I was a big fan of “Orange Is The New Black” who watched every episode since the series debuted on Netflix back in 2013. Despite the show revolving around the not-so-tragic life of Piper Chapman, a very lily-white, middle-classed woman who ended up in a woman’s prison for drug-related crimes mostly perpetrated by her ex-girlfriend, its diverse cast, character-driven storytelling approach and what seemed to be very down-to-earth humor captivated me and provided an outlet for much of the angst I was experiencing as a black woman with very few to no shows that spoke to women’s realities. I binge watched the heck out of almost every season, and even watched some twice for good measure.
However, I used the word “was”, when referring to myself as a fan because a recent tweet released by the show’s writing staff once again has me at odds with my relationship to American media and may challenge the merits of this once beloved relationship between myself and OITNB.
Behold, the show’s writing staff:
— Orange Writers Room (@OrangeWriters) June 2, 2015
*Cue the indignation*
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) June 20, 2016
Like myself, many on Twitter are questioning the absence of women of color on the writing staff for a show that profits from telling stories not only about prison, but also specifically about the experiences of women of color.
— Meek from Statefarm (@ifthisworldwere) June 20, 2016
@OrangeWriters how can you cover these issues with NO ONE representing on your writing staff from these races? You've lost me.
— Hannah Drake (@HannahDrake628) June 20, 2016
A show meant to highlight the realities of existing in America’s prison industrial complex, which has been responsible for the incarceration of people of color at far more outrageous rates than that of whites. In the context of a conversation about women, 30 percent of the prison system’s inmates are black woman and 16 percent are Latina. As many on Twitter have already asked, why should a group of white writers be responsible for the telling of our stories?
While some endeavor to protect creative work production from the scrutiny of necessary inclusivity, have it exist in a colorblind space where it is accessible to all, where art can be created by and inspired by any, regardless of race, the ramifications of this “artistic freedom” are truly damning. In short, and plainly, OITNB White writers are directly profiting from the incarceration of people of color by hijacking and telling these stories for profit. They are profiting from the already for-profit oppression and exploitation of people of color and we, as viewers, are enabling that. And they have the gaul to do so under the pretext of bringing diversity to our screens?
This is the convoluted mess that is a racist and broken societal structure. Wherein whites can profit from the marginalization and oppression of entire populations and then further profit from the packaging and repackaging of that injustice in the form of entertainment. As a once viewer and supporter of Orange Is The New Black, I myself am complicit in the exploitation of WOC and their stories. I simply do not know how to come to terms with that.
In truth, there is no way for me to reconcile my relationship to this series without serious action being taken to diversify its writing staff. The stories of Black women who struggle through America’s prison system most certainly should be told. We have more than enough voices capable of doing so from our communities.