This essay is a collaboration between Riese Bernard and Heather Hogan.
***BE ADVISED THIS POST CONTAINS EPIC SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 412 OF ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK***
Brook Soso: “It’s like we’re in a horror movie.”
Poussey Washington: “The kind you watch at sleepovers when you’re a kid and then you have to run to your Mom at the end to hug you and tell you it was all made up?”
Soso: “My Mom wasn’t a big hugger.”
Washington: “My Mom was. She had really long arms, too. They could almost double around you.”
- Orange is the New Black Episode 412, “Animals”
I’d only gotten to episode four when I saw the spoiler — some ambitious marathoner had already completed the season and then gone directly to the Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters list to summarily break our collective hearts: “Poussey Washington, 2016, strangled by a guard.”
I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense. Poussey is instrumental to the ensemble! She’s a fan favorite! She’d finally found love this season! She’s probably the inmate least likely to end up in a conflict with a guard that’d lead to strangulation and death!
Samira Wiley’s girlfriend literally writes and produces the Orange Is the New Black. Surely… surely no.
But it happened.
We feel that the death of Poussey Washington will be remembered as the most devastating lesbian or bisexual TV character death since the death of Dana Fairbanks in 2005, which was the most devastating lesbian or bisexual television character death since the death of Tara Maclay in 2002. But maybe it wasn’t for you. Maybe it was Lexa for you. Maybe it was Cat MacKenzie, all the way across the pond. Maybe it was Silvia Castro León, gunned down on her wedding day. Maybe it was Root or Charlie or Tamisn or Maya or Kate or Naomi or Shana or Tosh or Snoop or all the ones played by Lucy Lawless, including Xena herself.
158 dead lesbian and bisexual characters. But those aren’t the only numbers we know, and TV doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Poussey died on our TVs the week after a man walked into a gay night club and shot over 100 people, killing 49, the majority of whom were queer and Latinx. 5,462 single-bias hate crimes were reported to the FBI in 2014, and more than a fifth of those targets were LGBT people. 47 shootings, 15 stabbings, 13 beatings, and 13 “other.” 13 other. There are endless ways for gay people to die; TV has made damn sure we know that’s true.
This matters because we are very raw right now, not because Poussey’s sacrifice had anything to do with her sexual orientation. It didn’t. (Neither did Dana’s.) There’s no sub-conscious bias at work, no showrunner more invested in a fan-favorite heterosexual romance while unconcerned about ending a lesbian one. This show takes place in a women’s prison, a land (more or less) free of heterosexual romance.
But like Dana, a beloved fan-favorite sacrificed by Ilene Chaiken to raise awareness about breast cancer, Orange creator Jenji Kohan had a Cause in mind when she made this decision about her own beloved character, and it’s one in dire need of increased awareness. The American Criminal Justice system is racist, inefficient, inhumane, corrupt and often deadly. Especially at the intersection of power-hungry poorly-trained white men employed by a for-profit corporation and a young black lesbian incarcerated for a low-level crime that white people commit in droves and are rarely apprehended for. Let alone punished for with the death penalty.
But we knew that. I don’t mean “we” as in the collectively queer, collectively liberal, hyper-socially conscious readers of Autostraddle dot com. I mean “we” as in “viewers of Orange Is the New Black.” Sure, the show used a white woman as an entry point into a deeply corrupt prison-industrial complex, but the writers made a hard and almost immediate pivot into examining the lives of women who have been victimized by the system way worse than Piper. Pennsatucky: raped by a guard. Alex: nearly killed by a guard. Watson: sent to SHU by a guard for refusing an invasive pat-down. Trish: exploited and killed by a drug-dealing guard. Nicky: same, except no murder. Daya: impregnated then abandoned by a guard. Sophia: forsaken by the warden in solitary confinement for the price of one tacky suit. Over and over and over again, we see the women on this show abused and discarded by the incompetent, misogynistic, power-hungry men who run the system. In fact, I’d argue it’s the central theme of the show.
There are people who don’t know or care who Eric Garner is. There are people who have (inexplicably) never heard of Black Lives Matter. But are those the same people who will watch a black woman be brutalized by a white man on the 38th episode of Orange Is the New Black and finally get it? Did this show need to sacrifice one of television’s few black lesbian characters in order to teach incredibly ignorant white people a lesson they really should’ve already learned by now?
But the white guard. Bailey. I’d expected Humps, of course. He was evil, although they all were, in a way, but Humps’ evil was a drawling yo-yo of psychopathy. Humps is harsh on the surface and rotting inside, an intestinal cesspool of misogyny and racism wound up like a fist. Not Bailey, though. Like a lot of Litchfield’s male employees, including but not limited to Caputo and Healy, Bailey’s been socially conditioned to feel entitled to women but can’t figure out how to get women to feel obligation on par with that entitlement. He’s not quite as depraved as his superiors, though. He’s also as tender as his cherubic face implies, and nervous and mostly well-meaning, desperate for acceptance while moronic about who he chooses to require it from. He’s gullible and inadequate on just about every level, meanwhile floating along waiting for another jerk to pluck him out and pull him in, easily seduced into bullying because he’s lacking a basic sense of self. He’s malleable and easily manipulated, which’s one of many reasons this boy should not be working at Litchfield, where he’s surrounded by keen manipulators, both those who control him and those he is in charge of controlling.
See how easy it was for us to write a paragraph about him? We could write more. We could write a thousand words in ten minutes about #NotBailey. Sure, Bailey was just an instrument Piscatella was playing, but that lost life rests on Bailey’s shoulders. It is Caputo’s compassion for Bailey that inspired him to turn on the women he’s allegedly been employed to protect. Bailey is a sympathetic character and he should not be. He is sympathetic to the point where we have overheard multiple people and even professional TV critics say that Poussey’s death was really Suzanne’s fault. She was melting down. He was trying to subdue them both. There should be no question about who’s fault this murder was, the brutalization visited on the body of a black woman as brutality is visited on black bodies all across this country by white men in uniforms.
We already know the system is capable of murdering Poussey. That point has been proven for many seasons now. If we’re going to have to watch it, we shouldn’t be forced to empathize with the white man who wrought it. This loss is too devastating to also be grey. It’s too much to take in. We resent this story for not letting us rage with pure, unfiltered fury at Poussey Washington’s murderer.
Because damn we love Poussey. (Do with that sentence what you will.) We feel like we’ve lost a friend, and one of only a few black lesbian lead characters on television, and a character played by a lesbian actress at that. Somehow having to divorce Samira Wiley from Orange is the New Black stabs in its own way, too. Poussey is our heartthrob! She’s the best one we’ve ever had, she’s better than Shane. Litchfield is full of deeply flawed humans but Poussey, she shines like a diamond, shines like a roman candle, all that. Flashback episodes reveal each character’s darkness, their fatal flaw, the insecurity that combined with structural inequality to land them in jail and repeatedly pits them against their own self-interest while incarcerated. Some manifestation of “pride” gets most of ’em. But Poussey’s only flaw is that love makes her do crazy things, things like bring a gun to confront her ex’s father and/or whatever it is she did to get kicked out of West Point.
She doesn’t hurt people and never has, she’s lived a life of relative privilege, she’s sweet and physically very small. Last season we saw prison eat her up from the inside, this season we saw her bounce back and fall in love and find a little sliver of happiness amid endless chaos. She was loved, and then she died — that’s the way this trope crumbles.
Poussey’s death wasn’t empty; it was enormous and not unrealistic. It wasn’t a stray bullet. But was it necessary? It was not. The scene could’ve still packed a punch if she’d been assaulted but survived, and the show never needed to pack this particular punch for the vast majority of its audience. Orange has been honest in the way Litchfield has gotten worse and worse every season, like if American Horror Story never left the Murder House. The system remains a horrible disease, darkness giving way to more darkness. This is it, though. This is the darkest. This is the absolute darkest thing this show could have done. The hardest to watch, hardest to swallow, hardest to reconcile. We sobbed with our entire bodies, covered our eyes, burrowed into our couches when it happened, felt broken and traumatized afterwards in a way television rarely makes us feel. And although it’s important to tell a disgusting story about prison because every voting citizen of this country needs to know how disgusting prison is, maybe this calls for a pivot, an opening toward a path into tentative lightness.
There’s immense value to showing how bad it is and we know this show will and should continue to do exactly that. But hell, something good has to come out of this wretched death, capping off a dark season of women getting beat down again and again and again. We’re holding out hope for an inmate uprising that inspires real change rather than serving as a gateway to yet another chamber of horrors. We’ll be watching, because this show and these characters have so much more to say. And we hope if they continue to engage with Black Lives Matter, that they do so deliberately and carefully, and in (paid) consult with the queer black women at the helm of BLM.
There’s a value in that too: alongside the disgrace, also providing the audience with some small examples of how things could potentially get better, of what activists have to say about it, and what we need to do as citizens to shed some light into these dark places.
It’s like we’re in a horror movie. The kind you watch alone and at sleepovers and with lovers and best friends. I wish I could wrap my arms around you right and tell you it’s all made up. These 158 character deaths are. Poussey’s is.
But this is real life too.
This essay was co-written by Riese Bernard and Heather Hogan.
I haven’t watched any of this season yet (and I don’t care about spoilers), but I’ve heard rumblings (duh, because I’m a human being with queer internet access). I wanted to know what the rumbles were about, but I waited til AS posted something ’cause I knew it was gonna come with an insightful, important critique… and woof, I am glad I waited! Thanks, Riese, for this.
I can’t find the words to express how badly I needed this. Thank you for writing this piece and posting it today, Riese.
thank you for writing this.
this season made me so angry and frustrated and so much of the suffering was so unnecessary.
I feel the same way. I understand that privatization of prisons is an issue. And I understand that alot of prison guards are assholes. But the amount of asshole those storylines contained was unbearable and not necessary. This was a show about these women and their stories. Not the fucked up lives of the people locking them up. I just have this internal struggle because I get that is a factor, but it just seemed like that story overshadowed what used to be a show that told stories of these women in prison. (I am not sure if any of that made sense)
Yes. I stayed up all night watching, because I was too frustrated and angry to sleep. I thought maybe it would get better. Then, a punch in the gut.
It made me so angry too, watching the women get tortured over and over wasn’t enjoyable. Usually the show has some happiness in it too. For me it got too difficult to watch at parts. I persevered, waiting for the happiness, then Poussey was killed.
Riese, thank you. I have been trying to grapple with my emotions over this over the last two days. I feel broken. And I hate that I felt sympathy for Bailey and I hated that I was momentarily angry at Suzanne. And then I realized I was just angry at her because I was trying to process my feelings. I think one of the hardest parts for me as I was so invested in Brooke and Poussey. They were happy. For the first time on this show we saw a happy normally functioning relationship. And that made me so happy to see. And for a second I was so blinded by that happiness that I forgot to keep my guard up for that lesbian happiness to be ripped away. And it did. And ripped away it was, and I almost feel foolish for letting myself be blindsided by it.
Thank you for writing this. I needed to see how others were reacting to this. There’s not a whole lot you can get from reading people’s 140 character twitter reactions. I appreciate you putting into words a lot of what I was feeling as well.
I finished watching OITNB late last night, or rather early this morning. I finished up about 3 am, having sobbed through the last three episodes. I was wide awake until about 5 am, unable to sleep because my mind was spinning. Finally I passed out, only to wake up again at 8:30 with a tightness in my chest and an overwhelming feeling of panic. Like Suzanne, somehow my brain had become fixated on what it felt like to have a weight pressing down on you, unable to breath. In that moment, I couldn’t remember that Poussey was a fictional character. Her pain was very real, the terror she must have felt very present in my mind.
When I saw spoiler free comments trickling in over the weekend, mostly what I saw was people saying this was the best season yet. It had returned to form. OITNB had amazing writing this season, I kept seeing over and over again. I was intrigued.
Now that I’ve finished the season, I don’t know what to say to those people. I don’t know if I agree. Did this season make me feel things? God, yes. Possibly more than anything fictional has ever made me feel before. But did they push us too far? That is what I’m having a hard time answering.
Pennsatucky’s story arc this season. Lolly’s story arc this season. The extreme behavior of Humps and the other guards. Poussey’s ultimate fate. I was viscerally uncomfortable with all of it. And I can’t decide if that means it was good writing, or if they went way too far. It has also wrapped me up in the mental gymnastics of trying to figure out where my own privilege comes into my analysis of all of this. As you say, we know that the realities they showed this season are more than possible in our system. Does my privilege, the life I’ve lived sheltered from these realities, make me incapable of understanding, and I’m just running away from what is true? Is it selfish of me to have not wanted to watch those 13 hours of, essentially, torture? Or did the writers go too far?
I don’t know. And I suspect the answer is different for everyone. I’m going to keep examining my privilege though, as I try and work through what season 4 of OITNB meant.
Very well said!
I think it was too much. The first half of the season was relatively fine, there were some nasty things done and said but overall it wasn’t that bad. Then the second half was… awful, just plain awful and cruel. The guards. The constant racism and misogyny and ableism. The guards. Freaking Caputo and that lady from MCC. The guards.
I’m all about talking about racism and how it affects people around you, but it has to serve a purpose you know? And I don’t think they did that. As a queer WOC, it not only made me uncomfortable but it pissed me off.
And I agree with you, it was basically torture. The writers went too far and the fact that all of them (but one) are white and none are black says something about where they went wrong with this season.
Thank you for your point about all of the writers (but one) being white. I have seen in other people’s comments that this is the make up of the writer’s room as well. I was not aware of this, only through my own lack of research.
I did have a thought somewhere along the way that I was curious about who the writers were. I had noticed that there were definite rhythms and patterns of speech to the lines when the Black characters were speaking to each other, or the Latina/Latinx characters were speaking to each other, or the White characters were speaking to each other. In my mind, I was hoping that the writers of this show were as diverse as its cast of characters, and that they consulted with each other on how to handle certain things. That was amazingly naive of me.
I wish I’d been paying attention before, and it’s my fault I wasn’t. But now that I know they are nearly all white writers, it makes the last four seasons of this show feel gross to me. It’s like the behind the scenes version of a white savior storyline.
