.

Crazy eyes (Susan Warren) is a very sensitive, young black woman that seems to have attachment issues. When she sets eyes on Piper you can see a childhood crush bloom as she runs after Piper on the prison track to recite poems to her, picks flowers for her, and hang around her in general. As the series progresses you can see this young women who is generally a good-hearted person search for people to belong to. For the most part Susan is a side character to exude a little comedy relief from time to time, but there are scenes though out the second season that bring out the darker side in Crazy Eyes.

When Piper makes it truly clear that she is not interested in her Crazy eyes simple revenge is urinate by the door of Piper cubicle where she resides with Miss Claudette.

There are so many a great female character in so many diverse rolls in Orange is the New Black however I don’t want to forget about the men in the series. You know even though this is a very feminine based presentation the men on here that make a great impact in a variety of ways.

of ways

From the vile antics of prison guard George Mendez aka “Pornstashe” played by Pablo Schreiber who consistency makes sexual harassment an art form and sells drugs to the inmates in exchange for  “favors” to Piper’s supportive fiancé Jason Biggs character Larry Bloom.

Larry Bloom

Larry who is on the outside of this whole mess but tries to be supportive and help Piper out when ever he can. Even he can slip up and make mistakes as you can see in the second season when he unwittingly begins a relationship with Piper’s best friend. There is also the prison guard John Bennet who falls in love with inmate Dayanara Diaz and gets her pregnant, and lastly Joe Caputo. Caputo who comes off in the first episode as a pervert actually tries to find ways to fight the administration to fix the prison up and make it a safe and health place for the charges under him.

Piper, Alex, Larry, Burset, Warren, Mendez, Bennet and Caputo are among the vast members of this is a multi dimensional cast of characters to blaze the way for the Original Netflix network. As an unconventional long form television show Orange is the New Black brings humor to the Drama of life in a women’s federal penitentiary Litchfield Pen.


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