Everybody has feelings about Jenji Kohan’s “Orange is the New Black.” I have all the feelings. Since the show’s debut, we’ve tossed opinions back-and-forth about the cast of characters and the powerfully written narratives that reveal the unseen lives of American’s imprisoned women. But of the many conversations that have surfaced, the most discernible for me is of the legitimacy of Piper Kerman, the memoirist about whom the show was made.
In brief, after getting involved with an international drug dealer, Kerman (a white woman) was indicted for money laundering and spent a year in a woman’s prison – you know, the usual account of a well-to-do white woman who graduated from Smith. She subsequently wrote a best-selling memoir, which was adapted for Netflix. You can watch all of season one there now; I finished it in less than a week.
The show follows her into prison and tells the backstory of several other inmates, many of them women of color. The storyline is emotionally riveting. We’re met with race-related segregation, which mirrors the actual prison experience where racial categories and separation are often strictly enforced. Piper’s race and class privilege are checked in the first episode when it’s revealed that she “read up” on prison etiquette before she arrived. One inmate gives birth in prison and comes back to her bunk child-free, showcasing the reality that two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers and busting the myth that women who labor in prison get to keep their babies. As a birth justice activist, I wished they’d shown the inhumane way in which many prisons shackle women during labor. Keep reading »
I started dating Trent when I was 18 and he was 21. Three dates in, I was hooked. We spent all our free time together, going for drives out in the country, watching the latest movies or just sitting around talking. We were also having the copious amounts of sex you would expect from a couple of smitten, horny young adults.
One day we were sitting around watching a reality television show – a relatively new concept back in the year 2000 – about a girl around my age who got pregnant.
“Wouldn’t it be weird if that happened to us?” I said.
“Yeah, totally weird, but it’d work out okay,” Trent replied without thinking.
I wasn’t convinced, but it did make me think about how I would handle it. The fact that we’d recently had a slip-up in the condom department was also at the forefront of my mind, so after the program ended, I decided to ease my mind by taking a quick pregnancy test. Keep reading »
For the last several years, natural hair “trends” have been on the rise for African-American and other women in the U.S. Just last week, Oprah graced the cover of O Magazine donning an enormous Afro, much bigger than the one she wore in the late ’70s when she first started on primetime. Oprah’s gesture pays tribute to the millions of women who have tossed relaxers and weaves to the side and embraced their own hair — their natural hair.
As I wrote last spring, women of African decent, and some others too, sometimes use a product called a perm to make their hair “more manageable.” These began as a trend in the 1920s so blacks (both men and women) could more readily assimilate into white culture and evade the detriments of racism. If you’ve ever read or watched The Autobiography of Malcolm X, you’ll remember the scene in which he dunked his head in a toilet bowl to find reprieve from the smoldering “conk” (what a perm used to be called) he was using to straighten his hair.
Oprah’s hair was a wig designed by lock guru Andre Walker but the idea of it still persists – Afros, and other natural hairstyles are here to stay … or are they? Keep reading »
Everything you’ve heard about “Fruitvale Station” is true. The biopic, which won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at Sundance, explores the final day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man from Oakland who was shot and killed by a BART officer on New Year’s Day in 2009.
The movie flashes between the past and the present, exploring Grant’s relationship with his four-year-old daughter, his mom, and his girlfriend, who was with him on the night he was shot. After a scuffle on the BART, Grant and his friends, who are all people of color, were detained on the platform. Numerous witnesses filmed the incident with their cell phone cameras, including the moment when Grant, who was unarmed and being restrained by several officers, was shot in the back. That cop claimed he had meant to reach for his Taser; he served less than one year of prison. My three friends and I legitimately bawled for the last 10 minutes of the film. Keep reading »
It’s safe to say that Netflix’s latest original series, “Orange is the New Black,” is nothing short of binge-worthy. I devoured the entire first season in under 96 hours (seriously). Groundbreaking on many levels, the show openly displays queer female sexuality and features a uniquely complex portrayal of a black transgender woman (played by the brilliant black trans actress Laverne Cox). What’s more, the vibrant cast of diverse characters offers viewers a rare exploration of what privilege is and how it works. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the show’s main character, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a perfect lesson in privilege.
I can’t stand Piper. I find her whiny, entitled, possessive, incredibly self-obsessed, an emblem of unchecked privilege. But I actually think that’s intentional; Piper would be the character we all root for, when in reality, she seems to be one of the least liked. As Salamishah Tillet noted over at The Nation, the main character of “Orange” probably had to be white and college-educated for the show (and memoir upon which it’s based) to get picked up, and this is a valid point. But with Piper, we’re also forced to come face to face with her privilege, and we can’t stand what we see. [Spoilers after the jump!] Keep reading »