If you're like me, a Netflix-binging enthusiast, then you might be experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms from the latest and final season of Orange is the New Black (OITNB). In the midst of saying goodbye to all of our favorite problematic cast members, we can take some time to reflect on the previous season and its impact and significance on society.
OITNB - for the most part - has been a highly dramatized version of a real life memoir from the protagonist herself, Piper Kirman (Piper Chapman in she show). Originally the show strayed away from the books authenticity to add drama and theatrical value for streams. However season 4 of OITNB was the catalyst for the show to stop imitating the life of one, and instead portray the lives of many.
This might go without saying, but just in case: *SPOILERS*
Season 5 started with a bang! Literally. One of the main characters, Daya, fires a gun at a guard out of retaliation. Retaliation for what exactly? Well, for that we have to go back one more episode, the last episode of season 4 - and arguably one of the saddest episodes in the series. The final episode in season 4 displayed the death of a fan-favorite inmate, Poussey Washington, who was suffocated due to police brutality, resulting in turmoil, chaos, and a season long riot. This was the first instance of the show straying from the book’s narrative to instead tell a message relevant to the current social climate.
When Season 4 of OITNB was released, the Black Lives Matter movement had reached its peak in popularity, garnering a lot of media attention and coverage. However, we all know that the things we hear and see in the news do not last forever, and many of us are guilty of forgetting and downplaying events that we aren't constantly thinking about or deeply invested in. Well, what's a better way to be reminded of an important social issue than seeing it reiterated in one of your favorite shows or showing it happening to one of your favorite characters? By demonstrating this police brutality through characters people have an emotional attachment to, the show demands a stronger investment in these social issues.
The death of Poussey Washington by suffocation may have been written into script during 2014 (a year before season 4 was released) due to the untimely death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was suffocated in an illegal chokehold while being arrested by the police. Eric Garner’s death (July 17, 2014) led to numerous protests and the popularization of the phrase “We can't breathe”.
This theme of showing social issues through the perspective of loved characters was reiterated again through the 7th and final season of OITNB. As of now in America, one of the most taxing problems that are reiterated on the news every day is the subject of immigration at our southern border. Whether you are for or against, it is hard to truly understand the agony and suffering that innocent people must sometimes endure in order to secure a better life. But because it is so hard to stomach, some people stray away from learning more about immigration. Well, if you are one of the 5.3 million viewers of OITNB, then you were forced to see the conditions and circumstances that people are experiencing right now.
Some moments in the show, like the scene of the two toddlers defending themselves in immigration court, may have seemed ridiculous to a number of viewers; however, due to not being provided a lawyer in court and having been separated from their parents, people are faced with the facts that children held in immigration now are met with the same circumstances. The show does well in showcasing the unfair and seemingly ridiculous reality that many immigrants experience.
Portraying difficult and sometimes unsettling real life scenarios in film and TV are mostly beneficial in the long run. Whether you're for or against immigration, this last season humanized and put recognizable and charismatic faces on the stories that are reiterated daily in the news cycle. People who may not have paid much attention to the news because of lack of interest or disregard for others might have had a change of heart or at the very least a better understanding of the harsh reality that many immigrants face. Increasing awareness and garnering empathy for the social issues thousands of people face every day is enough to warrant screenwriters to include these issues into the show. Even if you don’t support the movements started by these social issues, OITNB succeeds in portraying these issues in a different and more personal light than many news platforms can. And through these personal connections, viewers have, at the very least, a better understanding of the harsh struggles many of these voiceless populations face.