Throughout the first season of Orange is the New Black, several arguments attached to larger cultural discussions arise. One aspect of the show that aids in its popularity is its representation of gender and race. Now, since the show takes place inside a women’s correctional facility, an overwhelming majority of the characters are female. However, this metric does not discount from the show’s diversity.
A great example of the show’s ability to display its diversity can be seen through the actions that characters take to alter the course of the show’s plot. In fact, this dynamic appears throughout the entirety of the first season. For instance, in the sixth episode, The Chickening, a few female inmates take it upon themselves to hang a cross, that was made in the prison’s workshop, from the ceiling of the prison’s chapel. In this segment, the women are depicted as assertive, and this portrayal of female characters opposes the manner in which they are presented on shows with male protagonists. In the aforementioned scene, most of the characters were Caucasian, but the show frequently uses segments with other racial groups to steer the direction of the show. During the fifth episode, Imaginary Enemy, a particular focus is placed upon Ms. Claudette, a Haitian inmate. Throughout the episode, several flashbacks of Ms. Claudette are showcased to give further insight into her background. The flashbacks are also used to develop her presence, since she occupies a secondary role, so that she can partake in a larger conflict later in the episode.
Although the show mostly focuses on the female characters, it does highlight the roles of its few male characters. In most of the instances that the men are shown in, many of the decisions they make occur in response to those made by the female characters. This is demonstrated in segments where the guards order the inmates to repair the chapel’s ceiling after breaking it and lock down the prison to recover a tool stolen from the prison’s tool shed. Unlike the female characters in the show, there appears to be no diversity among its male figures. Most of the recurring males on the show are Caucasian, and males of other ethnic groups only appear in flashbacks. The lack of diversity among the men in the show is expected since the number of males that are depicted is fairly small.
The show’s main premise essentially establishes the gender ratio that is maintained throughout the first season and all subsequent ones. Because of the large disparity that exists between the number of male and female characters, the show attributes multiple mannerisms to female characters that would normally be viewed as uncharacteristic in television series with male protagonists. In sum, the combination of race and gender portrayals within the show help foster the central image of Orange is the New Black.