On Sunday morning, Orange Is the New Black cast members Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, and Kate Mulgrew appeared on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry along with Piper Kerman (on whose memoir the show was based) to discuss the show and its portrayal of the prison system.
Of particular interest to Harris-Perry was the show's humanizing and expertly portrayed characters, whose class and race backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities are varied and rich. In particular, Sophia Burset, the trans character played by Laverne Cox, is a stark departure from previous television depictions of trans people, especially trans women of color.
The characters' likeability is important, as it helps audiences to connect with them despite stereotypes about incarcerated people. OITNB's strong characters and realistic plot lines also provide a platform for discussing the injustices of the prison system, even when situations on the show differ from those that typically occur in prison. For instance, early on in season 1, Sophia is denied hormones—a serious problem for many incarcerated trans people. However, she is also in a women's prison, which Cox notes is unusual for a trans woman. Often, trans women are housed in men's prisons or, worse, in solitary confinement.
Throughout the segment, Harris-Perry emphasized the show's potential impact on prison policy. It also raises visibilty for LGBT people, perhaps most significantly for transgender women of color. GLAAD calls for more shows like Orange is the New Black that highlight the lives and realities of transgender people, particulaly transgender women of color, with nuance and quality storytelling.