Yeah this was the point that the suffering started to feel gratuitous. Like it was taking time away from the part of the show that used to be about understanding these women, and devoting it to fucked up guards and their backstories.
(Speaking of gratuitous, what about the complete lack of follow-up on Maritza talking about what happened to her, hmm?)
I’ve got the next episode to watch, and damn, I don’t know if I can stomach it, let alone if I plan on watching the next season.
Yeah, I would’ve appreciated some follow-up there too.
Honestly I would like somebody to kick Humps’ face in.
I’m gonna start a campaign called “Throw Humps Off A Bridge Into A Pit Of Baby Mice 2017”
I wouldn’t even want to subject those baby mice to that!
Honestly I was sad they didn’t let Red kill him or Piscatella.
A bunch of folks kicking his face in would’ve worked too.
You never know what will happen in the first episode of next season. Maritza may take the gun from Dayanara and do something. He deserves it, but she doesn’t deserve to spend more time because of him.
But also notice that there never really seems to be any follow up with Maritza and Flaca. They have moments, talk and get things out of their systems, and then everything just moves on.
I couldn’t sleep last night and it took me three hours to watch the finale. I mean, I guess those are similar responses to what I feel re: the American justice system but. I’m destroyed.
Oh, this was beautiful and exactly what I needed to read. It’s such a relief to see a piece that puts this into multiple contexts, and I especially love the way you put Poussey in the tradition of other dead fictional lesbians whose deaths caused widespread emotional devastation in the community, way beyond the reach of just one fandom.
I still haven’t finished season 1 of OitNB (and I’m not sure whether I will), but I feel like I know Poussey better than I do from the joy she radiates from every GIF, and everything she means to the black bi and lesbian communities. She’s very much like Shane–except that if a friend of yours was dating her, you would be happy for them instead of worried!
And it’s so troubling to know that all of that can be destroyed for the sake of a Cause, for proving a point with a fictional story. Poussey joins all the queer women and the women of color (let’s not forget about Abbie Mills and others who were too good for their shows) we’ve lost on tv recently. When are we going to get stories that let us see our lives and have heartthrobs and live vicariously through their romances that won’t be squandered for the sake of making a point?
Thank you so much for writing this, Riese and Heather. So insightful and exactly what I’ve been hoping to read in coverage of this. I marathoned in just a little over 24 hours, so not many people had finished by that time and I had no one to talk about it with and I’ve been so broken up about it. I was sobbing so hard during/afterwards that my dog got really upset too.
I’ve seen some people trying to say that her death doesn’t “count” towards the dead lesbian trope (which is effed up enough I think, even “respectful” deaths count if only numbers-wise) because of the parallels to Eric Garner/statement they were trying to make, but the sympathetic portrayal of Bailey totally negates that. The fact that they made Caputo’s Good Guy Moment going off script to defend Bailey rather than even talk about Poussey at all was disgusting.
I wrote a teary 5am journal entry to process after I finished watching, and the main sentiment was that I’m just so damn tired. tv is supposed to be enjoyable, but so much lately it’s just been exhausting. I know it’s a long way off, but hard to say if I’ll be watching season 5.
I actually thought that Caputo’s wasn’t a “good guy moment”. The company had a carefully crafted message about how Poussey was assaulted and killed by a white dude and Caputo goes off script to focus all the message on “how it’s sad for this white dude, his life is #foreverchanged”. Hence Taystee’s anger that they didn’t even mention Poussey’s name.
so many troubling storylines this season, particularly upset about the coates/doggett/boo situation – hey lighten up, boo! it’s not like anything happened to YOU! but the loss of poussey is devastating. i covered my mouth with my hands and shrieked when it happened, even though i had already guessed (people posting vaguely about spoilers have NOT been subtle).
it was just so unnecessary. this season had so much misery and didn’t do a whole lot to further meaningful connections between characters. it was rarely funny. the white power angle, piper being branded, and poor fucking maritza – why?
i will be replaying poussey’s last non-death-related scene, her shrug and mouthing “i’m sorry baby” over and over and over in my head for a long time.
I was thinking of Boo as the audience surrogate because that whole storyline what the fuck even was that
yeah that storyline was um, appalling?
The first half of the season really crushed it (and my heart) with Doggett trying in her weird new empathetic ways to check in on Maritza, other prisoners welfare, and finally confront Coates. I think the back half, while painful to watch, is true to some real life. In the sense that many survivors both knew and loved their rapists/assaulter before and after, and the apologizing for them… that forgiveness can be part of the self-healing process and something that people do because they feel like they still see the person they cared about. Thank goodness that awful scene at the end where she again sees Coates’ sexual nature will never change.
I thought I was the only one confused by the whole Coates/Pensatucky storyline. I mean they tried to give it some leeway by saying that Pennsatucky told Coates that he raped her but the way that it was set up in season 3 told me that he was a predator and has done this before. I mean the last shot in season 3 had Maritza shaking Coates hand and Boo mouthing “Oh shit” I mean don’t get me wrong I’m relieved that Maritza doesn’t get raped (even though something equally as sadistic and fucked up happens to her) but I felt like the writers just forgot who they were writing about. or they figured “Hey we’re introducing some more asshole sadistic guards let’s redeem the old asshole sadistic guard first so the newer ones will seem more evil”
I think Penn finally realized just how fucked up Coates was when they were talking in the kitchen and that Boo was right about him.
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’m glad you wrote this up..because there are two striking sides to this.
I think writers want to write a show with depth and meaning and not be weak. They want to call attention to problems in society under a certain theme. They want their art to mean something. And rarely, if ever, is that a simple love story and a happily ever after. And writers rarely want to make a weak statement. The show was building up to a death. Did it absolutely have to go there? Of course not, but it probably wasn’t good writing, given the themes of the entire show and specific themes of the season, if it didn’t.
I think empathy is important. Here’s the cold hard truth, you want things to change..you have to get the people in charge on board. People underestimate how important Ellen Degeneres is to the gay rights movement. And she’s important not because she’s an advocate, but because people genuinely like her. She’s normalized gay in a way that an intellectual human rights conversation,or a passionate defense never could.
And I think the same could be said for fiction. And here is why, it unfortunately had to be Poussey. Everyone loved her. Every character loved her, every viewer loved her. I don’t think I’ve seen a character as universally beloved as Poussey. (And the actress..I will be following that adorable actress wherever she goes.) To have her be the victim, to unequivocally say..the system failed this innocent woman was the biggest statement that the show could make, and would provide the most empathy..the most passion.
And given all this, I thought the choice of Bailey (Bayley..whatever..) was perfect. The message of this show is that this is systemic. That these issues stem from corporate greed and power in thoughtless hands at the top. Bailey, more than any other guard, makes that point. Because if it’s Humphs or the rapist, or the Beard..they are all individual monsters. And our hate..our injustice at the entire situation ends there. Instead, we have Bailey. A young kid who didn’t know what he was doing, and as far as men on this show..quite frankly, is one of the better ones. (Not saying much, but..) And the second the corporation..the system..couldn’t blame Poussey for her own murder, they attempted to lay it all on the hands of “rogue cop”..who was just a kid, who committed murder because of the environment he was in.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some horrible monsters that are in charge of these women. But you have to consider the Stanford Prison Experiment..people act like monsters when given power over other people. And this greedy corporate system gave unchecked power to a bunch of straight white men over people they had already been conditioned to dehumanize (Women and POC) before they were behind bars.
To me, the choices were deliberate and necessary for the point they were making. (Which, Maria points out..”Look at your Target, and then look two heads up. Thats who you need to get” Selfishly, I wish they hadn’t gone there, because I want Poussey and SoSo adorableness on my computer screen in Season 5. I wish they hadn’t have gone there because of how beloved she is, and how many queer woc identified with her, and loved her. I wish they hadn’t gone there because too many queer women have died on television..and it would have been wonderful to see a queer POC couple get their deserved happy ending. (I thought, one of the most intriguing points they made in Season 3, was that Poussey and SoSo weren’t criminals. They aren’t think only of yourself, kill before being killed women.)
But being that they did, I’m glad they made the decisions that they made..because I think they did an excellent job with the message they were trying to write. And I’m apt to give OITNB more leeway, given the message they were sending (it had to be Poussey), and the sheer amount of queer characters on the show.
these are really good points! And honestly I agreed with you on most points outside of the Bailey thing — I couldn’t put my finger on what upset me about this death and I was having a really hard time writing this, and then Heather explained her problem with it to me and I was like “OHHHH.”
I personally still don’t know how I feel about it. I change my mind every ten minutes.
As a white queer trans woman, I don’t see many characters that are like me that do a good job of representing us. And if a show succeeded in making a truly transcendent trans woman, I would be beyond devastated if they killed her off to teach cis viewers about transphobic violence.
There are so few queer women of color on TV, and Poussey may have been the absolute best of them. I don’t really know what QWOC viewers must feel right now, after seeing that happen, but I imagine it must be pretty terrible.
I see what they were trying to go for, why they did it. But in the end, it really wasn’t ok that they did it this way.
Wow, thank you for those great points. Not that I disagree with you, but to play the devils advocate, would you say though that Taystee isn’t as universally loved as Poussey?
Otherwise, I agree with everything you said, it is just hard to when I am so sad lol.
One of the issues I do have is with the line that show has with farce and reality when it comes to the guards. They make is like these guards are idiots and we are supposed to know that these things they are doing are bad but make is a joke. I wish they wouldnt make the correctional officers incompetence a comedy point, but instead make that more dramatic because to me, letting an officer come into a prison with a gun isn’t funny. THAT isn’t what i want to be entertained by with this show, if that makes sense.
I think Taystee is the only other possible choice for the commentary they were making, and P is still the better one for a variety of reasons..I don’t think Taystee is as innocent/pure as P. And truthfully, I don’t think she’s as loved.
Not to mention, Taystee’s uproar and anger is in character in essential. I don’t know that P could have realistically done that. I think it’s more likely she would have sobbed and drank.
You’re right about all of that, but I secretly love Taystee more.
Do you know much about respectability politics? Based on this comment, it seems as though that’s something you could research.
What I’ve garnered from your comment is that you think Taystee’s death would have much less impact on the audience, because she’s not as “pure” as Poussey; further, you don’t think any of the other black girls deaths would matter at all? I’m sure that’s an oversimplification, and for that I’m sorry, but I’m also pretty grossed out because 1) I’ve said this 100 times, but no matter what, I am tired oftired of seeing black people, queer people, and other marginalized people dying to teach white people a lesson, and 2) the amount of strategy you’ve shown here (and the strategy the writers used in picking Poussey) proves one important thing- that “some” black lives matter, and that y’all get to decide which ones. Saying Poussey is a fan favorite, which she is, is lightyears away from suggesting she’s pure while the others aren’t, which is super problematic.
Black women are almost always either mammified (considered sexless, usually fat and black) or hypersexualized by the media and in the gaze of nonblack people. It’s why our asses and our lips are the biggest talking point about us by nonblack people. So, if this “purity” you mention is related to a sexual purity, then Poussey is the least pure because she’s the only one who has actually been allowed an onscreen sexual relationship (nevermind that it’s a relationship with no sexual reciprocity, b/c that’s slightly better or less openly awful than Black Cindy being used as Judy King’s image repairing black gf without benefiting).
If the purity you mention is related to character traits, then sure Poussey is pure af. But it’s pretty shortsighted to forget that Watson is courageous (standing up to guards) and determined; black Cindy is enterprising and (brutally) honest; Suzanne is creative, sweet and gentle except in the rare instances when her mental illness makes it difficult for her to show those things; and Taystee is kind (looking out for Suzanne because someone has to), loyal (outside of S2, and even then she was loyal, just to the wrong people), bright, hilarious, uplifting, understanding, etc. Why aren’t those traits pure?
Saying Poussey is the only black character whose death matters is saying hers is the only life that matters, and that’s pretty unsettling.
White people have written soungs about empathizing with plastic bags drifting in the wind, but can’t empathize with us unless we’re candidates to be canonized as saints.
I really don’t think the incompetence of the guards or letting Hump into the prison with a gun were supposed to be comedic. All of it was WTF? and horrifying. Nothing even remotely funny about any of it.
I love dark humor, but I couldn’t even muster a chuckle from any of the guard scenes. I think the only time I did get a laugh was when Maritza put that fat bastard in his place in the van, but it was also uncomfortable to think of what he may do to her for humiliating him in front of the other guards.
Okay in a comment later on this thread bra said “why does Black suffering/death/pain need to be the catalyst before non-Black people to have their light bulb moment.”
My mind has been made up.
That’s really what I was trying to get at. We live in a society that has dehumanized people of color. (Women. LGBT etc..). Second, when black people are killed by the criminal justice system..people make excuses for the criminal justice system. Somehow, the victim is the one blamed, almost every time.
A huge part of that is the dehumanization. So you have to humanize.
Taking a stand that this shouldn’t need to happen…that people shouldn’t need to be humanized to get empathy, to change minds..I think..that is 100% correct in theory. But that essentially leaves society in a place where..people who get it, get it, and people who don’t, don’t.
So I think the sad state it..yea, I think white people need to see poc humanized, and they need to feel empathy in real life situations. And sometimes people can be taught through stories.
you wrote: “I think white people need to see poc humanized, and they need to feel empathy in real life situations.”
but it isn’t just white people who watch this show! poc viewers have to witness endless triggering brutalization so that white people will finally see them as human and not expendable?
“but it isn’t just white people who watch this show! poc viewers have to witness endless triggering brutalization so that white people will finally see them as human and not expendable?”
Exactly! If yall don’t get that white people aren’t the only ones watching this show then I know it way too much to ask to expect the “message”(whatever it is) is sinking in.
I think there are plenty of shows where the gay person, pic person or trans person dies for shock value or because they are seen as expendable, and that is a serious problem on its own, and does absolutely nothing except reinforce the idea that those lives are less than. That being said, I think this story is different because of what story it is telling. There are people of color who see this as a story that needs to be told. That this situation is their truth, and people need to know it. Or some people find it empowering that this story is being told. How many tv shows would be brave enough to do this? To blatantly attack corporate greed, the private prison system, and unapologetically support Black Lives Matter?
