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'Orange Is The New Black' Creator Talks Race & Gender Struggles Faced In Pitching The Series

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 17, 2014 at 3:44PM

'Orange Is The New Black' Creator Talks Race & Gender Struggles Faced In Pitching The Series
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Danielle Brooks, Taylor Schilling, Vicky Jeudy, Samira Wiley
Danielle Brooks, Taylor Schilling, Vicky Jeudy, Samira Wiley

I've teased previously that there are 3 kinds of film and TV projects that, when announced, you can almost guarantee will mean significant work for black actors: movies or TV shows that tell stories about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; movies or TV shows set in prisons; movies or TV shows centered around sports - especially if the sport is football, basketball, baseball or track. 

I'm being partly facetious, but you all know what's up! I should be preaching to the choir here. However, work is work. And I certainly won't disparage or condemn any actor trying to make a living. 

But it's the kind of statement (as well as what has been perceived to be the use of racial stereotypes) that's been voiced by some critics of Orange Is The New Black, the hit Netflix series that's received lots of coverage on this blog, which will likely continue, when season 2 debuts in the next year. 

It's a series that I actually never quite sunk my teeth into. I did watch about half of the first season, but there just wasn't enough there to encourage me to keep watching. In short, it just wasn't for me; not that it's a *bad* show. Quite the contrary actually. I just couldn't get into it the way others I know have (and not at all for the reason above). 

Its fans are certainly quite rabid in their love of the series, and they helped it become a colossal hit for Netflix last summer. 

I'm sure I'll revisit it at some point before season 2 debuts.

All that said, but certainly related, I thought I'd share this interview with series creator, Jenji Kohan, given to the Writers Guild Of America, West, published earlier today on their website, in which she addresses racial stereotypes and diversity on the show.

The significant piece of the interview comes in the below section:

WGAW: You’ve said in several interviews that you used the character of Piper as sort of a Trojan horse to get a show populated by black, lesbian, Hispanic and transgender women made in Hollywood.  

JK: You know, I love a true ensemble, and I was really determined to have one. But it’s a hard sell. It’s a big cast, and it’s a diverse cast, and it’s a lot of story so, you know, you start with one and you get in there and you expand.

WGAW: An attractive white female star is an easier sell.  

JK: Yes, in general, yes. And less so attractive white female star than, you know, a solid fish out of water story. You can pitch it in such a way that it’s familiar. It’s Private Benjamin. It’s, you know, something with cultural currency that is familiar to people you’re pitching.

WGAW: It’s hard to say, “It’s that old chestnut…”  

JK: Yeah, there’s not a lot of diverse stuff to point to to say, “It’s like this.” And without your similes it’s a harder sell.

Not that big of a revelation - at least it shouldn't be - to most of us who follow the industry overall - especially when it comes to film and TV castings. So there isn't much I can add to this, other than to say, well, of course! In essence, if she hadn't made a white woman the central character (or white man, on some other project), there may never have been an Orange Is The New Black

So what's new in Hollywood?

It IS "that old chestnut" in that scenario - as in, an idea, or joke that has been discussed or repeated so many times that it is not interesting or even funny any more.

You can read the full WGAW interview with Kohan HERE.

This article is related to: TV News, TV Interviews


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