Tuesday’s Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour day ended on a political note, with the cast of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” taking on prison overpopulation and LGBT issues.
First, on the real world prison system, Uzo Aduba praised showrunner Jenji Kohan’s ability to tackle a serious social issue without obviously waving a flag for it.
“I think that’s an exciting way of getting stories told, getting information out into the general population — pun intended — and really get people to understand the condition within the prison system,” Aduba said. “And I think she’s done it in a really beautiful, humanizing way, so we don’t think of these people as strictly inmates and we don’t think of them as a number, but we think of them as human beings.”
“These are mothers, these are daughters, these are sisters and grandchildren, and sometimes good people can make mistakes,” she added. “She’s good at keeping their dignity within the story.”
Taryn Manning (pictured above, right) had a more direct criticism of the U.S. criminal justice system.
“Believe it or not, criminals, they can tend to have a lot more rights than the victim,” Manning said. “If you go to look for a criminal lawyer, there’s a lot. There’s not really a ton of lawyers for the victim.”
“I do find that people can get pushed through the system a little quicker if they have money and they have an attorney,” she added. “I do feel empathy for the people that have to wait for a public defender and stuff when maybe they haven’t done something as horrific as even someone that can afford an attorney.”
“It’s pretty corrupt and it’s not all fair,” Manning concluded. “It’s definitely a gray area.”
The topic of conversation shifted, but didn’t get any lighter. Later during the panel, actress Lea DeLaria (pictured above, left) compared her own life with the Season 3 backstory of her small-screen character, Big Boo.
“Butches have a shared life experience, and you saw all of it in Boo’s backstory,” DeLaria told reporters. “My own community ostracizes me and thinks of Nelly Fags and Butch Lesbians are sort of the pariahs of the community.”
“The only difference I have to say between my life and Big Boo’s life was … that my parents actually learned, they actually listened to me, they actually became people who understood that being uncomfortable within my own skin and having no apologies for who I am was an important thing in this world,” she explained. “They grew to understand me and I grew to understand them and we loved each other very dearly and were very close until the day they both passed. Unfortunately, the story that [“OITNB”] showed, Boo’s story, is all too common.”
“A large part of what we’ve done of the politics of the LGBT community has been about gaining our rights, fighting for our rights, achieving our rights, DeLaria concluded. “And recently it’s been turned a little bit more towards winning the hearts and minds of people. I feel very strongly that “Orange Is the New Black” has been very important in that part of what’s happened to us in that community … That’s an amazing turn of events.”