Netflix is a forerunner for independence because it acts outside of the typical studio, network, and local station relationship. By not airing content on TV networks, Netflix possesses the freedom to basically do whatever they want. Netflix is not controlled by what can be appropriately aired on TV, they don’t have to pick a master schedule for what time of day shows are aired, and with the 40 million worldwide subscribers, they have a large enough audience pool to market niche shows and be successful at that endeavor (Click and Miller). With that in mind, it only makes sense that Netflix is now creating their own content like the show Orange is the New Black.
Based on this institutional independence, the show possesses the ability to portray controversial topics such as women in prison, transgender and lesbian acceptance, and racial understanding. This is done aesthetically by depicting nudity, graphic sexual encounters, and in-depth character background stories all within a prison atmosphere.
Through portraying women nude throughout the series, OitNB sets itself up as an independent show. It doesn’t act within the normal realms of appropriate TV shows picked up by networks and it also uses nudity as a means to portray controversial topic matters, which indies pride themselves on. Within ten seconds of the first episode, female nudity and lesbian sexual encounters are depicted between main character Piper (Taylor Schilling) and her lesbian girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon). This forces viewers to meet head on the controversial topic of lesbian acceptance. Nudity also is used to depict the realities of prison, such as the shower scene where a naked Piper has her breasts checked out by fellow inmate Taystee (Danielle Brooks). One thing I notice though throughout the series is that except the scene in episode three that shows transgender character Sophia (Laverne Cox) topless, only young skinny white females are shown nude. This is one way OitNB doesn’t go overboard for the audience. While breaking norms, the show doesn’t go to the extreme, allowing audiences a sphere of some comfort while addressing uncomfortable topics.
Another way OitNB acts as an indie show is through the character narratives. The show keeps it interesting and breaks up the monotonous setting of prison by using flashbacks of characters’ lives before they ended up in jail. In the first episode we get to know Piper’s back story and in episode three we see Sophia’s life before prison as well. By adding this narrative to OitNB, the show aesthetically sets itself up for being indie because it incorporates flashbacks, skewing the traditional present narrative. This extra part of the narrative also creates a better understanding and acceptance of women coming from different ethnic backgrounds, addressing another social norm in society today.
Breaking onto the scene as a Netflix series, OitNB has really set the bar high for independent shows institutionally and aesthetically. It defies norms, creates a better understanding of females in different cultures, and it does this in an innovative and interesting light. Acting as the new TV frontier, I’m curious to see what this show will do next!