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The Legacy of Orange Is the New Black: Authentic Representation and Lasting Impact

Netflix’s popular series, Orange Is the New Black, bid farewell to the screen in 2019 after seven seasons. Created by Jenji Kohan, the show premiered in July 2013 and quickly became a fan-favorite. It is based on the memoir of Piper Kerman, a PR exec whose drug trafficking past led to her sentence in a minimum-security women’s prison in Connecticut. While in prison, she reconnects with her old flame, Alex Vause, who had a significant role in Piper’s conviction.

The ensemble cast of Orange Is the New Black features talented actors, including Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, and Natasha Lyonne, who earned a total of 21 Emmy nominations and four wins, including the Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. The group also earned three SAG Awards from 2015 to 2017. With its popularity, Orange Is the New Black became one of Netflix’s longest-running original series to date.

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The show left behind a massive legacy after portraying female characters with depth and authenticity, and allowing for LGBTQ+ romances to grow onscreen. Before season 7 aired in 2019, Taylor Schilling, who played Piper Chapman, shared her hope that “people feel seen, and that there’s a reflection in the series of what has been happening to the cultural collective.”

Laverne Cox’s character, Sophia Burset, was one of the first authentic representations of a trans woman on television. Sophia ended the series by being released from prison and following her dreams of becoming a hairstylist. In an interview with TV Insider in August 2020, Cox spoke about the importance of her character’s representation in the show, saying, “I thought, ‘What can it mean for audiences to see this and for a Black trans woman who’s formerly incarcerated to get out of prison and win?’ We need to see that. The trans people in real life need to see it. Non-trans people in real life need to see that. I always think about the first time we saw a Black president was on television, [in] 24 and probably other shows, before it happened in real life. I think sometimes, if we can see it on screen, then we can begin to imagine it.”

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Orange Is the New Black paved the way for more diversity and representation in media. Its impact is still felt by viewers who appreciate the show’s authentic portrayal of characters and storylines. Fans around the world continue to admire the series, making it a lasting classic in the streaming platform’s history.


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