5 Ways Orange Is The New Black Endorsed Social Activism

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Though not all the characters get happy endings, Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) ends its final season with a way to elicit positive change for the characters highlighted during its seven seasons. Promoting the Poussey Washington Fund during its final season is a novel way for the show to use the community it has created for good. Throughout its run, Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) addresses obstacles white, upper-class inmates face as well as issues like racism, sexual harassment, prison education, pay inequality, and so much more.

Orange Is The New Black Defies The Issues

Some shows confronting modern issues remain not always well-received. Take 13 Reasons Why, for example, the series is under backlash for the way it portrays suicide. While Orange Is The New Black shows multiple suicides, the way they address grim reality opens viewers’ eyes to the systemic issues that led to the deaths.

Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) presents inmates, guards, and corporate heads alike as the humans we all are. Humans who make good and bad decisions are in the wrong place at the wrong time and have our own lens that we see the world through. It makes us care about those some might see as villains and shows the dark side of people we hold as the “good guys.”

Poussey Washington eating in Orange Is The New Black
Credit: (2014) Netflix — JoJo Whilden

One of these archetype “good guys” is the prison guard who, albeit accidentally, murdered Poussey Washington at the end of season four. Poussey’s death is one of the key incidents that set up the riot in season five and thus the final story arc of the show. Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) shifts our black and white views of the world and plays in the gray. Pushing the boundaries of our world view helps us be more willing to help change the flawed world we face.

Orange Is The New Black Defines The Issues

The show does an exceptional job of helping us understand how easily we could end up in the shoes of the inmates. No matter who you are, there is probably a character that mirrors your background, personality, or motivation. Because viewers see themselves in the faces of Litchfield Penitentiary, they remain compelled to not only continue watching but to care for every character.

Taystee Jefferson in the Litchfield penitentiary library
Credit: Netflix (2019)

There are a plethora of characters that face issues. While the following character arcs are at the forefront of issues supported by the Poussey Washington Fund, they are just a fraction of the problems the show brings to light.

1. Pennsatucky

When we first met Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, she seemed like a drug-addicted inmate who only cares about herself and her faith. As the show progresses, her story fleshes out and we see how her experiences have shaped her worldview. Her story’s ending brings attention to the need for better education programs in prison and how much those programs mean to inmates. In order to promote education in prison, the Poussey Washington Fund gives towards the College and Community Fellowship.

2. Piper & Aleida

Piper Chapman and Aleida Diaz achieved — what in their earlier seasons seemed to be the ultimate goal: getting out. However, their problems continue throughout the parole and release process. This gives a glimpse of how hard it is to get back on your feet after doing time. Even if one does receive help from friends and affluent families, new releases face employment difficulties, social stigmas, and financial troubles. A New Way Of Life and The Anti-Recidivism Coalition help address these issues in an empowering way and are supported by the fund.

3. Maritza & Blanca

The final season launches a campaign for ICE detainees and demonstrates how impossible justice seems for those with containment. With Maritza being deported and Blanca fighting tooth and nail to achieve her freedom, Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) brings to light why we need to implement better immigration policies. Freedom For Immigrants and Immigrant Defenders are the Poussey Washington funded organizations that help fight for the rights of detainees.

Maritza and Blanca at an ICE detention center in Orange Is The New Black
Credit: Netflix (2019)

4. Crazy Eyes, Lorna, & Lolly

Susanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, Lorna Morello, and Lolly Whitehill represent the overlooked prison population that needs better mental health services. Whether it’s a long-term issue or brought on by trauma in the prison itself, those with mental health needs require better options.

Over-medicating and isolation are quick fixes used in private prisons, as demonstrated by the show. While this may work at times, addressing the underlying issues is essential in order for the prison to be a place of rehabilitation for inmates. To combat this, the fund supports the Women’s Prison Association. The group offers psychological resources along with other services to those currently in and recently released from prison.

5. Red, Taystee & Beyond

We also meet inmates who have served many years in Litchfield and may never leave. Red and Freida are older inmates that are beginning to show signs of mental degradation. Taystee and Daya are still young but must make peace with the fact that they will live out the rest of their lives in prison. That is even though their “convictions” resulted from a need to place blame. A fund supported organization, The National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, has created a campaign that pushes for clemency for those “serving long sentences, are ill, are survivors, and who are elderly.”

Taystee and Daya in season seven of Orange Is The New Black
Credit: Netflix (2019)

Often on the edge of real-world news stories and issues, Orange Is The New Black covers multiple issues that, sadly, are staples of the modern news cycle. The show uses the emotions it creates to give names and faces to news items we too often ignore. As Red says in episode five, season two:

“All problems are boring until they’re your own.”

Orange Is The New Black Helps Resolve The Issues?

Taystee’s life sentence is one of the chief injustices the show presents. However, her resolve to create a fund to help inmates being released honors her spunky and ultimately selfless personality. It also shows viewers that if a lifelong inmate is not helpless to incite change, then we are without excuse. Law enforcement and profession-based shows like Law and Order SVU or Grey’s Anatomy can help push people to become those that are doing well in those shows.

We Are Not Saying “Become An Inmate!”

So, does Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) make people want to become inmates? Though still providing gritty realities, earlier seasons of Orange Is The New Black border on romanticizing the prison experience. Getting three meals a day, having steady work, and living with attractive women almost gives a “camp-like” feel to incarceration.

However, as Nicky points out in episode 13 of season seven:

“Prison is just not as romantic as all those ’70s exploitation movies made it seem, I want my money back.”

The show did not give all the characters a happy ending as some final seasons do. But this does not detract from the quality of the end of Orange Is The New Black. The horrors and injustices portrayed are too much of a part of reality for those watching to ignore (you can learn more about mental health here.)

Nicky Nichols and Red in a transport van -- Orange Is The New Black
Credit: Netflix (2019)

Other shows that display real-life issues usually have the protagonists fix the problem with their own skills. Others leave on a bleak note without a solution to the negative plots. Whether it’s a happy ending or not, the story ends and the credits roll. While this makes for a satisfying conclusion, there is no urgency or personal stake.

Orange Is The New Black takes viewers on a nuanced journey that shows that people like the viewers themselves have the power to solve the problems they present. Creating a desire to help is one thing. But the show goes a step further in order to exact real change. The Poussey Washington Fund gives viewers the tools to provide a “good ending” for those suffering in prisons and detention centers across America.

This Isn’t Where We Get Off

Created by the showrunners of Orange Is The New Black (OITNB), the Poussey Washington Fund is hosted on GoFundMe.org. The ever-growing amount of donations is managed by GoFundMe and distributed to the centers listed above. Using their wide viewership as a platform, Orange Is The New Black brings political activism on television to a new level.

In a world where much entertainment is temporary and fleeting, pausing to think about other people’s problems and what one can do about them is counter-cultural. The Orange Is The New Black finale forces us to realize that the issues we hear about have a negative impact on real people in a way that is painful but needed. After all,

“Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard.”

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