1. Advancing The Visibility Of Transgender Individuals
Laverne Cox's moving, hilarious performance as Sophia Burset has given her a platform both onscreen and off. She became the first transgender person to cover TIME magazine back in 2014, and, since the show's premiere, has used her fame as a platform from which to tell her story and empower others. And this goes beyond just Cox herself: “What we’re seeing now is trans folks taking more control over how our stories are told and challenging the ways in which trans stories have been told,” she said at a speech at Harvard University.
2. Emphasizing Diversity In Casting
OITNB has a large cast that includes a very diverse set of actresses — and the series never fails to treat their stories with depth and complexity. Oftentimes, characters of different races are relegated to "token" status on television, but OITNB puts their stories front and center, and discusses issues of race and class head-on.
3. Promoting Empathy
In his review of Season 2, The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff wrote, "Put simply, this is one of the most empathetic shows in the history of television... its ambition and audacity in storytelling grew to match its already present but quietly revolutionary insistence on treating every character in its universe like a human being with oceans of stories to tell." By treating its characters with respect and going deep into their backstories and psyches, OITNB promotes understanding of people who may be different.
4. Exposing Corruption In The Prison System
Piper Kerman — the real, O.G. Piper who wrote the memoir OITNB is based on — is a consultant on the show and uses the success of OITNB to advocate for criminal justice reform. The show sheds light on issues of prisoner abuse, racism, transphobia, and transmisogyny, which have been largely unseen by the public in television and film.
5. Challenging Heteronormativity
OITNB offers a diverse set of storylines to LGBT characters, and demonstrates how sexuality is a spectrum. Piper's sexual fluidity is central to the plot, and same-sex female relationships are the norm — not something often seen on TV.
6. Humanizing Inmates
As Bustle's very own Rachel Simon pointed out last year, OITNB has changed the way we view former inmates. Simon explains, "as the series gains in popularity, more and more people are beginning to understand that, more often than not, a person’s crime is not their defining characteristic. Though this doesn’t mean that former inmates can now easily find work or avoid discrimination, it does mean that the public’s greater understanding could begin to set progress in motion."
7. Putting Women In The Lead
“There are women of all different shapes. Many of the characters are over 40. There are short women, straight, gay, old; everyone is represented here,” Lorraine Toussaint (Vee) told the New York Post in an interview. "I think the show will change how women are seen in Hollywood. There’s this myth that female-driven shows can’t be successful or can’t make as much money domestically or abroad [as shows about men], and this show has blown that all out of the water.”
Much like how the diverse casting motivated popular networks to follow suit, the success of OITNB prompted Hollywood to start putting more women in the lead. This season we had How to Get Away With Murder on ABC (fronted by the talented and gorgeous Viola Davis) and female-fronted movies like Spy. While we are nowhere near where we ought to be with regard to female representation in the media, the success of OITNB got the ball rolling, and that's worth paying attention to.
Images: Netflix (7)