Orange is the New Black

taraji

Taraji P. Henson Was the 2015 Emmy Awards’ Most Unedited Black Girl

This past Sunday evening, I sat on my living room couch and begrudgingly prepared to watch and cover the 67th Emmy Awards for work. To keep it all the way Un-edited, during Andy Samberg’s opening monologue, I was ready to flip over to Basketball Wives, or as Andy said in his intro, any of those other “Wives” shows. At one point I considered pouring me a drank to get through, but that Ernest Hemingway quote doesn’t say anything about editing drunk. So much for on-the-job inebriation…

For me, watching the Emmys started off like how it feels to attend a gathering of lifelong friends — as a plus one. Inside jokes go soaring over your head (slightly above your exasperated eye rolls of alienation). Just when you’re about to throw back your fourthfifthsixth drink of the evening, out of the blue someone you can actually relate to shows up, y’all instantly get your own little party going, and it turns out to be the best. Night. EVAR!

That’s pretty much how I felt when the commercial that needs no introduction aired.  Y’all  already know what I’m talking about and thank gawd someone had the good sense to make a GIF of Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington’s black girl groove session AKA Apple commercial that presented the first relatable moment of the awards show for me.  

via GIPHY

Prior to that, Amy Schumer mentioning her plan to get blackout drunk was the only remote reassurance that this show was intended for my viewing pleasure.

Luckily, the commercial loosened me up like a few gulps of that stiff drink I so badly craved, but then came another major black girl moment: Taraji announced Regina King as the Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for her role in American Crime.  And in true Taraji fashion, she didn’t bother to maintain any stuffy ol’ Emmys decorum. In fact, she cheered Regina on like she was a shamelessly proud mama on the sideline of her child’s first game and took her time greeting her fellow actress with a huge, genuine hug.

via GIPHY

After Viola Davis’ historic Emmy win, Taraji embraced the How to Get Away With Murder star with a warmth that was palpable, like that aunt who replaces the life she squeezed out of you with love when she greets you at the family reunion. Judging by her excitement, a stranger would’ve been hard-pressed to properly identify which of the two was the first black woman to nab the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama. The only girlfriend-in-my-head moment that didn’t involve Taraji’s magical sisterly touch was Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba nabbing her second Emmy. However, her teary, heartfelt acceptance speech made for yet another poignant moment.

This tweet basically sums up why Taraji was every black girl’s best friend at the Emmys:

Overall, the Emmys were full of unedited black girl moments. It was clear that they didn’t think twice about tempering their blackness for the comfort of the masses, which ultimately made me feel like I belonged at the party after all.

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‘Orange is the New Black’ Has Plenty Real Life Material to Use in Season 4 & I Hope They Don’t Muck It Up

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A second chance is one of the most coveted opportunities, especially considering that the next opportunity—if there is a next–could be the third and final strike.

Hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black (OITNB) delivered in its first season and over delivered when given a second chance with Season 2.  The third season of OITNB was yet another success, raking in accolades, sexy headlines and reviews that dubbed the show as “must see TV,” “captivating,” and “some of the finest television to date.”  The show has been heralded as one of the most, if not the most diverse television cast.  No squandered second chance, no third strike. 

Since its inception, OITNB has been some of the best binge-worthy television shows since The Wire (I double-dare anyone to argue that fact–“Omar comin’!“).  Viewers have laughed, cried, laughed some more and maybe, just maybe, have been reminded that the show is a loosely based narrative from the brilliant mind of creator Jenji Kohan and the misadventures of Piper Kerman.  That reminder serves as a “pinch-me-is-this-real” moment to nudge viewers into the real world where the growing rate of imprisoned women isn’t at all funny or sexy.

So while OITNB doesn’t need a second chance to improve its ratings, as the excellent writing, magnificent acting and throes of loyal fans have pretty much ensured that the show doesn’t need a boost over the proverbial fence, Season 4 will hopefully serve as a second chance for the show to delve deeper in exposing some of the growing challenges women face in America’s broken prison system. 

Okay, so OITNB is just a dramedy whose goal is to entertain, not necessary enlighten, though I think it does a pretty decent job at doing both.  And it’s not lost on me that Season 3 highlighted the prison-industrial complex and some of the consequences of privatization, like the hiring of correctional officers whose only “professional” experience is that of slanging donuts, or the Litchfield prisoners competing for the lucrative opportunity to earn $1 per day to stitch the crotch of lace-trimmed underwear. 

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These fictional scenes didn’t just manifest from Kohan’s mind to the screen; these scenarios mirror real life events.  Many companies and consumers benefit from the sweatshop-esque work of prisoners who likely will not receive a job offer from the very companies they slave for while incarcerated, rehabilitation and second chance be damned.  Just ask the 4,000 male inmates who fight California wildfires for $2 a day, their compensation for saving lives and California dollars.  The chances of them being hired as a firefighter once they’ve “paid their debt to society” is about as good as my voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election—hell nah, neva, nope, c’mon now…in case you were wondering where I or the state of California stands on the matter. 

Difficult issues of race, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status and even age are addressed in OITNB.  Many viewers were introduced to the concept of compassionate release when one of the members of Litchfield’s “Golden Girls” began showing signs of advanced dementia and was released from prison and taken to the bus station.  That particular episode had viewers Googling the validity of compassionate release and questioning the legality of the concept.  Now that, my friends, is some good TV!  It entertains, it educates, it advocates and it inspires its viewers to educate themselves. 

Departing from the Season 1 theme of Piper’s white privilege and moving on to highlighting the struggles, however vague and in some cases grossly embellished (it’s TV, what are you gonna do?), that women prisoners face has seemingly been a growing theme for writers of OITNB.  In order to maintain its popularity, modest credibility and relevance, OITNB needs to continue to mirror the problems emblematic of a truly effed up American prison system.  Art imitates life.  That said, in the much anticipated 2016 premiere of Season 4, I look forward to OITNB highlighting some of the cruelties female prisoners have and continue to face. Here’s a start (you’re welcome):

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