This is fiction. And fiction is able to make a point and tell a story, and IMO there is a desperate need to humanize and make a positive statement about black lives matter. Children are shot in real life, and then blamed for their own murder, demonized because they are black.
The things is, it’s likely that no one who is here needs that message reinforced. Like minded people seek out like minded people, and discuss. And I think we have gotten to the point where we all feel like “I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s important, or why it needs to change.” And we’re right, but that doesn’t do anything to get people to think.
So I’m not angry that this show made this statement. I’m angry that this is a statement that needed to be made.
I think that I agree with you on Bailey – that he was the better choice for implicating the entire system. But, I think this could have been done without centering so much of the story on him. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time for sure.
After 412 I was worried that they killed Poussey only to further Bayley’s manpain. But if you watch 413 you’ll see that’s just not true. Yes, he gets some screen time, but the episode is REALLY centered around Poussey, and the pain of the people who loved her. That made it a lot better for me.
I think you’re exactly right about Bayley. If it had been Humps, or Piscatella, we would have blamed him, and called it a day. But it’s like the police force firing the “bad apples”. The apples are all rotten when it’s the system that’s fucked. And having Bayley be the murderer was the only way to show that. Because he is a stupid privileged white KID, but he’s not a monster. Not the way a lot of the other guards are. But the prison industrial complex turned him into a monster, and I think THAT is the ultimate theme of this show – that prison ruins lives.
I totally agreed with you. If it were any other inmates, or any other guards, the message that the writers and producers want to bring across might be lost.
We are unable to put any dirt on Poussey, just like those legal/PR sharks from MCC, cos she is (almost) perfect. She lights up the screen whenever she is on it. She is nothing but a positive role model inmate/person. And we can’t help but feel for Bayley cos he’s one of the few ‘good’ guys who still sees the inmates as actual human beings and trying to do his best for the ladies. He is clueless and way over his head, and that’s why Caputo told him to get out of this dog-eat-dog system cos he is going to get hurt, one way or another.
I think that you’re essentially right about why they chose Poussey. But, this again hits too close to real life — there must be a “perfect” POC victim in order for white folks to sympathize. (And even then, it often doesn’t happen.) On tv and in real life, we should be just as hurt and angry when injustice is visited on any character/person – it shouldn’t take a “blameless” victim to make us see that change is necessary.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that writers room when they discussed which black character to kill who would be the most sympathetic to white folks in the audience. White people are going to cry over ABW Wilson. It’s gotta be a “good” black like Poussey. Does that make anybody else feel just icky inside?
Yeah, it does. But then again, hasn’t making POC folks in prison sympathetic to white people been the entire POINT of the series from the very start? Piper was the trojan horse that got folks who otherwise wouldn’t give a shit a bout POC folks in prison to tune into the show and get to know the OTHER characters. This has been the show’s MO from the very beginning.
And that is why I’m not going to support it anymore. This show isn’t about telling POC folks stories or giving us representation. These characters seem to exist for the sole purpose of teaching lessons to white people they don’t think care about us otherwise. This show wasn’t designed to be for people like me and I should probably look somewhere else.
YES! I think that’s the key. If you look at the show as being written by white people as a vehicle to teach other privileged white people a lesson… all the writing decisions seem sound enough. It’s a very effective story for this purpose. But.. making that decision has sent a very clear message to queer and POC viewers that the show isn’t for them, that the writers don’t care about their viewing experience, and they’re willing to alienate them and exploit their hard stories for the purpose of teaching straight white viewers lessons… Which really sucks. Like, as a white person I’m watching this show and getting distinct feelings that I’m supposed to be going away from this feeling like I’m now super progressive for watching and enlightened to the hard realities that POC face… Poussey was martyred, straight up. It just seems really shitty that the only way POC can see themselves on tv is as martyrs to alleviate white guilt.
I just finished a few hours ago and my feelings are very raw right now, but mostly I’m just angry at what feels like a giant “fuck you” to the show’s queer viewers. I feel so let down. This was the one show on right now where it felt like its team actually respected us, and I’m just angry that it let us down just like all of the others. I know the message is incredibly important but I’m so sick of lesbians dying for the sake of a message. Enough already. And I know that they had no control over this but Jesus, the timing could not be worse. I’m glad TV nowadays is good at holding a mirror up to society, but right now, we could have really used a healthy distraction. I remember being so excited every time I heard that they were renewed for more seasons and looking forward to new seasons for many summers to come. It’s so weird to think that in one weekend, this went from being my favorite show to one that I don’t think I can watch any more.
Heather Hogan, the TV Lesbian whisperer….
I feel like a tumblr post I read summarizes my feelings better than I could: it is NEVER progressive to kill off a black character in order for a non-black audience to learn a lesson. To say it is is insulting. Especially if everyone in the writer’s room is white. And to make things worse, the show writers did that thing where they got their audience excited at the prospect of a happy, healthy f/f romance before the season aired, only to kill off one half of it. I’m not sure if I’m more disappointed in the writers or the parts of the fandom that are saying her death was “necessary” when I saw them riot over Lexa’s death.
I’m super cranky at people saying her death was necessary and I’m like why does Black suffering/death/pain need to be the catalyst before non-Black people to have their light bulb moment. Why does it have to be so fucking painful for me so others can see my/our humanity? And yet nothing has changed…
I’m fucking over it.
oh wow yes this all of this
Also, not to spam this post with comments, but what you for creating a spoiler-allowed forum for us to voice our emotions, and concerns! It takes me alot to actually cry outloud, and I was sobbing during end of of episode 12 and throughout episode 13. It has been so hard not knowing where and who I could talk to about OITNB without getting attacked for spoiling people. So thank you for creating this safe space!
Amen to this
This safe space is feeling like a life saver, I just finished and needed to process my feelings, and this is definitely a much needed space.
I definitely felt traumatized and manipulated by this season in a way I can say that television has never made me feel. Brilliant point about remembering who needs this television most — the same queer people still reeling from the tragedy in Orlando. We are the ones who need this show, more so than the people who don’t understand that black lives matter & could potentially change their mind through the gut punch of catharsis from this season. I am dissapointed in the writers for creating this world and not staying accountable to the audience that needs this show and needs positive representation the most.
I went to like this post, and apparently I already did. I would have liked it a thousand times if I could. I am reeling for the exact reasons you pointed out here.
I was offended by this episode, particularly by the trivialization of Eric Garner’s death.
Yes, for me it’s trivialization because how many of us got the answer “is just a show, get over it”? Yes, we don’t have dragons or a fucked-up dysthopian future here, but as you said, Riese, we needed this to make people realize that not everything is make-believe?
I’m sorry to say, but that’s not possible, the world is full of assholes who will always believe that Eric Garner’s death is just fiction, even if that video is slapping you in the face. I don’t like the trivialization of reality, that’s why I had never watched things like House of Cards; people should never take as normal things that should never be normal, and driven to make that move by fiction. Law-enforcement killing people, corruption in politics should never be “normal”, should never be things that we, as a society, accept and take for granted.
I think the most common example of what I’m saying here is rape culture and things like GoT. Mmm, sorry should I re-write this now because this fucking show has a bisexual or lesbian character?
I want to apologized because English it’s not my native language; this sounded a lot better in Spanish, so once again I apologized if somebody is offended by this.
PD: NETFLIX WHAT A FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?
even in a show driven by women, qwoc are still expendable. who was this story supposed to reach? it wasnt black folks, we didnt need to see this. thats why i’m hurt.
Thank you for writing this. I’ve been crying on and off for the last 24 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a character as much as Poussey, in the way that I forget she’s a character and not a real person. I don’t know how to feel about this season either. Just incredibly sad and very very raw. What shitty timing.
Minor quip: not everything in the sentence about Tricia applies to Nicky, so that paragraph could be misleading!
There are some good points here, but a white writer might want to refrain from using this analogy
“She’s like a puppy, sometimes, who just wants to love and be loved.” and using dehumanizing language to talk about a black character who was dehumanized in the show.
It’s unnecessary and you could have made the same point without using this comparison.
okay, removed it
honestly once upon a time an ex told me “i just want to be loved like a puppy is loved,” so that’s why i made the comparison
I havent gotten to the end yet, but had the death spoilt for me by someone commenting on Samira Wiley’s instagram.
After 4 seasons of watching these women suffer mentally and physically in various horrific ways, its a bit desensitising, and I do feel like they were leading up to a death of a ‘loved’ character. Back in Season 1 (and pre-Wentworth) something like branding Piper would’ve spun me out, but this season I wasn’t as bothered by it. As awful as it is, you do have to keep upping the shock factor in television.
In the whole show, one of the episodes that affected me the most emotionally was Trisha/Tricia and her death. With the countless ‘never had a chance to begin with’ backstories and examples of how society and institutions failed these women it was her backstory and her death that really tore my heart on a deeper level and made me really examine my socioeconomic privilege. Would Tricia have got to me more than Taystee or Pensatucky or Daya or any of the others if she had lived? I don’t know.
I guess I’m saying I don’t agree that she could have been assaulted and barely survive and it would have done as much justice to the storyline as a death. Someone had to die at Litchfield this season for the privatisation and brutality plotline to really hit home. Should it have been a black woman? Should it have been a queer woman? I guess we’re going to spend a long time debating that.
“Should it have been a black woman? Should it have been a queer woman? I guess we’re going to spend a long time debating that.”
Is this really a debate though? I feel like the answer to that question is 100% emphatically “NO”.
Sorry – I agree, I think I worded that poorly. I’m 100% behind all the WOC here saying it was wrong. I didnt mean us debating it here, I meant more audience vs writers debating. The writers (and from the vulture article Samira Wiley) seem to think this was a good/necessary choice.
You want a silver lining? Here it is.
Unlike Lexa, and unlike Root, but similar to Dana and Tara, Poussey was MOURNED. Poussey was remembered. Poussey’s best friend and her girlfriend and all the people who knew her and lived with her got to grieve for her loss. WE, the audience who loved her too, got to grieve for her loss, got to share in that grief. And then. And THEN. When the mourning was done, her friends got to RISE UP and RAGE against the system that murdered her. Yes, episode 12 was fucking heartbreaking. But episode 13? 413 started a riot. Literally.
And unlike Lexa, and unlike Root, Episode 413 did not give us platitudes about how her death was necessary to the story, or how it was the inevitable end for her character. No. That episode was telling us, “You’re mad?! GOOD. STAY MAD. We’re mad too. Because THIS SHIT HAPPENS and we need your help to put a stop to it.”
I’m really, really sad. And I’m never gonna not miss Poussey. And I really need to find some comedies to watch. But I understand what they did and why they did it, and I think, if she had to go out this way, that she went out for a good reason, and that she was given a proper send off.
I’m sorry, but I can’t think of any “good reason” there is for killing off a black lesbian, *especially* if that reason is to educate white viewers about police brutality. As if black viewers don’t understand that it’s something that happens? As if it hasn’t been something that’s been all over the news for years? As if it’s not something we haven’t been trying to stop all along? The writers want us to “get mad”, but they also somehow want us to sympathize with the white guard who killed her? They want to bring attention to an important issue, yet frame it as an accident, as if police brutality against black people isn’t 100% deliberate and malicious?
I’m not sure Poussey’s death *needed* to happen at all, but if they had wanted to get rid of her character, they absolutely didn’t need to do it the way they did.
None of this is a silver lining; it’s an admission that black women, particularly black, queer women, are expected to be grateful for scraps of representation. It shouldn’t be the job of marginalized people to hold white hands and dry white tears and teach white people lessons. That episode told me that black, queer lives are less valuable to that show than black, queer bodies.
Allison, I’m really sorry to have to disagree with you here, we’ve become such comment thread friends- but I couldn’t more emphatically be on the opposite side of what you said.
I do not call spending both 4×12 AND 4×13 hummanizing the officer that killed Poussey “mourning her death”. I do not call spending 4×13 watching apathy from the white and Latina populations of Litchfield, instead of spending majority focus on those closest to her “mourning her death”. Quite literally until Taystee rages until the last minute, save the flashbacks Poussey was an afterthought in her own episode, much like her body that stayed on the ground.
She wasn’t mourned. She was martyred. And there is a major difference. Her death was used to teach a “progressive” lesson to an audience that already knew said lesson, and it was done at the price of killing a beacon of QPoC representation. I am not belittling the deaths you mentioned at all, but Lexa and a Root come after and will continue to come before a lineage of large majority of white queer women characters. Black queer women have not been given the same luxury.
That is the difference between this and those other deaths.
Well said, I completely agree. I hate the finale as well in part because of this. I did not want it to spend a single minute on Bailey, or Caputo, or Piper fucking Chapman. They should have at least spent the entire episode on Poussey and the hole she was leaving in her community.
Agreed. You wouldn’t believe how often i shouted at my tv throughout 4×13 because of this. It was the wrong and most offensive storytelling choice from beginning to end, and on every level possible.
Honestly watching 4×13 is what definitely killed any benefit of the doubt about Poussey’s “death with a message” or whatever. Why did we have to watch Red’s family meeting to heal from a death that only minorly affected her? Or other inmates’ offensive jokes? It felt so insulting to her memory.
I really appreciate your comment CP – I know we usually do agree on a lot of tv-related things, and disagreeing with you on something so huge definitely makes me reevalute how I feel and how I expressed my feelings. I just want to clarify that that I meant IF the show decided they had to kill a black character, and IF they decided that character had to be Poussey, at the VERY LEAST, they gave her (what I thought was) a proper send-off, worthy of her character and her place in the show. I did NOT mean that her death was necessary, or excused in some way.
I take your point about Lexa and Root’s death being different because they are white. That is true, and I apologize for the comparison. But as to Poussey being an afterthought in her own episode? I really didn’t feel that way. While I completely acknowledge that my experience of that episode, as a white queer woman, is very different from yours, to me, it really felt like Poussey’s presence hung over all of 413. We saw how her death affected EVERY character in the show – because it did. And yeah, some of them didn’t react the way we wanted them to react, but everyone reacted to her death in the way that was appropriate for their various characters.
