North Texas Daily

Netflix original queues up social change

Netflix original queues up social change

Netflix original queues up social change
August 28
00:48 2014

Ali West / Copy Editor

With its non-traditional cast of racial and sexual minorities, dark humor and strong political messages, the Netflix original series “Orange Is The New Black” is pushing the limits of traditional television.

Laverne Cox, a prominent transgender activist in her personal life, plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman whose struggles mirror Cox’s own. Cox will speak at UNT Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. as part of the Fine Arts Series.

Netflix is the new television

Unlike traditional network shows, all 13 episodes of “Orange is the New Black’s” second season were released at once at midnight on June 6.

Because the show is a Netflix original, official statistics are not available reflecting the viewership. However, ListenFirst media, a company which tracked the social media trends of “Orange Is The New Black” and another Netflix original, “House of Cards,” from May to August straddling the season’s release, found that the Internet following on social media for these shows is both larger and longer-lasting than traditional network shows. The series has garnered more Facebook likes than NBC’s “Parks & Recreation” and 572,000 followers on Twitter.

Despite 12 nominations, the show did not receive any awards at the 2014 Emmys. However, Uzo Aduba, who plays “Crazy Eyes” on the show, won an Emmy for outstanding guest actress in the series. Theater senior and Black Student Union president Claudia Hullett said Aduba’s character is one of her favorites on the show.

“What she does is just like magic,” Hullet said. “I’ve never seen a person get under the skin of a character so intimately as she has.”

Professor Harry Benshoff, who teaches RTVF classes on topics of gender, race and sexuality, watched both seasons of the show.

“I watched a whole season in a couple weeks,” Benshoff said. “That’s not as bad as some of my students. I know one student binge-watched it three times.”

Breaking the rules

A defining characteristic of “Orange Is The New Black” is its inclusiveness of sexual and racial minorities. Benshoff said “Orange Is The New Black” is a refreshing change of pace from “Captain America” for viewers.

“You’re hard-pressed to find television shows that have so many female characters and so many points of view,” Benshoff said. “It’s telling smart stories. It’s telling historical stories. It’s telling stories about how women are oppressed – how people of color are oppressed.”

Hullett said the show proves that representing many different types of people is possible.

“As a woman of color, to see a cast that’s overwhelmingly women of color, it’s like a breakthrough for TV,” Hullett said. “’Orange Is The New Black’ is the only show that makes it OK to show everyone, and it makes everyone’s stories equally important.”

Mainstream networks are too scared to produce shows like “Orange Is The New Black,” Benshoff said.

“It’s taking some of these other off-network channels to step up to the plate and provide this quality drama,” Benshoff said. “If we didn’t have Netflix or Showtime or HBO, we wouldn’t have ‘Orange Is The New Black.’”

“They learn that everybody is a human being with complex stories and just because someone’s in prison or doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean they’re not deserving of basic human rights or human dignities.”

Visibility and representation

Of Cox’s character, theater senior Anthony Ortega said he enjoys seeing a transgender character on the show.

“Every time she’s on screen, I’m just in love and in awe of everything she does,” Ortega said. “I kind of wish that I got to see more of her in the second season, because she’s so talented.”

Physics senior and Trans and Intersex Alliance of Denton (TRIAD) president AJ Aguinaga said he hopes Cox’s lecture will bring perspective and visibility of the transgender experience to the UNT community.

“There’s no housing for us. There’s no restrooms for us. We are protected in the non-discrimination policy, but that didn’t happen until, like, a year ago,” Aguinaga said. “They’re slowly making progress. This is another step. I didn’t think UNT would be able to do anything this awesome. They’re always putting money into other things.”

English junior KD Van Zandt, who identifies as a trans man, said hearing that Cox will speak at UNT felt like a victory for the transgender community in Denton.

“I’m hoping because of Laverne’s popularity and her sway, especially among people who are not trans, will help people on this campus to realize what we’re going through as well,” Van Zandt said.

Featured Photo: Actress Laverne Cox from the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” Cox will speak about transgender issues as a part of the UNT Fine Arts Series in February. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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