Hollywood could learn from Orange Is The New Black’s success

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Privileged, white male executives need to realise that it’s not all about men.

I’m not telling you, intelligent, conscientious reader, anything new when I say that women are miserably under-represented in media. They’re rarely protagonists, are usually defined solely by their relationship with a bloke and are often badly written, thanks to us lads’ complete inability to empathise with anyone not in our socio-economic and gender bracket. And us lads write all the films and the games and telly, and we make all the decisions about what games and films and telly gets the green light, and then we all go out afterwards and laugh raucously in the nearest Wetherspoons and smoke big, noxious cigars and talk about farting and stuff. But we’re not the audience, us privileged, white men; we’re just the arbiters.

I say “we” – I’m not a film writer or exec or anything, I’m just a feckless little boy. However, like the people telling Jean-Max Morris (creative director of recent video game Remember Me) that he can’t use a female protagonist because male gamers aren’t interested in empathising with and inhabiting the experiences of a female character, I’m a man, and right now my favourite programme on TV is Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black secured higher viewing figures than House of Cards and Arrested Development

Now, it’s no stretch to imagine that women are going to be interested in watching a TV programme with a large female-lead ensemble cast. But the idea that men are in some way uninterested or intimidated by female characters is hugely undermined by Orange is the New Black’s impressive viewing figures, securing higher figures than even Netflix originals House of Cards and Arrested Development as well as a second series. I might be being a bit expansive in my extrapolation, but presumably half of those viewers were men, many of them white middle class men just like me, and the people telling all those eager writers, directors and programmers out there that their films, programmes, games and comics have to have male protagonists.

sex and the city awful

Hollywood films get it worse than most, being the most visible mass entertainment establishment. Scarlet Johansson gets her tits and arse photoshopped onto the same side of her body on the poster for The Avengers, The Wonder Woman film rots in development Hell, Sex and the City gets a sequel where they go to the Middle East and set sexual politics back by 20 years. It’s all pretty bleak and, quite frankly, boring.

We live in a media environment where the female voice has all but been exorcised out

I can’t speak for Orange is the New Black’s efficacy in representing female characters but, compared to normal film and TV fare, it’s pretty progressive. Yes, the protagonist is stereotypically gorgeous, but the large female cast are ethnically, generationally and physically diverse. It passes the Bechdel test (in that it has at least one scene in which two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man) with flying colours and even has a genuine trans person playing a trans person.

However, as encouraging as all this is, the thing I find most exciting is the new voices and stories that this depressingly rare narrative environment offers. Media, film in particular, has become saturated by the male experience. Sad-sack college students trying to get laid, tortured ex-soldiers trying to readjust to civilian life, serial killers with Oedipal complexes and the driven FBI agents who chase them – these aren’t stories that would be exclusive to the masculine experience, but masculinity has drowned them and made them soggy and unusable. We need new stories and new voices and it just so happens that we live in a mainstream media environment so conservative and reactionary that the female voice has all but been exorcised out.

orange is the new black

I’m a man aged between 18 and 30, that mythical target audience that Hollywood seems to be pandering to, and even I’m bored and want a change. I want to see some women. Better yet, I’d like to hear some. If you’ve read a couple of my articles before, you’ll know that my red-faced and impotent opinion of Hollywood is that it’s an institution populated largely by out-of-touch, sociopathic reptiles with no individuality or concept of political correctness and that, by preying on their innate need to conform, we might be able to manipulate them by emphasising a promising artistic or cultural trend.

I’m a man aged between the mythical 18 and 30, and even I’m bored and want a change

It’s a long shot, but Orange is the New Black’s popularity implies that we, as the audience, are not quite as cowardly and small-minded as the investors, studios and distribution companies who have decided what we need is more, and more, and more of the same. While it’s not the opus of our generation, Orange is the New Black is still a massive breath of fresh air. And so let’s hope Hollywood, with its propensity for knee-jerk panic, follows suit and we get more films populated by women talking and acting and being characters rather than symbols and objects. Just like the lads.


Featured image: Netflix

Inset images: HBO; Netflix

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