Finally, as to your point about her death being used as a teachable moment, I agree with you there as well. But I think we all know that from the very beginning, OITNB has always been one giant teachable moment. And if this moment is the proverbial straw that breaks a lot of people’s backs, then that’s totally fair. But I think it is a bit unfair to suggest that this teachable moment is somehow different than the teachable moments of Sophia getting beaten up, or Watson getting sent to the SHU.
Anyway, thank you for your comment, and for your always thoughtful and critical tv discussions.
Allison, I think that part of my struggle is that there are too many “ifs”… My point of entry here is that nothing new was gained from this death other than the torture and invoked ptsd of the queer folks of color who watched it. I emphatically do not believe that anyone watching OITNB all the way through season 4 is still “on the fence” about carceral violence, state enabled racism, or Black Lives Matter. The audience & show is too niche. This isn’t network television. And even if it *was* the case that minds were changed in this large number, it would not be worth the pain that it put POC viewers through. So, I struggle with the very base premise.
Poussey was worth more alive than she is a dead martyr, obviously they all are. She meant more to the queer folks of color as living beacon of representation (a first! Tasha from the L Word is the only other major series regular butch black character to have appeared on television that I can think of- and my memory is both detailed and long. And the only way they signified Tasha’s supposed “butchness” by having her wear a tank top and a ponytail). Poussey was authentically one of our community and we literally don’t have any others to spare. So it shouldn’t have been Poussey, it shouldn’t have been Suzanne. It shouldn’t have been any of them. This storyline shouldn’t have happened.
And I would bet my last dollar that if they had any black people in that writer’s room, this wouldn’t have happened.
There was never a reason to kill off a black queer woman. There was certainly never a reason to do so on a show like OITNB. I’ve seen you mention a few times that you think of OITNB as providing “teachable moments” and I think we see the show very differently in that case. Orange was never sold to me as a place to learn “lessons”. It was sold to me as a place where women of color, queer women of color, and trans women of color were able to have their full stories told and represented. Where (queer and trans) actresses of color were being respected and finding a home and a voice. Where they weren’t going to be 2 dimensional stereotypes. That is what turned me onto OITNB. The powers at be behind Orange have gone through demonstrative efforts to sell that angle to an audience of QTPOC folks that have become the backbone of their brand. Which makes what happened to Poussey every inch of a betrayal.
Our interests as a core audience who have been essential to their brand identity were sold out to appease or appeal to a larger audience of white viewers.
To your point about how is this perhaps different from Watson going to the SHU or Sophia getting assaulted- I hate to be crass, but both of those women lived. That’s the major difference. Poussey no longer gets to tell her story. Unlike Watson or Sophia, her story is not about survival and overcoming and being strong. She was made the ultimate victim. There is no solace to be taken in that if you are a person of color watching (unlike the previous two examples). And I will through Pennsatucky’s rape and its aftermath in there as well, because even though I loathe where they have taken that story, I’m uncomfortable with the fact that all the examples we came up with for these supposed lessons were BLACK WOMEN, which says a lot about who is actually getting tortured on this show.
And yes, we will have to agree to disagree about episode 13. I emphatically believe that Poussey was not given a respectful send off episode. Her story became about others reaction to her story, she lost all of her own agency. Which is why martyrdom doesn’t work.
Anyway, I really really hope that this doesn’t come across as confrontational! I just feel very passionate about this and wanted to explain my POV. As you said, I learn so much from our conversations, so I hope I didn’t just screw this up. You are always so thoughtful and present these really great POVs. Thank you.
No, you do not come off confrontational at all, and I really appreciate how you’re willing to engage with me and talk critically about this show (and all other shows!) And I hope we can continue to do that, since we still have a PoI finale to dissect, and Grey’s and HTGAWM are gonna be back before we know it!
And maybe I’ll just stop this here, because you definitely don’t need to justify your pain and anger to me, and I’m not trying to convince you to feel differently.
Thank you for this. I have only seen a few episodes from season 1. Now I’m glad I avoided this. I’m still not over Dana’s death from the L word. I’m just over lesbians being killed for attention in shows. I have so many emotions now about being a Black women in the LGBTQ community and I liked the actress. Tbh, after Orlando, I’m kind of emotionally drained
This season was a fucked-up in several points.
First of all, Bayley killing Poussey. That was some fucking unreal and disgusting manipulation of the audience, because what’s your point? That classic re-telling of “yeah, he fucked it up, but he was trying so hard to be good”? Are you kidding me? One of the saddest things is that some people will really eat that shit up. One chance to say who will think that…
Piper should be like 2 times dead after that shit she pulled with Maria. And what she gets? A nice little window.
As @brianna said about the Dogget and Boo situation: “I was thinking of Boo as the audience surrogate because that whole storyline what the fuck even was that”. That plot also has another very disgusting side: “why are you so upset, Boo? She got over it, you should do the same.” As with Bayley, I give you one chance to say who will think that.
My god, tell me that Daya is putting a bullet between the eyes of that asshole in the next season…
So I’ve never watched OITNB but I trust Autostraddle for spot-on commentary and this piece is no exception. I appreciate you taking this on and for listening to the folks of color who say NO to this. So important. Thank you.
I guess I’m going to be one of the lone dissenters in the comments by saying that I didn’t think Poussey’s death was well-executed or warranted. There are plenty of posts on Tumblr that cover why this storyline is bullshit far better than I can articulate and I would be happy to link anybody who wants to read them. But I’m going to try to offer my two cents anyway and excuse me if I come off aggressive. I’m just really fucking heated about this right now.
As commentor Noel above me said, it is NEVER progressive to kill off a black character in order for the non-black audience to learn a lesson. A black lesbian at that. Because their are just so many of us to to choose from on television. Oh, wait. That’s right. We were actually the bulk of the tv deaths this season. How about that? Anyway, Is that all we are good for as characters? Plot points to teach the white people life lessons and help them grow as people.
There is just something so uncomfortable, unseemly, and shady about a writer’s room full of white people trying to write some parable based off Eric Garner and Black Lives Matter movement. Why are their no black and brown people in that writers room? I hope to God that they actually consulted with people from that movement but something tells me that they didn’t. The timing of this also couldn’t be any worse after 100+ LGBT POC got shot up in a club. Nothing they could do about that but fuck does this make this death even more raw right now.
And let’s be perfectly clear that this was written specifically for the white people in the audience. Because POC don’t need lectures about institutional racism and police brutality. We live this shit daily and we’ve been talking about it for YEARS. I don’t even think you can realistically make the case that the white audience of this show doesn’t know about “I can’t breathe” and/or The Black Lives Matter movement when it’s literally been all over the fucking news practically 24/7 before all this election bullshit started. You would have to be living under a rock or purposely trying to avoid hearing about it if you don’t know what Black Lives Matter is? So after all these real life deaths over the past few years (that again have been all over the news and social media) the death of a fictional character is going to somehow make you more sympathetic to the real life suffering of POC even though, again, we’ve been talking about it until we are practically blue in the face for years? You will listen to a room full of white writers about issues plaguing POC but not actual black and brown people? Also, this show has been on for 4 seasons now and they have more than covered how awful prison is. Did Poussey really need to die and not get justice for you to really drive that point home or have you just not been paying attention the past few years? These are all rhetorical questions that I already know the answers to.
I would also love an explanation as to why they had timid puppy dog Bayley be the one to kill her and why he “needed to be humanized” and make sympathetic after the fact. That’s not usually how all this works. If they wanted to be realistic it would have been more believable to have any one of the other actually racist guards be the one to commit this crime like any of the officers in the real life cases of police brutality this storyline claims to be mirroring. There are a lot more Darren Wilson’s than Bayley’s doing these things. But that probably doesn’t fit the #NotAllCops narrative that the writers are clearly trying to tell.
But what pisses me off the most about all of this is that it doesn’t seem like whatever storyline they were attempting to tell got through the thick skulls of a lot of the white people watching anyway because for the past two days I have had to read comments from a lot of white fans defending Poussey’s death by yelling over POC who have a problem with it. Telling us that we are “just looking to be offended”(that gem came from a Clexa btw; The irony). Not willing to listen to anything we have to say on the matter and being openly antagonistic. So what exactly did they get out of this storyline?
This whole thing has really soured me on the show to be honest. But if you are one of the people who actually got something useful out of it, do you I guess. I’m going to go watch Game of Thrones, where I actually expect and anticipate my faves will get murdered in any given episode so I don’t get too attached.
Thank you so much for expressing all of my feelings about this.
1) On OITNB choosing Bayley to kill Poussey: I’m zero percent surprised. I think it’s manipulative and gross, but pretty much on par with them making a champion of S3 Caputo while he extorted Fig into blowing him, and making light of Judy King doing the same thing to Luschek (plus showing later consensual scenes between those characters without exploring the abuses of power). I’ve also been pretty consistently squicked by them trying to make misogynistic Healy sympathetic for 3 seasons while he fucked over every woman in his orbit and crossed all kinds of clear boundaries.
2) As a member of the Clexa fandom, I’m so mad about Clexa fans trying to justify Poussey’s death but getting mad when they’re called out for being racist. It’s dumb and sad.
Oh yeah. Being lectured to by white people about issues that directly effect POC and what I should and shouldn’t be offended by is the HIGHLIGHT OF MY EXISTENCE. It’s especially hurtful coming from the Clexa fandom when I have defended and fought for that fandom since day one.
In times like these, all I can say is that white people are wild.
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been hurting a lot since I saw episode 12, I didn’t know where to turn to to process it because I didn’t want to spoil anyone.
I ugly cried at the end, and then I was so pissed off at this show and the creators. I thought “I am DONE FUCK EVERYTHING FUCK THIS SHOW”.
I am not okay with this death and I am not okay with trying to put a “logic” on it or compare it to lexa’s death or root’s death. But as a white person I was also unable to look at my privilege and realise how fucking horrible it is that they’ve killed a WOC to “teach white people” about the prison system.
So thank you for sharing.
Not sure I’ll watch next season, to be honest
“There is just something so uncomfortable, unseemly, and shady about a writer’s room full of white people trying to write some parable based off Eric Garner and Black Lives Matter movement.”
Turkish, thank you for this comment. It expresses everything I am feeling and does it so well. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I won’t be watching next year because of this for all the exact reasons you mentioned.
Thank you for this.
I’ve been struggling with my feelings over the end of this season and have been wholly-consumed for over 24 hours, not being able to really grasp what to think–just feeling incredibly devastated.
I needed this perspective. I can’t empathize, so I’m really grateful that you shared.
I think this should be yelled from rooftops.
I finished watching this season just about 30 minutes ago so I haven’t even worked out all ky feelings, this season, especially the ending, has broken my heart and left me feeling raw and somehow violated. I am glad though that I came straight here to see if something like this thread existed, so Thank you for having it. So much of what you wrote is what I was feeling but didn’t quite realize yet, or wasn’t sure how to express, I needed this to help me go work through all the fucking feelings I have now.
This is so long, but I have so many feelings.
I saw the spoiler as I was finishing episode 11 on Saturday and I cried on my couch for a while before admitting to myself that I wasn’t prepared to watch Poussey die. I get that Jenji Kohan and the Orange writers want to make a statement. I get that Poussey is the most universally loved and all-around good-hearted black person to grace this show so far. I get that her death (and subsequent character assassination) would have the biggest impact of all. I really do understand, but I am so goddamn tired of black people and black bodies being used in an attempt to teach white people about empathy or justice or humanity.
Poussey’s death made a martyr out of someone whose existence and ability to thrive meant a great deal to a lot of us, especially young, black, queer women who are so rarely allowed idols who look like us. I watch entirely too much TV, but can count on one hand the number of black, queer, female role models still alive and available to me in the TV world. Poussey Washington did more good for people like me alive than she will dead.
But then, I’ve been operating under the assumption that her character was made for people like me, and maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this sweet, loyal, brave, funny, gay, black woman was not made for me to feel represented or comforted. Maybe she was created because Kohan and co. needed to make the least objectionable black character possible so that she might be able to teach white people the hard lessons that black people can’t survive without learning. Maybe Poussey Washington was always meant to serve as a token black friend for an audience so swathed in white privilege that concepts of policy brutality and racial profiling seem more like investigable hearsay than inescapable reality.
I hate that they took this character away from me; even more, I hate that maybe she wasn’t made for me at all. In real life, people who look like me are dying violent, unjust deaths every week, and white people have the benefit of being removed enough to feel it, or not, plus the privilege of moving forward every day without comprehending the crippling sort of fear that comes from realizing that your appearance makes you dangerous, and that it also makes you indefensible.
Privilege is often blinding, but the last thing I want or need is to tune into my favorite shows just to watch people who look like me being killed in an attempt to lift that veil.
Thank You for saying this. I feel the same way. This show and death hurt me in a way no show ever has and I don’t mean that in a “I learned so much from it” kind of way. I mean in a “Fuck You” kind of way and I thinkyour post covers why that is a little bit better than mine does.
Thank you for sharing this. I’m hurting having lost an incredible queer character but I can’t possibly imagine what it must be like for you to loose representation like that.
This comment made me cry. It’s everything I’ve been trying to put into words about why this hurts so much, and how much more it must hurt for WOC.
Thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad Autostraddle has given us this space to find each other. It’s helped me feel less alone. Everything you said is exactly what I’m feeling right now.
I thought Poussey was for us. I thought she was a love letter to black queer women and that we were finally getting “our turn” (not that we should’ve had to wait for a “turn” to begin with, but you get my drift)– I have never been more violently wrong in my life.
I feel absolutely humiliated and manipulated. Gutted.
There is no coming back from this, for the show or for me as their former viewer.
I haven’t even found the resolve to watch eps 12 and 13 yet. Not sure I ever will.
I think the part of your comment that pings the most is the idea that maybe Poussey was never for you. That’s huge for some reason to me, really gets some thoughts going that hadn’t been there before when it comes to representation and stories and who gets to speak and who sees themselves or a version of themselves reflected.
Thank you Mina for writing this comment. I refuse to watch this season. I’m glad my friends have been vocal about this f-ed up season because one person’s spoiler is another person’s salvation. And I feel saved from continuing to love this character when, as you brilliantly point out, she was never for me to love. I need a queer FUBU character right about now. I will not participate in someone else’s learning experience. Thank you and thank you Turkish too for your comments about the senselessness of this arc.
