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The Netflix series Orange is the New Black is a show, which uses its plot and character in order to portray themes of race, sexuality, class, and gender. These themes are conveyed in the short Netflix series based upon the view of today’s society. With these themes, not only are societal norms and visions revealed, but so are many inconvenient truths, one of them being that more African Americans are sentenced to prison than Caucasians each year. Not only this, but the show also reveals how many women also become incarcerated even though many people do not automatically visualize their imprisonment. Although the show is fictional it does a great job at exposing the realities of lives in prison.
One of the ways the show conveys these realities is through the exposure of all aspects of prison life for female prisoners, since for the most part, an all women prison is not something that one would first think of when correction facilities are brought up due to what society displays to us normally. Orange The New Black takes a turn at showing at showing the dynamic within this prison. In the show all the main characters are women with a few male supporting roles. The plot is centered around the story of Piper’s incarceration. Piper is an upper class
young white woman who was sentenced to jail time for previous degenerate actions in her past. The show follows how Piper copes with prison life and her countless interactions with fellow inmates. Smith, who analyzed the series, calls this perspective “white gaze,”(Smith). Smith argues that everything in the show is shown through an upper class white person. An example of “white gaze” would be for a viewer to notice how differently the African American culture talks from the white inmates or how the stereotypical African American would look. For instance, one of the scenes in the series takes place in a barbershop and all of the inmates in this scene are black with crazy hairstyles. This “white gaze” mentality makes sense because Piper is the main character and the show is shown through her journey and how she is coping with being the new inmate.
Although Orange is the New Black is a Netflix series, it does a good job at relaying the realities we are faced with every day. In the series it made known that there are more non-white inmates than white inmates. A study shows that whites born from 1969-1999 that are still in high school or just graduated only 7.5 percent of them go to prison, to where 14.2 percent of blacks are given a sentence. Even after high school whites only have a 33.4 percent chance of getting a sentence to prison and blacks are at 43 percent (Schanzenbach). This information proves that even though they are just characters the producer had an idea that realistically there are more African Americans incarcerated than whites or other wise he could have put more white people in the series.
Ethnicity between the female inmates is not the only thing that contrasted to the national average, but genders are also put under the spotlight, especially the truths regarding the reality that both genders experience incarceration. The national average of women sentenced to prison is 5.7 percent. Now comparing women inmates to male inmates a survey was conducted and of the total sample of 11,397 inmates, 2,255 were women (Huey Dye). When comparisons were made between female and male prisoners on personal characteristics, of the 2,255 women that were surveyed, most of them were somewhat older and more commonly black, separated, divorced, and widowed (Huey Dye). This notion that many women in jail are African American was well represented in the show. Characters like “Crazy Eyes,” Taystee, Poussey Washington, and Eliqua Maxwell are just a few of the African American characters within the show that are single, and can come to the conclusion that most of them only have a high school education.
Another aspect of the show are the parts where the women are breaking ground rules. In the show one of the white characters, Red, illegally finds a way to have contraband items smuggled into the facility that the inmates will then buy off her. Red isn’t the only inmate that brings contraband items as Vee does too. In the real world a survey that was conducted showed that nearly 41 percent of the female inmates have been found guilty of breaking prison rules during the current incarceration. As the series goes on near the end the black inmates start producing drugs that they hide in the storage facility.
Also, in the series Orange is the New Black the show does a great job a incorporating a chain of command. One of the characters, Vee, shows and represents this system of command very well. In the series the character Vee, takes care of her fellow African American inmates who have earned her respect. Some of the benefits that were well expressed were things like protection from other inmates and other special treatments. However, in the show in order for the inmates to receive theses special treatment they had to do something worthy of gaining Vee’s respect. After speaking with a prison guard, he stated that “Within prison systems especially women’s, it is very common for the chain of command to be more of a family than for males. The majority of the time there will be a “Mom” and the rest will be daughters or something of that sort. Just like in male prison there are gangs, in female prisons there are families” (Narcaviage). In the series when Piper first arrives she does not want anything to do with anyone and just wants to do her time and leave, but after a while she realizes that she needs help of the other inmates to stay out of trouble. “A good amount of the time inmates will need to prove to the hierarchy that they are worthy enough to be in that family or gang” (Narcaviage). This whole family concept is very well represented in Orange is the New Black especially with the African American population.
Interconnecting with the family system prison life is a society within a society, meaning that within the four walls of the prison a separate society is still happening. During the series, there are moments of flash backs or even when Piper receives her pass from the prison it shows her functioning in the normal society. Although there are some differences between her functioning outside of prison than inside life is very similar in different ways. For instance, within the prison, as stated earlier there is an exchange of products there is a form of currency. Along with the exchange of goods and other products there are normal-society relating things such as the family system which takes place inside the prison. During the interview with the former prison guard he stated that,
“Although these people are locked up society still continues like it would if they were free people. Money still flows from hand to hand, sex still happens whether its same sex or not, there are still rules that the inmates need to follow just like everyday people would need to do. In other words prison is a society within a society” (Narcaviage).
Everything the Mr. Narcaviage said is well represented in the series. The follow of money and products between inmates the character Red takes charge of, the family system that the African American culture embraces with “Mom” and the other characters, the sexual relationships that happen, and lastly the rules that all the inmates somewhat follow.
Although Orange is the New Black is a fictional Netflix series it is well represented by what happens in reality. Everything from the race difference that is statistically proven in real life, to the educational differences, the illegal trafficking of contraband items that occurs inside the prison. In all the show is proven to be more than a fictional rip off, but to be a close spitting image of real life prison society.
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