The writers of Netflix original, Orange is the New Black, tweeted a group photo on June 2, but the picture went viral last week, because of its lack of diversity. As loyal fans were finishing up season four of the series, they took to their favorite form of social media to express their feelings on the series (good and bad), and saw only white people were hired to tell the stories of black and brown people.
Courtesy of Twitter (@OrangeWriters)
Some thought the writers were “lazy” for focusing heavily on race relations. Due to the numerous acts of police brutality and wrongful acquittals, a lot of people probably did not want to see art imitate life. Instead of once again facing the harsh and depressing realities, maybe they were expecting to see episodes that did not incorporate themes so close to home or see the writers “take the easy way out.” On the other hand, others felt the writing was “brilliant” and “necessary.” With such a popular show that is watched by men and women of all races and religions, the writers decided to evoke the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and remind everyone of the reckless ways black bodies are handled by law enforcement.
(SPOILER ALERT: Don’t Continue Reading If You Didn’t Finish Series!)
At the end of episode 13, the writers and actors depicted specific examples witnessed worldwide. Samira Wiley‘s character, Poussey, is senselessly suffocated like Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Her body is then left on the floor for hours such as Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Lastly, after Litchfield Penitentiary releases a statement solely focusing on the innocence of the guard, Taystee, played by Danielle Brooks, cries out that they did not “say her name,” which were the same demands of people following the death of Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas. In the writers defense, they could have chosen to ignore these happenings altogether. So they are commended for deciding to raise awareness by incorporating the disturbing killings.
However, the problem many blacks voiced was that the writers seemed to be using anguish as mere entertainment instead of diving deeper into the lives of black people first, and how could they do that? The answer is they simply cannot, because they do not and never will have the credentials to do so. At the end of the day, whites can only sympathize but not empathize with obstacles faced by black and brown people. A more diverse group of writers would have made the black and brown narratives easier to accept, because black and brown fans could confidently watch knowing their narratives would not be exploited or simply played with. Of course, Orange is the New Black is not supposed to be somber or serious all of the time. Longtime fans expect comedic relief, but some things just are not funny. Adrienne C. Moore‘s character, for example, is named “Black Cindy” as opposed to just Cindy. Viewers have been told from season 1 that a subtitle based on race must be given to a black girl when she has a “white” name, because stereotypical names are always more befitting. Black Cindy also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when she ignorantly stated with confidence that “black people can be racist.”
Obviously, the writers always do a good job telling the stories from the white perspective. Mainly because the series is centered around Piper Chapman’s experience, which is based on Piper Kerman‘s memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison. Ironically, Judy King, a new character who is very reminiscent of both Martha Stewart and Paula Deen, seemed to be the only European aware of the privileges awarded to her race. Additionally, Judy was temporarily praised by people of color when she put Joel Luschek, Litchfield Penitentiary electrician, into place while he was in the middle of throwing himself a pity party in episode 6 titled “Piece of SH*T” by stating “You are a straight, white man. You don’t get to be the victim, sweetie.”
It is easy to see that the writers sometimes get it, and other times, they just…don’t. All in all, viewers will have to agree to disagree on the outcome of this season and hope for the best with the script moving forward. It is an understatement to say that representation matters. With this in mind, hopefully the producers will take notice and actually consider the feedback given. Until then, this season is still seen as another success. Regardless of how viewers feel, this season certainly got people talking and thinking, which is what creators of any art form always want. Will you be watching next year?