Thank you for this! I shouted “NOOO WHY? IM SO SAD” at the end of every episode from Lolly getting sent to psych. It was painful and not in a good way. I didn’t want to jump for joy for having marathoned this season- I had to do self care and figure out how to process all the feels.
One thing I do think was done well- but will probably go by without notice because of all the traumatizing events- was the grotesque ambivalence of white characters on the show who chose not to be allies as people of color suffered. Piper not doing anything about her group from its very beginning, surely knowing the racialized nature of “anti-gang” efforts. Judy King’s blatant privilege and lack of action when she had multiple opportunities to use her privilege to fight for equality. Yoga Jones- someone we thought might break the cycle but ended up wanting her seltzer water more than ending the suffering going on around her. This stuck out to me as disgusting and accurate and I hope it made folks think…maybe? But then again, as mentioned earlier, “why does Black suffering/death/pain need to be the catalyst before non-Black people to have their light bulb moment.” People are more likely to get their lightbulb moment from black suffering than interrogating normalized racism and white complacency and privilege in an oppressive system :(
I haven’t watched any of this season yet b/c I’ve been away from the internet for a few days. Now I’m not sure I will.
The show needs to be real about the violence that happens in prisons, but the argument people are making above (sry don’t remember names right now) about the ways violence against black people gets used to try and Make A Point to white people is really fucked up.
Maybe Samira Wiley wanted to leave and that’s part of why it was Poussey? But there’s no reason why they couldn’t have written an ending where she survives, where she gets out and goes on to potentially be happy and strong and free – even with all the complications and intense struggles that come from being a former inmate.
I’ve read a few interviews and this wasn’t written because Samira Wiley wanted to leave. She was just as blindsided by this as everyone else and even had to hide it from her cast members for months until they actually began the process of shooting the episode.
Ergh, thanks for that information. This is the fucking worst.
I just finished watching this episode and as I was literally watching the ending, I literally sat up in bed and covered my mouth in horror. I heard a rumor before the season started that a major character was going to die. I had no clue that Poussey’s was coming. I wonder if the way she died was written with the death of Eric Garner and other men and women of color in mind. It sure seems like it.
This season has been one hell of a roller coaster. When Nicky was in SHU mopping and came across all the blood in Sophia’s cell, I thought for sure she was the one who was going to wind up dead. I was relieved it wasn’t her because of the important theme of the particularly cruel and inhumane treatment of trans women, particularly trans women of color. So, I thought that the rumor about a major character dying was just a rumor.
Then came the scene in the cafeteria with Piscatella throwing Red down and everyone uniting in defiance of the guards. I was cheering. Then the horrifying twist that happened right before my eyes on the screen. I thought they all had been through so fucking much, especially Suzanne and Red. It’s just horrifying and I imagine I’m going to be processing this for a long time.
I’ve not watched episode 13 and don’t want to. I recently had a friend tell me just to watch it and it’s only a tv show. When I was trying to tell her why I wasn’t watching anymore. I’m so glad it’s not just me having these feelings. Everyone is saying how amazing the last two episodes were but I found it got less and less enjoyable the more I watched it. I can’t watch the last episode knowing they’re going to try to force us to sympathise with Bailey. I totally agree with the point that Poussey shouldn’t have been killed to teach white people a lesson. I’ll always be confused as to why they did it and really sad that they took all the enjoyment out of the show.
To be honest the only reason I watched episode 13 is because I was waiting for a “reveal” where Poussey was alive and Caputo had orchestrated this to get MCC to flip out and back down. When that didn’t happen, when instead we saw SCREEN TIME being either taken away from Poussey’s friends grieving or the possibility of that reveal I was more pissed off.
I checked it out by using the small screen at the bottom of netflix, when I saw she was definitely dead I decided not to watch it. That would have been a great twist though, the show would have been redeemed in my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of what happens in episode 13 and a lot of people saying how it was either Suzanne’s fault or not Bailey’s. The second half of the season was so upsetting anyway I don’t think I can watch white men torture these amazing characters anymore.
Thank you so much, Riese and Heather, for writing this. I was waiting to get too deep into other commentary and other reviews, because I really value how you at Autostraddle write about the media that means so much to me.
Like everyone, I’m sad and hurt, and it definitely changes how I will view the show. But I appreciate you writing this now, before all the episode reviews are up, and all of the insightful comments.
Wikipedia has Samira Wiley’s girlfriend as the lead writer for episode 12. Like wtf, Lauren Morelli?
Anyway, my main complaint with season was that it was too realistic. I want a little bit of escapism in my TV, not a death that is literally just Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland’s deaths mashed together.
I have to wonder if this death wouldn’t hurt so much if I hadn’t just spent all week reading news stories about real life dead lgbt people of color. I was even less in the mood to see a dead fictional queer person this week than usual (which is impressive, considering my usual baseline for that is “approximately never, unless the character’s name is Piper Chapman”)
(And Judy King was literally just Martha Stewart and Paula Deen put together, but that is a different rant)
So I haven’t watched this yet and now I’m kind of not sure I will. I understand that the show is trying to make a point, but I can’t handle certain types of abuse because of past trauma of mine. OITNB always danced on that line (I actually didn’t watch it for a long time because the second episode had the plotline of withholding food as punishment and I had to turn it off. I didn’t go back for months, until everyone insisted that the rest of it would be fine for me.) And I obviously don’t know for sure, but it sounds like the way this article describes the new atmosphere, it might tip it over the edge for me.
And, I am agreeing with a lot of the commenters. I get that a death like this has a “point” because the show has a message it wants to spread – but in that sense its still catering to straight white audiences. In moralizing to them is still valuing them over the queer woc audience members, and its just so tiring.
I don’t know. Maybe I can watch this season if my girlfriend holds my hand. I just don’t know if I want to right now.
FUCK EVERYTHING AND FUCK THIS TROPE I AM SO FUCKING DONE.
I am torn and unsure of my thoughts on this, but as always I am grateful to find thoughtful and provocative commentary here. Thank you Riese and Heather. And I love this community. Where else do you find comments as thoughtful and well written as the article? I am grateful for all these voices.
Also what REALLY made this worse is that this was a week after Orlando. I’d been grieving a crying all week, hanging on to the thought that on Friday I was gonna have the queerest night yet, me and other girls and alcohol watching this show. We made it through the 9th episode before they left, and I finished the last four on Saturday night, on my own, and suddenly I was gutted and alone and so grieving ALL OVER AGAIN.
So much this.
It’s not much good for you guys to post a massive freaking spoiler warning on here and then go and reblog something on Tumblr that doesn’t even have a HASHTAG so we can avoid it. I have been actively avoiding spoilers around this and then I opened tumblr and it’s right there in my face. I’m so mad. Heartbroken about the character and I’m really upset that this will basically ruin my whole watching experience for Season 4.
Thank you writing this!
I already finished season 4 but is it sensible that I got pissed off that someone ruined it for you (and maybe other people)? Like hasn’t that person heard of the “Spoiler Alert” thing? LOL.
Anyway, yeah. I love the last episode but I’ll post about it when you get to that part…
Honestly I’m glad I got spoiled. I’m glad I got warned to stop early. I’ve tried to let everyone I see talking about the show know that they will likely want to know the spoiler going in. I think for something like this, especially in the wake of the actual BLM deaths and the trans women murders and Pulse, it is important to know the dramedy comedy you would usually turn to for queers and good writing and laughs dropped the ball entirely for POC and people who can be easily triggered by an extensive list of not-awesome horrific things the show tried to make fun of and play off this season, intentionally or otherwise.
“Honestly I’m glad I got spoiled. I’m glad I got warned to stop early. I’ve tried to let everyone I see talking about the show know that they will likely want to know the spoiler going in. I think for something like this, especially in the wake of the actual BLM deaths and the trans women murders and Pulse, it is important to know the dramedy comedy you would usually turn to for queers and good writing and laughs dropped the ball entirely for POC and people who can be easily triggered by an extensive list of not-awesome horrific things the show tried to make fun of and play off this season, intentionally or otherwise.”
THIS!! THIS!!! A thousand times THIS!!!
yep. wish I’d gotten spoiled as well. i might have either not watched or at the very least not watched it alone.
I got spoiled and it really upset me. I would prefer not to know.
Honestly, I want a joint interview (preferably conducted by autostraddle) with Lauren Morelli and Sam Wiley and a few of the other black cast members of the show. I want to know when the idea to kill Poussey began, how it came up, why it came up. Who did they run the idea past. What did Sam think of it? Did the two of them discuss it at all? Did Morelli go to bat for POC and try to prevent or change the death for all the reasons POC have stated here (quick shoutout to Bra for summarizing so neatly a lot of my discordance with the season)? How much input did Morelli have on that episode and why? What did the rest of the cast think when they found out? What did the writers think after Pulse? Would they do anything differently now that they’ve seen/heard the backlash, or is this everything they were hoping for?
These are questions I very much want answers to, and ones I don’t think I will ever receive answers for.
Honestly, it was pretty disappointing, but there’s this:
It’s 4am and after marathoning all day, I finally reached this episode. I am so angry.
I trust OITNB. I trusted them. This was not necessary.
This was a line drawn in the sand.
I will not be watching next year. I don’t care if they have “more to say”- I don’t trust Jenji anymore to say them.
So many of my friends- all QWOC- told me not to give Orange a chance, way back in its first season when so much controversy surrounded a “comedy” about a woman’s prison staring a white protagonist. But I fell in love with this show, and I argued in its favor, I tried to change minds. I pointed to Poussey as the shining example of what black masculine of center & queer representation could be.
And they murdered her to teach a lesson to an audience that already knew. Which makes her death gratuitous.
Much respect to Riese and to Heathee (you know how much I love and respect your work, I comment on it often)- but I hope that we also are able to here from Gabby or Carolyn or someone from the Speakeasy on this one. Perhaps when you get to the review of the episode itself? Because this is the type of mourning that needs a QWOC perspective.
I dunno, you guys went for the even handed approach (and I get why, I do)- but I had NO SYMPATHY for Bailey. I have no sympathy for white enforcers of state violence against black bodies- I don’t care how cherub faced they are.
Losing literally the most famous black queer female character on tv as some martyr to Black Lives Matter when she could have instead continued her role as a shining knight is inexcusable. Heather once wrote about the unspeakable cruelty of killing Naomi in Skins Fire and what that did to young queer girl fans of the show. Well I’d argue the same is absolutely true of Poussey. Do you know how long black queer women have waited to have a star of our own? We didn’t get a Dana. We didn’t get a Naomi or a Shane or a Lexa.
Tv generations have come and gone and we got this one. And then they left her to die. By a show and a show runner that was meant to be trusted by us to take care in our representation (not happy mind you, I don’t think anyone watches this show to be happy, but to take care and show respect).
This was an error that I hope Jenji pays for the rest of her career. At the very least, she’s lost a life fan in me.
Edited to Say: After re-reading the article, I’m able to better parcel out that you guys (Heather + Riese) were not advocating for sympathy towards Bailey, but rather critiquing it. My apologies.
Still hate everything about this episode though. And still will likely never watch this show again (which, OITNB was my absolute favorite show on earth until roughly 2 hours ago. So, that says a lot.)
My main point: Queer Black Women & Queer Women of Color Deserve F*cking Better.
I haven’t watched the episode yet, I was away over the weekend and work keeps getting in the way.
There may be reasons like Samira Wiley wanting to leave the show that made Poussey the writers’ choice. Netflix could have chosen to delay the release given the timing after Orlando – but the writers really aren’t to blame for that. However much I want to blame them. And I do.
I can understand the writers wanting to reflect something about #BlackLivesMatter. They’ve always tended to reflect social trends and this has been too important to ignore. Without seeing it, being white, and being in the UK, it’s hard for me to comment on exactly how they chose to do it, but I’m not surprised they tackled it. I AM surprised (without knowing about other things like if Ms. Wiley wanted to leave) they went for killing the queer woman of colour.
Yes, they mourned her. Yes, they didn’t sweep her death under the carpet – they had a riot when the administration tried to. Yes these things happen and they should be shown on TV. But, without wishing it on any of the other characters, all those things could have been done to/for a straight woman of colour.
There are commentators out there saying they’ve avoided the “bury your gays” trope because of the way they handled the aftermath. I’ll stick with the Freudian slip I had while typing that: tripe. They had a lot of other characters they could have killed, but against they picked on the lesbian. Gah.
the actress did not want to leave the show, that’s not why this happened. her best friend and her girlfriend and tons of her other friends work on the show!
I’ve seen from the comment and interview below she didn’t want to leave. That makes what they did inexcusable IMO. Choosing to write out an actress who wanted to leave and make a point you wanted to make as well – even when it’s hitting a lot of bad signs – might be an ok thing to do. But to do it when you’re choosing to hit those warning lights and she doesn’t want to go. No.
I watched Soso and Poussey fall in love all season and be adorable and remind me of my relationship and I kept thinking “on any other show, there could only be one end to this kind of gay happiness – but not here.”
But it turns out, yes here. Turns out OITNB does only set up queer romance so you feel the tragedy at the end! Turns out they do think queer black women are expendable! Turns out they do think we should celebrate the two white women getting back together while black lesbians are killed!
So fuck this fucking show. And silly me for thinking that I was somehow in the minds of the writers, rather than the straight white ciswomen who need to explore their sexuality and be reminded that its dangerous to stray from the hetero path. Or the straight white cis dudes who want to get off on lesbian action and make themselves feel better about all the times they ‘accidentally’ sexually assaulted someone. Fuck, I’m angry.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS! The fact that fucking Piper and Alex got to be together through the whole thing is so indicative of where the writers’ true motivations are. Fuck this show.
I have really, really conflicted feelings and thoughts about this episode, this season, and the show as a whole in the light of this episode and this season. I guess we all do. On one hand, there are many points in favour of the writers perspective (like why any other characters killing and being killed would NOT work). On the other hand, there are even more points against that perspective (like that why a bunch of white writers going there, and at a time like this, was NOT appropriate in the first place).
