*Love or hate “Orange is the New Black,” the series is a strong homerun for Netflix.
The brainchild of Jenji Kohan is in the same vein of her other creation, Showtime’s “Weeds.” In both plots, a suburban white woman gets caught up in a fish-out-of-water situation. …But sadly, the water is always teaming with racial stereotypes. (Just Google “showtime, weeds, racial stereotypes.”)
In this case, the water is prison and the depiction of its black and brown inmates has already come under fire in the blogosphere.
University of Pennsylvania English professor Salamishah Tillet wrote in The Nation: “While the show appears to traffic in tired stereotypes about race, class and sexuality, it also, episode by episode, tries to challenge some of those assumptions by filling in the women’s stories through flashbacks and empathy. Sometimes it is successful, and sometimes it is not.”
The Nation’s Aura Bogado planned on avoiding the show based on its title, alone, which she felt referred to race.
“Fans tell me I need to give the series a real chance. If I can just get through the first two episodes, I’ll be content by episode three,” she wrote. “And so I watched and cringed through six whole episodes, called it quits and hope to never again see another one in my entire life. With very little exception, I saw wildly racist tropes: black women who, aside from fanaticizing about fried chicken, are called monkeys and Crazy Eyes; a Boricua mother who connives with her daughter for the sexual attentions of a white prison guard; an Asian woman who never speaks; and a crazy Latina woman who tucks away in a bathroom stall to photograph her vagina (the pornographic image is indiscriminately paraded throughout an entire episode).”
Bogado did acknowledge that “Orange” got it right with the depiction of a transgendered black inmate. “And I can’t deny that the series has created a payroll for many actors of color,” she added.
One of those paychecks goes to Danielle Brooks, who plays inmate Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson.
“Speaking as an African American woman, it’s nice to be on a show where I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of us,” says Brooks, who doesn’t believe her character is a caricature. “What I liked about playing Taystee was that I didn’t feel like I was just playing a stereotype. I felt that the writers were really looking to the core of who these women were. And I really wanted to be a part of that.”
Below, Uzo Aduba, who plays black inmate Crazy Eyes (promoted from recurring to series regular for season 2), says the show’s writing actually made a difference in her decision to take on the role.