Orange Is the New Black pushes boundaries with Laverne
Orange Is the New Black, a Netflix original series, is based on the true story of a white woman, Piper Chapman, who was tied up in the wrong crowd and sent to a women’s prison. While the story is compelling, what draws viewers in the diversity, or lack of diversity, seen in the show. Out of all of the characters the most interesting has to be Sophia Burset, played by Laverne Cox, although she is rarely seen in the early seasons of the Netflix original.
Laverne Cox has faced many setbacks in the entertainment industry. What setbacks you ask? Well, Cox is the first openly transgender actress in a major series while she is also black. While the two attributes are working against Cox in the industry, she has recently found success with her character, Sophia Burset, in Orange Is the New Black obtaining a deeper storyline in season five when compared to previous seasons of the show. Cox, having transitioned herself, gravitated toward the backstory of her character undergoing transition, and dealing with the repercussions from other female inmates, while incarcerated. Cox’s character minds her own business passing time as a hairdresser for the other inmates and that is all show, viewers see Sophia dealing with the struggles of being a transgender woman, which are only made worse by her being black in a prison where the majority of inmates are white. Through season four viewers see Cox’s characters struggle, but do not realize showcasing the struggle of her character is groundbreaking for the entertainment industry.
It is a well-known fact Hollywood has received criticism for “white-washing” characters and casting minorities as comic relief, or in small, supporting roles and not letting minorities, like black people, lead a series because show runners fear bad ratings. While the fear of bad ratings may be justified in the minds of those who produce, create, and cast television shows it is not a reason to rule out talent and the chance to give a voice to an issue bigger than Hollywood itself. Laverne Cox is the first individual capable of telling the story millions of transgender black women across America wish they had seen before. Cox’s role in Orange Is the New Black is more than just a way to pay the bills, but a way to bring awareness to the criticismsminorities like Cox, and others of us, face everyday. While Cox’s character is getting a bigger storyline in the newest season of the Netflix show, the shift in focus shines a light on black women. Cox’s role is truly groundbreaking for the entertainment industry and has paved the way for more diverse stories to be told so let’s hope Hollywood listens and continues this trend.
Article by Tess Hanson
Cover photo source here