But the real question for me is: WHAT ARE WE (the audience) GOING TO DO ABOUT IT, individually or in an organized way? Because we can express our opinions here or on tumblr, or any other safe space (which we also need, no arguing about that), the writers, or showrunners, or mainstream media (or anyone else who has the power to influence this show or other shows) will never see it here, It’s not like they read us. They probably have some other staff that does the keyword search and monitoring, but they summarize “positive” and “negative” reactions, they do not go here in search of valid criticism or reasoning.
So, it seems that something else nedds to be done also.
Some of us will stop watching the show, supporting its raitings (I think at this point nobody can blame anyone for that).
Some of us will contunue watching because OITNB has been one of the very rare shows that has had representation. I know I am afraid of loosing this. It seems like a catch-22: the shows that are bigoted or ignorant in the first place attract audiences that are not bothered by that, hence they have good and stable raitings. Shows that are better than average in terms of representation attract more socially sensitive audiences that can easily be lost if the show makes a mistake. So, better shows have worse and less stable ratings, and showmakers are afraid to go there. So I don’t want to boicott this OITNB (I cannot blame anyone who does though). Instead, I want it to apologize for the bullshit and get better.
How can this be done and to what end exactly?
We could create petitions, I guess. And twitter campaigns. We could contact people who are involved in the production directly (through social media as well, or through other means). We could write to online and offline magazines with big audiences. And, I’m sure, there are other ways as well.
We could demand that they read our criticism and that they actually address it in a press-conference. And that they change some storylines in the next season: introduce other queer women of color (and make sure this does not feel like Poussey was replacable), stop dedicating insane amounts of time to the male storylines, show rapists in the light that they deserve etc. And that they hire new writers (with possibly firing those who messed up), and that those new writers not be all-white. And other things.
I have no idea if any of this would work. But we could try…
This season was appalling. I kept waiting for the show to lighten up and stop torturing everyone. It was horrible to watch but I thought there would be happy moments too. And then they killed Poussey, which is inexcusable for all the reasons people have given above.
I’m so angry and disappointed in the show. I trusted them not to pull crap like this.
I’m really, really angry about the entire season.
So much of S4 felt like gleefully self-indulgent escalating horror, like the writers wanted to see just how gruesomely they could torture the characters without respite. (Except, of course, for Piper; even her brand gets transformed into something she ‘kinda likes,’ if I’m remembering the quote correctly.) The central theme of S4 seemed to be ‘white people get away with literally everything’ which 1. is not something that we actually need to be reminded of, and 2. could have been handled in eleven billion ways that actually respected our pain.
I absolutely reject the notion of ‘realism’ as a justification for unending misery. This was not nuanced or necessary social commentary. It’s bad, pointless storytelling and it’s hard to read it as anything but a deliberate fuck-you. I don’t care what happens from here on out, I won’t be watching S5.
FYI there is a really frustrating interview with Samira Wiley on Vulture:
To address comments made upthread, she definitely did not want to leave the show. She was told a year ago that they’d be sacrificing her for this purpose and she was shocked and but “pretty honored to be able to be the person or the character or the actor they entrusted with the responsibility of bringing this story to light and bringing this story to a bunch of people in whatever parts of America or whatever parts of the world where this hasn’t really permeated their world yet.”
Also from the interview:
Some people who love Orange Is the New Black don’t know what “Black Lives Matter” is. They don’t have a black friend and they don’t have a gay friend, but they know Poussey from TV and they feel just like you said — you feel like you knew her. I talked to another reporter who had just seen the episodes and she said her stomach hurt so bad she felt like she was going to throw up when she watched it. If we’re making people feel like that just from a TV show, then that’s the kind of TV I want to make. That’s the kind of art I want to make. Make people feel things so deeply that it affects them in that way. To know that we might have achieved that this time is awesome.
I got had trying this the other day too: putting several lines without much on them (such as …) doesn’t keep spoilers out of the sidebar, it seems to count a newline as just one character and continues to show whatever follows. You either need many many short lines or just a nice rambly paragraph to keep spoilers hidden.
I’m glad she could find some sort of silver lining in all of this. I certainly don’t expect her to be critical or unprofessional towards a show that has given her a career. I hope she gets more work. We all know Black women in Hollywood don’t necessarily have their pick of roles, which is another reason why killing her off is so monumentally stupid to me.
That said, my opinion hasn’t really changed on the matter. In fact, reading multiple interviews about it only solidified that I don’t think these particular writers had any business trying to tackle this type of issue. And I’m sorry I just don’t buy that the average avid watcher of this show is THAT sheltered. The show has been on for 4 seasons and already more than covered how fucked up prison is. If they didn’t get it by now, killing Poussey really isn’t going to make that much of a different. Judging by the responses of the people this storyline was clearly written for, it didn’t.
Yup yup absolutely. Honestly reading the interview just made me more upset! I was only sharing it here ’cause people had been speculating about what the actress thought about it, so I was like “welp, here’s that.”
I think anybody who has made it this far in the show is probably aware of Black Lives Matter and is absolutely aware of the horrors of the prison-industrial system. This was SO unnecessary.
I think the only place where anybody could really feel conflicted about other elements of this season was imagining what the alternative would look like — sugar-coating the realities of prison or making it seem less racist or less violent than it really is could make people complacent? but ultimately it’s not my call or any white writers call, they need black writers in that room and black women in leadership positions on that show.
“but ultimately it’s not my call or any white writers call, they need black writers in that room and black women in leadership positions on that show.”
Yep. And the only people that I can believably excuse for not knowing anything at all about Black Lives Matter are international viewers who haven’t been bombarded with the 24-hour American news cycle and social media sites talking about this movement and these killings for the past few years. If you are an American and you don’t know about BLack Lives Matter or people like Eric Garner or Sandra Bland or Tamir Rice, etc it’s because you haven’t made an effort to know. And what does that ultimately say about you? I don’t think the death of a fictional character is going to bring you to the light so to speak.
nope nope noooooope. like you said you read in another comment, black pain CANNOT keep being the catalyst for other folks to get it. especially when it’s been proven over and over that showing black pain over and over only desensitizes white people to it because they think it’s part of how we live they think we can’t feel that shit no matter how awful it is. like i get it samira, you love your gal pal, but she fucked up. this show had such an oportunity to be great and they fucked it up.
also thanks for writing this riese and heather even though it never should’ve had to be written ?
Yep, Alaina. All of this. Yes.
Wtf? I’m on vacation in Spain and have been trying to coax this country’s netflix and the hotel’s wifi into letting me watch OITNB.
Glad to say I’ve failed so far!
I don’t know what’s going on, if the spectre of the world shifting to the right, us likely destroying ourselves with climate change in our actual lifetimes, the greed, the terror, the violence, has plunged the arts, television, the writers and producers into such a dark state of depression, that I am now going to wait with watching basically anything, to figure out in advance whether I’ll manage to handle it or at least to be able to adequately brace myself.
I don’t want to mess with anyone’s creative license and yay for raising awareness and trying to change the world through your television shows, but damn, dear writers and producers, I love those characters.
This kind of shit isn’t all that revolutionary, it’s just painful after a while.
I wish the show hadn’t actually killed her too, but I don’t think it wasn’t necessary. Unlike breast cancer, there are actually things that all of us can do to stop the conditions that led to her death. For-profit prisons and mentally ill people getting stuck in prison instead of care facilities (because it is partially Suzanne’s fault and it is unsafe to keep people like her in prison) are man-made evils that we can change. We may all already understand that, but Lindsey’s death is so tragic and emotionally charged that it’s a potent warning against the banality of evil and a call to arms that I’m not going to forget for a long time
*dammit autocorrect! Poussey
I hope that you get the chance, if you haven’t already, to read some of the other comments on this thread. Quite a few queer people of color have expressed frustration with the exact narrative you seem to be painting in your comment.
While I’m glad that Poussey’s death impacted you and will hopefully spur you for more advocacy and change, black characters should not have to die for (presumably white or at least non-black, as I do not personally know you) viewers to receive that message.
I’ve skimmed over the comments and I just wanted to say this one thing that’s been bothering me. I don’t think this show has ever tried to redeem Healy or Kaputo or any of the guards ever. I think it has shown them the way many people are in real life, as in, full of horrible qualities but capable of emoting. We are – me included – used to seeing archetypes on television and people are either mostly good or mostly bad. I feel Orange does a great job making the viewer uncomfortable when they see a horrible character caring for a nano second about someone or looking pitiful or provoking sympathy. I don’t think we are supposed to think these people are good in any way. I think they’re trying to make them human, they try to explore the grey areas.
And about Poussey, I am well aware of everything this death is supposed to signify, but I don’t think the audience of a show like Orange is the New Black needs to have their eyes open on this issue, we’ve been watching what discrimination, racism, abuse of power and sexism do to these women as an analogy of what happens in real life for 4 seasons now. People who still don’t get these issues probably don’t even watch a show like this one so I feel the teachable moment went to waste.
I feel like her death is way too cruel, way too unjust, specially when you watch the whole season and you see how every single character suffers and suffers and suffers, there’s no relief at any point and to have this end made me feel truly devastated. I don’t think any tv show ever has made me feel as horrible as this. And now a part of me wants revenge and all of those fucking guards dead but that would ultimately only mean more hardship for the women and I am really troubled about it.
**********I don’t think the audience of a show like Orange is the New Black needs to have their eyes open on this issue, we’ve been watching what discrimination, racism, abuse of power and sexism do to these women as an analogy of what happens in real life for 4 seasons now. People who still don’t get these issues probably don’t even watch a show like this one so I feel the teachable moment went to waste.**********
I think you are making the mistake that a lot of lesbian/woc fans of various shows make, in believing that you are a larger portion of that shows audience than you are. I am sure Kohan has seen the numbers, and knows that the large majority of her audience DOES need this lesson to be taught to them. The lesbian fanbase is loud, but does not necessarily comprise anywhere near a majority of watchers. It’s the same thing with Rizzoli & Isles, and Law & Order SVU which have loud lesbian fanbases (or used to, in the case of SVU), but the numbers show that the audience is white women and men, 50+.
Never underestimate the need for the straight white audience to learn a lesson. That has always been at least half of what Jenji has been trying to do with this show from the beginning. It’s always going to be that way. Every year this show has been a 13 part “Very Special Episode”, and I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.
I remember pressing a pillow against my mouth, one midnight of 2005 or 6 while watching cable TV, to avoid my parents hear me from their room, sobbing for the show that I secretly followed.
Last Sunday night I was in a similar scenario, but I bit a thumb instead of a pillow -and the people who live in my house know that I watch Orange.
Dana’s death hurt so much, but it was so different. There was some justice when Alice screamed “She was gay!” in the church, Dana was validated.
But for Poussey, there is no justice, and I know that it reflects the real world, but I don’t know If it was necessary for this show, I don’t know If the message will hit the people who the writers were thinking of, I don’t know If it will make any difference in the world, and I’m angry and confused.
Thank you for helping me process my feelings on this. When I finished the episode, the first thing I thought about was the All 158 Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters On TV, And How They Died list. Poussey was not supposed to be on this list. OITNB knows better. The show is not supposed to contribute to this list. OITNB saved Alex from the season 3 cliffhanger, why not Poussey?
I never blamed Suzanne for Poussey’s death. “Bailey is a sympathetic character and he should not be.” Caputo’s reaction is painstakingly realistic. Of course he will stand behind Bailey. Yes, the warden will downplay the death of an inmate, and leave her unnamed in the press release. I am not sure where they are planning to go from here though. I do believe that they will suffer more consequences from not calling 911 and leaving her body unattended for day instead of the actual murder.
While I hope that this will at least bring about awareness of the issues that plague our society today, I can’t help but compare OITNB to Soso’s petition. OITNB is walking around door to door, trying to stop an injustice. We sign the petition, but we still feel hopeless. It’s not like the prison-industrial complex is going to lose.
At the beginning of the season, I thought: if they separate Soso and Poussey, this world is fucking hopeless. I *knew* something was coming, but this?
I don’t have much to add, just that I’ve been waiting for this post and thank you. Being so devastated over a fictional character made me feel stupid and miserable and alone… but it wasn’t just the death of one of my favorite characters, or the separation of one of my favorite couples. Poussey represented so much more, and I really needed someone to explain it better than I possibly could. So thank you again.
Episode 13 was the hardest thing to watch in a very long while.
Great write-up as always (even if I disagree with parts of it!) Since Lexa’s death, I’ve been thinking I’ve been a Bad Gay or a Bad Progressive for having the Wrong opinions/emotional reactions to queer TV deaths, but reading the comments here made me realize I just like darker media! I want media that leaves me sobbing for hours after and haunts me for weeks. Those are the kind of stories I’ve always sought out, which is probably why this season has been my favorite. (I totally respect that my perspective is different than 95% of queer women watching, and I recognize and value everyone else’s perspective here!)
Also, since season 2, I’ve been donating a couple dollars per episode I watch to Black & Pink (works with LGBTQ prisoners) to make it feel less like I’m exploiting their stories by consuming media that, well, exploits their stories. If anyone else feels like OITNB is exploitative, I definitely encourage y’all to do something similar whether it is donating to a prison abolition organization or writing a letter to incarcerated people through B&P per episode you watch.
This show (and, to a lesser degree, the memoir that inspired it) has always made me think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin – the super racist book written by white people primarily for white people but which actually did a lot of political good. (Though obvi it’s v unlikely that OITNB will have even 1/16 the effect that Uncle Tom’s Cabin did.)
I never realized how much she meant to me until she was gone. In a world where wlw representation is scarce and still limited almost exclusively to white femmes, here was this perfect butch black girl who got to be the heart of the most popular show on Netflix. It was the first time I’ve ever seen myself so well-reflected by a fictional character. I don’t expect I’ll get another like her anytime soon.
This hurts way, way more than Dana or Lexa for me. This hurts worse than anything. I’ve never done more than tear-up at any character death in any medium before this. When Poussey looked into the camera, I just started sobbing. It’s been three days now, and I’m still hurting. Is it because I related to her on such a personal level? Is it because my heart was (and is) still so fragile in the wake of Orlando? Is it because her character was *so* well-written, much better than most, so it felt like I was losing an actual friend? I don’t know. It’s probably some combination of all those things. And the writer in me can’t help but respect any piece of fiction that manages to affect me so deeply, even as I question the decision itself.
