Not Just Here for Your Entertainment: The Real Stories Behind OITNB

By Robyn Di Giacinto

Fangirls rejoice—the new season of OITNB has dropped in all its feminist glory!

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Since OITNB hit Netflix in 2013, it’s become a force to be reckoned with, weaving together engaging storytelling, a dynamic ensemble cast, and groundbreaking commentary on social issues that most mainstream shows are too afraid to even hint at.

In particular, OITNB was the first real introduction many viewers had to the ever-expanding world of American prisons. And that’s part of the appeal: in a sea of primetime cop shows and law-and-order-obsessed nightly news programs, OITNB is one of the only shows that dares to challenge the idea that criminal justice is always just. Litchfield Penitentiary isn’t just where we put the “criminals.” Its prisoners are people with complicated stories not so unlike our own.

…But it’s also entertainment. Lucrative entertainment at that. The kind that draws in millions of subscribers and drives advertising revenues through the roof. And while that doesn’t cancel out the show’s importance, whose interests are your marathon binge-watching sessions, Facebook rants and Twitter epiphanies really serving — those of actual women in prison, or the profit margins at Netflix HQ?

It’s not a comfortable question to think about. But I think the best answer comes from the OITNB theme song: “remember all their faces, remember all their voices”… and when you’re watching OITNB this weekend, remember that this is more than fiction.

When you look at Dayanara, remember that pregnant prisoners in Maryland are still being shackled two years after the state legislature made it illegal.

When you look at Sophia, remember that solitary confinement is still routinely used as a method of “protecting” transgender prisoners from harassment and assault—and that’s not even starting on the injustice faced by transgender asylum seekers at immigration detention facilities.

When you look at Soso or Suzanne, think about the fact that both public and private correctional facilities provide little to no mental health services even though prisoners face mental illness at disproportionate rates, often with disastrous results.

When you watch this show, remember that these things are worth getting angry about—and allow your indignation to linger past the 15 seconds before the next episode starts to play. Let it compel you to actually do something by staying updated on the stories and resistance of real female prisoners.

Because make no mistake — these women can hold their own, but they’re sure as hell not just here for your Netflix-and-chill.


About the Author


Robyn Di Giacinto is a writer and journalist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When she’s not standing on her soapbox, she enjoys listening to podcasts and reading used books. You can follow her on Medium and Twitter @RobynDiGi.

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