It took ten seconds for me to realize that Orange is the New Black was something special.
Maybe it’s because the last show I watched on Netflix was The Tudors, which literally uses headless women in cleavage-revealing dressing standing around Henry VIII as its promotional image. But the moment the opening credits of the show started, I was practically bouncing with excitement.
They show women’s faces.
Zoomed in close, the credits show women’s eyes and women’s mouths. And not just a couple of women. A huge range of women. Women of different races and ages. Women with acne and freckles, women with tattoos and scars. Women with makeup and without makeup, with glasses and piercings and wrinkles and gaps in their teeth. While Regina Spektor tells us to “Remember all their faces, remember all their voices,” we are shown a multitude of women and their expressions, their features and their feelings.
Even better, those aren’t actresses’ faces, but the faces of women who have actually been to prison, including Piper Kerman, the author of the memoir on which the show is based.
It’s somewhat depressing that something as simple as showing women’s eyes in a credit sequence could get me so excited. But it is the antithesis of so many other shows, and the general attitude to women in media in general. We’re not seeing them through the male gaze. They’re not background scenery or props. They’re not tokens or there to tell anyone else’s story. Body parts are isolated, but it’s their mouths and their eyes, how they speak and how they see, that we’re shown. This show, we’re told instantly, is about women. Not women as TV would normally depict them, fitting into a narrow box of how they are supposed to be. Realistic, three-dimensional women, with struggles and flaws and emotions of their own.
And luckily, the show itself lives up to that promise.