I still don’t have an answer to that question. I’ve been involved with BLM for a little while now, as well as, obviously, being black myself. This was not a lesson I think I “needed.” But, I am shaken by the fact that I’ve shed more tears for this fictional character than I have any of the actual human lives I’ve marched in the streets for. I’ve been angry, scared, exhausted, and bitter, but I’ve never grieved like this. And if police brutality is something that still felt somewhat abstract for someone like me, an activist QWOC, then I can only imagine how hard it is for most white Americans to wrap their heads around the injustice and tragedy of it. It feels different when the victim is someone you “know.” I see how the writers think they could make a difference with this.
Should black characters have to be sacrificed to teach ignorant white people about systemic racism? Absolutely not. Sophia didn’t have to die to start a conversation on trans issues. They could’ve written this differently. They shouldn’t have taken representation away from people who have so little. But I do think it’s giving Netflix audiences way too much credit to assume that this lesson isn’t needed.
Having said that, I’m probably done with the show. I’m not quitting out of anger so much as sadness. I’m just not sure I can go back.
Hey, I just wanted to say thank you for this. I am feeling very torn up and confused. I read the interview samira wiley gave on vulture after watching the episode, I assumed she had chosen to leave the show for some reason, and her words made me feel better. But then I saw this thread and there were a lot of thoughts I hadn’t considered in the comments – and I have read every one.
The martyrdom, the using of black bodies to teach white people, these are in justices that it is hard for me, as a white appearing person, to pick up. I am grateful to have been exposed to them, and I will continue to give them thought.
But I am responding to you, CO, because I feel like you captured well my feelings about it. So thank you for your thoughts.
also this is a really good piece about oitnb by a woman of color calling the show trauma porn for non-white viewers…which like, yeah.
it’s a good read.
you mean for white viewers (as her title states)
and yes I totally felt like this watching this season, it was just way too much.
sorry didn’t mean my comment to come out as dry… i’m missing a question mark.
And that article was really good, thank you for sharing !
right yes, for white viewers. good lord i hate a typo
Fantastic share! This was so spot on and brought up so many things I felt while watching this season.
I keep wanting to construct Caputo’s actions in ep 13 as a calculated scheme to burn his corporate overlords. But then I think back on what we know about his character, and I just don’t see him capable of that degree of calculation. Besides which, the most likely outcome of it all is that someone non-overlord is going to die.
On the other hand, if that non-corporate dead person were to end up being Humps, shot with his own contraband handgun, I wouldn’t cry.
I haven’t seen the episode this article refers to but now at least I hope I will be able to handle the terrible scene (Poussey being killed) a little less shocked. I think it’s terrible that it’s going to happen. Just terrible. Poussey is my favourite.
I have one complaint about this article – the removal of “us” from the idiot category. If you don’t think racism is perpetuated by white progressives both willfully and ignorantly, then you are not paying attention.
People are dying nearly everyday like Poussey. And the perpetrators are not always the most vile and evil amongst us. Sometimes they are US. And they get the slap on the wrist delivered by Caputo because he so strongly identified with this “poor” kid.
There is a reason Piper got branded with a swastika. She fucking deserved it. And it woke her up to the evil she was commiting. Just because she didn’t shave her head and spout racial profanity, she was the one responsible for the Hispanic Women getting racially profiled. She used her white privilege to crush her “enemy.”
If you don’t see a message for yourself in all of this, that is awesome for you. I sure do. And until white progressives begin to own our collective responsibility for perpetuating racism, and stop patting ourselves on the back and acting like we don’t need this lesson, nothing is going to change for the better.
It fucking sucks that the brilliant amazing Poussey died for our sins. But it sucks even more if we don’t see that the lesson is actually for US.
i don’t think black lesbians should lose one of their few representations on television to teach us a lesson, though? like, even though the lesson is for us doesn’t make it okay. it’s on us to teach ourselves, there have been plenty of real-life opportunities to do so. we don’t need this lesson at the expense of a black lesbian character or the show’s poc viewers.
Yes, we need lessons! Lots of them! Yes, we are inherently racist and we say and do and think fucked up problematic shit all the time and have a TON of work to do and activism to participate in and anti-racist agendas to push forward. But this? This is not a good vehicle for that lesson!
Wow, so us PoC need to die for you YTs to learn a lesson? As if it wasn’t already enough to see it on the news?
Are we becoming a civilization of stupid people? We need every single thing spelt? We need pictures or videos to know when something is wrong?
We don’t know that making a profit with prisoners, social services, adoptions and foster care is not right? That killing human beings for jaywalking or selling cigarettes is not right? That is not ok to rape or beat a woman because you “love” her or you’re “attracted” to her? That is not ok to sent people to prison because they can’t pay a fucking traffic ticket? That having zillions of guns does not make you safe? That if somebody is different from you that doesn’t make her/him a threath?
What is wrong with us? We’re living in the XXI century; we should be going forward not backwards.
This X 1000
Why did they have to go this direction? It basically played out how it would (and has) in real life with an ambiguous “accident.” Why not show Bayley, snapping out of it suddenly and easing up? Or any other number of outcomes.
—>If the writers are insistent on teaching white people, why don’t they show them how not to kill people over stupid stuff. <—
We've already seen this story play out over and over in reality why do we need to see it again and with the exact same narrative? It didn't have to happen like this, especially to a queer POC. This show is not written for me. It's become gross and feeding the very attitudes it's trying to fight against.
And another thing… The male characters on this show this season make me miss Larry and that is the most unforgivable sin of all.
Still not in a place to comment anything serious (this WEEK) but HEY EVERYBODY LISTEN UP Samira Wiley and Tatiana Masanly will be available at the same time to be on a new show on HBO or something. MAKE IT HAPPEN. These brilliant women need to be on my television, and together would be lesbian heaven.
This X 10000
I volunteer to write a smashing set up and plotline that will feature zero dead people and also zero undead people.
I couldn’t watch the death scene. I actually skipped the last few minutes of 12 and went to 13 without knowing what exactly had happened.
I guess I will say that despite what Kohan said, I do NOT think that the flashbacks were trying to make Bayley more sympathetic. I think they were very clearly pointing out how many times Bayley escaped prison by virtue of his white male privilege. It’s the inverse of all the other flashbacks, that showed how most time a mistake due to circumstances and oppression landed each inmate in Lichfield. I thought that maybe Bayley would have some kind of epiphany where he consciously realized that he’s no better if not worse than the inmates he and his cohort have been abusing all season. Instead, he killed Poussey. It’s believable, and deals with white male privilege in an explicit nature that surprised me.
However, it’s a story about the hypocrisy of being white man told at the expense of a beloved character who is a queer woman of color. I don’t think anyone watching this show needed to be convinced that terrible, targeted violence is directed at queer women of color and black women particularly. I do think that the progressive white audience maybe could *learn* from seeing just how fucking damning the obstacle course of coddled white toxic boyhood is.
For me tbh, I also felt like it wasn’t a revelation but it was again a surprise to see it so clearly represented on screen. However, making it seem like this story is abt Black Lives Matter and not about toxic white masculinity is a bankrupt move on the part of the writers.
I don’t know. There were some gripping and well-written parts of this season and it gutted me. But I also may not be able to watch it anymore – Poussey’s murder, Doggett’s bizarre rape forgiveness storyline, Sophia’s effective erasure through most of the season.
I’ve been saying my main take away from season 4 is – re: ep 13 – that Samira Wiley should have a show where she hangs out in Brooklyn and doesn’t go to jail or die. Like Broad City but not full of white people.
100% would watch that.
I also thought that the flashbacks were supposed to show how privileged Bayley was, not sympathize him. We’re not seeing him caring for his infirm parents or reading to children – he’s giving away huge amounts of ice cream and not realizing that that’s stealing, egging a house . . .
And most significantly: trespassing and possessing weed. The exact same crimes Poussey was imprisoned for.
I am not at all saying the show took the right path in doing this – but I’m hoping they made Poussey’s death accidental to demonstrate this privilege. If it had been on purpose, obviously he would have deserved punishment regardless of his race.
Here, he might get away with it because of his privilege. And if he had been a person of color out on the street and Poussey had been white, with the exact same circumstances, he never would have.
(which isn’t to say that privilege doesn’t protect white people who act intentionally, because, well. But privilege oftentimes works in more subtle ways than that, and I think that’s where the show is attempting to go
I’m trying to explain where I think the show was coming from on this – not justifying or agreeing with it)
I feel as if it wasn’t the OITNB writers’ place to tell this story. Suzanne running around trying to experience what it feels like to be unable able to breathe felt like a mockery of a very real situation. That Bailey was the perpetrator and that it was an accident, that it was a Black lesbian, that it was such a loveable character, made this death poor in taste.
It’s very frustrating that minority audiences have to lose their representation and their favorite characters to teach privileged people lessons about police brutality. And if these people weren’t aware of the BLM movement, I don’t think they will be taking much away from this show. It feels like a punishment to the audience that actually invests themselves into this show.
And the writers’ attempts to make its audience sympathize or forgive Pennsatucky’s rapist was the most uncomfortable storyline I’ve ever sat through. A few conversations about racism were also problematic seeing as I found them disingenuous only to later learn that the OITNB writers room doesn’t have a single black writer.
Poussey, if she had to die by police brutality, should have been given a clear, unambiguous death because that storyline is corrupted now. I mean, the writers are in total control. I don’t see why they don’t make use of that power if they are really aiming to make a statement on social issues.
Thank you for writing this article. It’s good to see these issues getting attention and being unpacked.
“And if these people weren’t aware of the BLM movement, I don’t think they will be taking much away from this show. It feels like a punishment to the audience that actually invests themselves into this show.”
This X 1000000000
I have a lot of thoughts re Poussey, but before getting into any of that I wanted to point out some wording in the post that made me uncomfortable:
“I’d expected Humps, of course. He was evil, although they all were, in a way, but Humps’ evil was a drawling yo-yo of psychosis.”
Psychosis is a real thing that real people who are not evil and who are not racist and who are not violent have–and who are far more likely to be on the receiving end of ableist violence than to perpetrate violence. (White) prison guards and policeman are evil and violent as a result of the violently anti-black institution they have chosen to become a part of, not because they are mentally ill. Connected anti-black violence–however flippantly–to mental illness does a disservice to black people, mentally ill people, and particularly mentally ill black people. This seems in especially poor taste when people are apparently blaming Suzanne (a mentally ill black queer woman who fans/characters still frequently refer to as “Crazy Eyes” despite her very clearly hating that “nickname”) as opposed to the white officer for Poussey’s murder.
I haven’t watched the episode but I’m wondering if they maybe meant “psychopathy”? The two terms are often confused.
I would still take issue with that, because it would still be conflating (anti-black) violence and mental illness. It also doesn’t really mean anything.
At the end of the day, relying on arguments that violent and oppressive people are mentally ill only ever hurts oppressed people, which includes mentally ill people
It is absolutely a problem to use a term like “psychosis”, which carries the implication that the character was delusional or couldn’t help it – and this minimizes the character’s responsibility for their actions which, as you say, only hurts oppressed people.
But as a person who has suffered from various forms of mental illness myself, and who has also had recent, up-close experience with people on the narcissist-sociopath-psychopath spectrum, I have to say that the term “psychopath” most definitely carries meaning to me and I am 100% ok equating it with evil. A psychopath hurts people on purpose with full awareness of what they are doing. I’m not sure why that shouldn’t describe the actions of a racist and sadistic prison guard.
I just re-read this and I didn’t mean to come across sounding so confrontational. My recent experiences have made me really frustrated whenever I try to talk to people about this topic, and I projected that a bit onto you. I apologize.
it wasn’t meant literally, most of the words in that paragraph aren’t, and it’s hard to think of a word that could be used there that nobody would take an issue with, although i changed it to chandra’s suggestion, because i’m 100% fine with it “not really meaning anything” like you say below — both of the authors of this post have multiple mental health diagnoses, as well as multiple friends and family members, partners and exes, who have mental health diagnoses. i have been on the receiving end of physical violence from a loved one experiencing psychosis and also been there for her when she was on the receiving end. i know what you’re saying.
but i think you’re taking it a step beyond to say that using one word in a sentence that is almost entirely metaphor (like he doesn’t have a toy yo-yo inside him either) is conflating anti-black violence and mental illness in a general way? “relying on arguments that violent and oppressive people are mentally ill only ever hurts oppressed people” would be relevant if i was making an argument, but i wasn’t.
mentally ill people, like all people, are wonderful. some mentally ill people, like some of all people, aren’t. i doubt that humps has a mental illness. but he acts like [something that i don’t have a word for, so i used a different one].
both of us have written about mental illness a lot and done a lot of work towards ending stigma relating to mental illness. so it feels a little weird to be told we’re stigmatizing!
here are just some of the pieces heather and i have written about mental illness:
some of the work done by us and others on this site:
Thank you for responding, I’m sorry that my comment was erasive of your own mental illness.
I think we may just have differing perspectives on this though. To me even the metaphorical conflation of mental illness and violence–especially racist violence–doesn’t feel particularly useful. Because most often when people draw those comparisons they are being completely serious. And it is frustrating as a person who is both mentally ill and black to see focus shift from institutional violence and racism to mental illness where black death is concerned. I acknowledge that wasn’t at all your intent, but I don’t think the fact that it wasn’t meant literally to be particularly comforting.
Man, this season left me as raw as that show Rectify
I took a step back, though, after Lolly’s plotline came to a close, to keep myself from losing it. Mental illness stuff gets me too hard.
