Sitting in the Dolby (not Kodak, not Kodak, not Kodak, keep telling yourself that) Theatre in Hollywood, looking at the stage filled with the very large cast of Orange is the New Black, it's surreal to remember that just a few weeks ago, the Oscars were held in the exact same space, and Cate Blanchett was telling studio executives that people care about stories about women.
And last night, Jason Biggs made a joke about putting his penis into a pie.
Even all gussied up, the cast of Orange is the New Black is delightfully crass. Nothing less is expected of them, though. After all, they're on one of the most envelope-pushing shows on TV – and that's saying something, in an age where pushing the envelope has become the norm.]
(A word to the wise, for those unfamiliar with the show: perhaps don't watch the pilot with your parents. It will, most likely, be a very uncomfortable experience for everyone.)
But what's so remarkable about Orange is the New Black is how it treats its subject matter. Everything is very matter-of-fact, nothing is intended to draw viewers just for the sake of having a “special message” episode. Because of this, though, the show, set in a women's prison, has provoked a lot of conversations. As creator Jenji Kohan puts it, “It's normalizing these conversations.”
One of the most obvious examples of this is the increased visibility of the transgender community. Again, a comparison to the Oscars seems inevitable; two weeks ago, Jared Leto, a cisgender man, was accepting an Oscar for playing a transgender woman. Last night, Laverne Cox, a transgender woman who plays a transgender woman, was proudly telling the audience that, “A lot of people are having conversations about trans people that they weren't having before.”
There's an air of conscious nonchalance in the cast. Watching them interact doesn't seem like a peek into a fairytale post-racial world where no one sees race. Such a world is delusional at best, and still harmfully racist at worst. While the cast is cognizant of race and how it shapes their world, and recognize that, the most important thing is their relationships to each other.
And wow, are their relationships entertaining. Actors are, generally speaking, a pretty affable group, and it's easy for casts to get along well on a surface level (or at least give the appearance of an amicable atmosphere), but it's clear that this cast really does love each other, and their pleasant actions aren't just for show.
Take Cox's invitation for Lea DeLaria, who plays Big Boo, to stand up in the audience – and then join them on stage. The entire theater erupted in laughter as DeLaria made her best attempt to clamber up on the slightly too-high stage (she was eventually helped by Biggs and one of the members of the event staff). Or the blurring between Biggs and his character, Larry, which led to a hilariously self-aware moment as Biggs criticized and extolled the major aspects of his personality.
The cast's love for each other is so evident that it was occasionally difficult to follow what they were talking about, as everyone was so excited to talk to each other that the audio devolved into a cacophony at times. As new cast member Lorraine Toussaint put it, “We really do love each other, and we really do have as much fun as it looks like we're having.”
Besides adoration of each other, the most overwhelming sentiment was love for Kohan and the show she's created. “It made us dream differently,” Uzo Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes, said. “I'd never seen that before, that so many women were calling the shots.”
And looking at the stage, which was filled with women calling shots, it was a nice reminder of what feminism and feminist media are truly about. Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, put it best: “It's about telling a true story and giving a voice to those who don't have a voice.”
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