In this post I will explore Bell Hooks’ thoughts on loving blackness from the chapter, ‘Loving Blackness as a Political Resistance’ in her book, ‘Black Looks and Representation’ in relation to the last 2 episodes of the fourth series of Orange Is The New Black, which features the death of a major character and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Netflix Originals are known for breaking boundaries. The majority of the cast and crew in Orange Is The New Black are women, people of colour and different sexual orientations other than heterosexual. Bell Hooks takes a feminist approach to racism by stating “Moving away from the notion that an emphasis on sameness is the key to racial harmony, aware feminist activists have insisted that anti-racist struggle is best advanced by theory that speaks about the importance of acknowledging the way positive recognition and acceptance of difference is a necessary starting point as we work to eradicate white supremacy” (Hooks, 1992: 13)
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started trending worldwide on social media as the hashtag #blacklivesmatter after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of shooting Trayvon Martin in 2012. #BLM raise awareness of the hundreds of young black people who are killed, usually at the hands of the police, every year. There is no head of the movement; it is a global movement which have had marches, mainly in America, to protest the killing of young black people that happens too regularly.
Since the movement’s popularity arose, it has been mentioned and been a big part of the Netflix original Orange Is The New Black, especially the latest season. The latest season finale was met with praise and controversy when one of the main and fan favourite character, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), was accidentally killed by a security guard at the prison she is a prisoner at.
While Washington was being suffocated, she repeatedly said the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” which Eric Garner, an innocent man who got killed by the NYPD in July 2014, said repeatedly, which also became a viral hashtag and had a massive impact on social media.
The heads of the prison had a televised announcement where they did not even mention Washington’s name, but just referred to her as an inmate at the prison. After the announcement, Washington’s best friend Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) exclaims “they didn’t even say her name”. Taystee then lead a protest through the prison chanting “no justice, no peace”, similar to what BLM supporters chant at marches.
After Sandra Bland was unjustly arrested in 2015, she was found dead in her cell, which was ruled as a suicide, but other’s had conspiracies that the police killed her and staged her suicide in her cell. After her death, #SayHerName trended worldwide too, adding Sandra’s name to a long list of woman who had been killed by police but swept under the rug.
With sensitive subjects such as this being explored in a popular television programme, it was risky and needed to be researched thoroughly before even being scripted. With post-colonial subjects, films can address important but nasty truths which push forward representations of marginalized groups. There is a thin line between addressing important truths and making fun of these groups by seeming to stereotype them as ‘others’ or ‘non-western’ or ‘mysterious’.
Washington’s death affected a lot of fans, and it was needed. As the show educates a lot of people, in unconventional ways, about topics such as appropriation, gender, sexuality, life of women in prison, a death at the hands of someone who is supposed to care for you was needed to raise awareness of what is happening in the world right now.
Hooks, B. (1992) Black Looks and Representation. South End Press. London.
Orange is The New Black. Prod. Jenji Kohan. Netflix. 2013. Television.