But you know, unlike Rectify
Which is one of my favorite shows on TV,
Not much of the gut wrench this season seemed necessary from a story perspective? It was well plotted and paced, Healey flashbacks aside omfg, and I could have done without the Piper starts a Nazi gang!! Sub plot
Like Piper is shitty enough goddammit
But the extent of the violence and heartache was a lot
I know why they did it but I think there could have been another way
And having a reason doesn’t make it a good reason, ya know
Also wtf wtf what the actual FUCK was pennsatuckys plot this season like WHAT THE FUCK
I’m also really unsettled by the strain of conversation centering around whether or not Poussey was the “right” character to use to tell this story. Especially knowing that the writers also had this conversation. There’s something especially despicable about the fact that people are defending the choice to kill Poussey because her death is more tragic because she was the most “pure” of the black characters. Because she was the fan favorite. I think that people think they are being nice to Poussey when they talk about how wonderful she is and why that makes this more devastating. How that carries the “point” across “better.” But in the end it just sounds like another version of “well, she wasn’t like those other black people.” I would be just as devastated if it had been Sue, or Taystee, or Cindy, or Watson, or Sophia who had died. And of course in the particular cases of Sue and Sophia there would have been the added horror of the legacy of ableist or transmisogynist violence to accompany their deaths, if the writers had chosen to use one of them as the prop for their BLM “tribute.” And I guess that’s what gets me. They wanted to tell a story about black death and subjugation, and out of all of the ways they could have done it, they chose the way that meant dehumanizing their characters into plot devices and deciding which one they thought their fans would find the most devastating to lose. And I don’t really understand how the writer’s didn’t recognize that decision making as fucked up in and of itself. Why is Poussey’s death more devastating than Cindy’s? Because Poussey is more likable, because Cindy’s still non-violent crimes are ones she actually “should” be incarcerated for? Because Cindy is meaner and is unapologetic in her meanness? Why is Poussey’s death more devastating than Suzanne’s? Because the writers and fans and characters still frequently dehumanize and infantilize her character due to her mental illness? Because she isn’t as quiet, isn’t as cute, isn’t as easy to swallow? Why is Poussey’s death more devastating than Watson’s? Because Watson is angrier? Because from day one Watson has yelled and railed against the system? Why is the option that was the most “powerful” was the one that stole away the hope and happiness that Poussey was so close to finding? The death of a black person is not more tragic because they were just about to move on to something “better” in their life than when other black people who do not have that privilege are also being slaughtered. I’m so tired watching white and non-black people discuss and debate the finer points of black death. We are being murdered everyday–is that not tragic enough?
This article says all of what I just said in a far more coherent way.
“But what was so interesting was the final episodes in which they did specific flashbacks of Poussey to showcase how special and not-a-troubler-maker she was. Even in the portrayal of her ability to teach her new partner, Soso, how to not be antiblack and say nigga (what. the. fuck.); Poussey is constantly shown as the type of black person that should’ve made it. When Poussey talks about how she was supposed to go to West Point, how she has traveled the world, and how much she loves books – it reminds me how Poussey’s death was supposed to instill the most sadness from audiences through the most anti-Black lens. We were supposed to feel debilitating heartbreak when we lost Poussey because she wasn’t a murderer, a drug dealer, illiterate, not shit, or “threatening”. Because of this, and because I know that none of the writers on this show are Black – I know that Poussey’s death was intentionally trauma porn and intentionally meant to captivate the white gaze through Black pain.”
I am reading the article and the comments that follow it with some disappointment. Poussey and Soso did not have a great love story in S4.
S3 ended with the hope that, finally, Poussey had found someone who would love her back in the way she should be loved. This season, the show made the point that, sexually, the relationship between Poussey and Soso was not fully reciprocal as Soso was grappling with issues around her sexuality. This also happened to a certain extent in S1 between Poussey and her best friend Tastee. Poussey desired her in a way that Tastee didn’t. And that’s ok. It happens. But to happen twice is repetitive. She never got what she desired most and I felt going into S4 she would finally be loved in the fullest sense – but we didn’t see get to see the outcome of Soso’s searching. And neither did Poussey.
When we speak of the exhausted lesbian death trope, we aren’t speaking about how the trope has migrated increasingly towards violent means.
Poussey was suffocated. Root was shot. Lexa was shot.
Poussey’s death was incredibly powerful in the manner I think the writers wanted – to reflect the huge injustice that is happening on our streets every day. But it has come at a cost.
I’m losing belief in the writers across many shows, including OITNB. Life can have a happy ending at times. It’s lazy and it’s boring to keep killing them. These issues should be told – I didn’t dispute that – but they can be told through other characters. When they are happening in real life, they don’t just affect lesbians. They hurt everyone in society. But our tv is reflecting this through the deaths of queer women only.
As a group, we do need tv most. It’s another safe haven. It’s an outlet of comfort and visibility and pride. A place which is a home from home.
Make it safe again.
“Poussey and Soso did not have a great love story in S4. S3 ended with the hope that, finally, Poussey had found someone who would love her back in the way she should be loved. This season, the show made the point that, sexually, the relationship between Poussey and Soso was not fully reciprocal as Soso was grappling with issues around her sexuality.”
This makes me super uncomfortable. Like, I understand that for many people sex is an important part to a relationship but the statement feels kind of rapey and entitled to me? Because there should be a safe space in any relationship to explore and negotiate – which takes time and trust. Considering Soso’s age and inexperience it is perfectly fine for her to question her sexuality and wehter or not she likes certain sex acts? It just seems weird to me to not call their relationship “not a (…) lovestory” considering neither Poussey nor Soso question their feelings.
Also for me – as a survivor of csa – it was one of the most romantic gestures for Poussey to be like “yes, I do want you to do me but I want you to WANT it not just doing it because you feel guilty”. Meaning: “I’m here, I’m safe, while you work your shit out I will be confident for both of us…” Which is why I strongly disagree that *balanced sex* is what “she desired most”. I think love and being seen is what she desired most – both of which had happen (after the marthastewatpauladeenlady fuck up)
Fuck I love them so much.
Why show? WHY????????????
I’m on the fence about their relationship. On one hand, I believe the OITNB team wanted to show Poussey as being the patient, sensitive, consent-focused partner in a relationship whereas most other people in this prison are involved in some sort of coercive sexual relationship or some other unbalanced power dynamic. On one hand, I was pleased to see Poussey, a character I love respecting and establishing healty relationship boundaries. On the other hand, it really drives home the point that OITNB is not interested in showing black women receiving pleasure or having reciprocal sexual relationships. Looking at Poussey and Tova/Black Cindy, as well as the other black women this season, it seems that black women on this show are meant either to be alone/free of romantic entanglements, or to be used by white/nonblack women (Soso using P for sexual gratification, Judy King using Tova as a prop to save her reputation). I’m still very much on the fence about all of this.
“How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?”
Riese and Heather, thank you. The two of you are the only writers and critics in all of media who have been here with us and fighting for us since the beginning. I don’t know where you find the strength to keep doing this hard, depressing, thankless work, but I’m really grateful you do.
Thank you for writing this. I watched the whole season in just a few days- after Orlando, after a community support meeting on the library of my campus hosted by the now self-funded/self-run students who used to make up our LGBTQ center, after I spent a week avoiding the internet because I couldn’t read anything without crying and couldn’t type anything without getting angry, after Pride- as a cathartic sign-off to the week of cathartic hell. So I could study for my thesis defense. So I could zip my skin back on having had my fill of queer emotions, good and bad.
That was NOT what I needed. Not even a little.
I agree that it was a travesty to kill her and that they did not should not have done it. What I disagree with is the idea that Bayley is portrayed as a sympathetic character. What I loved about his storyline is that they showed him doing illegal things and getting away with them. On three separate occasions in his flashbacks he commits crimes in ways that parallel those of some of the women of Litchfield. He was found guilty of smoking marijuana by cops and was instead let go with it all being played as a hilarious joke. If he were a woman and especially if he was a woman of color, his interaction with the justice system wouldn’t have been so funny. I thought that was powerful.
All of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2W_MFit3d0
Oops, can the comment faeries please replace the video with this link? I didn’t realize the original wasn’t starting at the beginning. https://youtu.be/W2W_MFit3d0
I’ve been watching this site for a while. I have my 2c to say on this matter. First I would like to say I am white, Australian and fairly privileged middle class education background gay chick with a wife of 10 years. I am the child of a Hungarian refugee – so I had some ethnic discrimination growing up. I’m also dyslexic. It’s not the same though. I say this because I can sympathize with what many of you are saying. I can’t empathize as I don’t have to live that level of discrimination. I find discrimination to be ridiculous and barbaric but it is very much a reality, and it seems to be getting worse (*cough* Trump *cough* why is he even a contestant).
The discrimination I experience is hidden. My wife who has Cerebral Palsy does experience overt discrimination on a daily basis with looks, stares, comments etc, assumptions of being drunk when she limps, talked down to etc, you name it. Australian discrimination is hidden, our racism is hidden, but very much there in my opinion. My friend from Zimbabwe said he preferred his racism and homophobia open -because it can be challenged – I don’t know where I stand there, I’d prefer a better world.
Poussey was one of the best human beings I’ve seen on tv, period. She turned all the stereotypes on their head. She was educated, spoke 3 languages, was incredibly brave in a quiet way and shes my favorite, and its not because of her skintone, its her humanity that shined. I loved it when she said to that celebrity chef, “you thinking we are going to attack you because you said some racist things is kinda racist”. I am devastated at her loss. I don’t think her death was necessary, but it definitely made some kind of point, still figuring out what that point was.
The other thing that shattered me this season, was Lolli’s story which I would argue is just as tragic. Her story did not even end in an acknowledgement. Poussey sparked a riot. I know Lolli is still alive – but its a living death to be in an insane ward in a capitalistic prison.
I stopped watching the 100 because of Lexa and her demise. I’m on the fence about OITNB – because Jenji kinda screws with everyone and I respect that. I also firmly think Piper deserved that burn – and she got off lightly – but the season has been about dehumanisation on every level, institutionalised racism, and running a prison as a business. Piper earned her punishment and it was the other prisoners who dealt it out and then it was over- Poussey was killed by assumptions and condoned inequality.
To those people who say “this is just a story – why are you complaining?” – I very much disagree. Stories tell us who we are, so I firmly sympathise that to kill off another LGBT and WOC is abysmal. Maybe it is for the white people in the audience- I’m not sure – I really hope not. I hope this is about tackling inequality and institutionalized and condoned racism, and talking about the elephants in the room. For myself I am shattered that Poussey, a very beautiful, extraordinary human was killed in such a way.
Much of this article and many of the comments talk about how unnecessary this death was and I can see why so many people feel that way, a big part of me feels that way. TV’s not exactly over run with black lesbians so it was nice to see a little of myself represented somewhere. But I do wonder how many of you really know what a woman’s prison(and it’s prisoners) are like.
I am a case worker in a California woman’s prison, I see women like these everyday, I see guards like these everyday, I deal with the BS red tape everyday. I don’t really like to talk about my work and when I do most people don’t believe the stories I tell anyway.
To say that viewers of this show don’t need to be for lack of a better term ‘taught a lesson’ rings very untrue to me for two reasons. One, this show has a very broad audience base and two most people do not have a female family member that has ever been in jail, its not real for them. Putting this story(as heartbreaking as it is) on TV, bringing it into your home, makes it more real for people.
Earlier we see Bailey admit to a cop that he had pot and the cops just laugh and say is he kidding. That same offense put Poussey in jail and ultimately got her killed. Having a character that was so amazing, that so many people love, die in a way that was absolutely not her fault is a punch in the gut and it might just “teach idiots a lesson.”
All that being said, on a strictly personnel note I cried for the rest of that episode and most of the next. If a show can do that to someone who lives in that world I have to think it had an impact on someone that doesn’t. Also I really need a few lesbians to make it out of this year alive because my patience on lesson teaching is running very thin.
Whether or not viewers needed to be taught a lesson, it shouldn’t have been at the expense of a black, queer life. This isn’t an honor or a gift. It’s a black character being killed to teach white people the very lesson they should be learning from the news, which is where plenty of LGBT folks and even more black folks are already dying.
BUT THEY ARE NOT LEARNING IT THAT WAY.
Yes people should read/watch the news and see all the horrible things that go on but they don’t. Saying the only reason this story line happened was to teach white people a lesson is short sighted, from other shows on TV yes 100% I would agree with that but not this one.
Also I’m really tired of white people telling me how I should feel about seeing a black character die. I am a black woman I don’t need you to explain racism to me so you can make yourself feel like an enlightened person.
Hey, so I’m also a black woman. And I’m definitely not here to tell you how you should feel, Usha. For sure. Ain’t about that life.
But for ME, I value Poussey more as a safe space to turn to (even in fiction) because real life violence and racism gets to be too much, as you already know. And that matters more to me than her death to teach white people a lesson that they should already know.
And if they don’t know (because your right, a lot of them don’t)– I’m not comfortable sacrificing MY safe space to teach it to them. They have everything else. They don’t get to have this too.
That said, I respect your right to feel differently on the matter. I tend to agree more with where Mina is coming from. And I don’t know if Mina is white or not, as I don’t personally know her. But I do think these differences of opinion should be able to be talked about within spaces for folks of color without white input.
As a black woman, I appreciated the representation of a living, thriving Poussey Washington far more than her dead body being used in a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement.
I am curious though about why you feel this show isn’t using her death to teach white people a lesson whereas any other show would. What makes OITNB stand outside of this criticism for you?
Hey Mina, was your most recent comment directed at me or at Usha. Because I definitely agree with you on all points. Just wanted to clarify.
(And you’re obviously black, my apologies if my implication was in anyway otherwise. All of our icons are super teeny tiny when I’m on my mobile.)
Hey C.P., my most recent comment was for Usha. You and I seem to be on the same page here, but thanks for clarifying.
I don’t think this show tries to teach lessons, I think it simply shines a light on issues. I put this show in a different group because it doesn’t pander to the lcd. I don’t think this is a perfect show in anyway, but I do think it’s better than most. I’ve never watched this show and thought the were making a fool out of the black characters. In fact I think they do the opposite. The black women on this show are shown as strong, smart, and supportive of each other.
Also, and this is my main point, I agree that we should not always have to sacrifice the little representation we have, but I also feel like if a character on a TV show getting killed can shine a light on an issue and stop a real person from dying then its worth it.
I see where you’re coming from and I can appreciate and even agree with you on many levels, but at the end of the day we just have differing views on something that in 2016 shouldn’t even be an issue.
I’m just going to say it.
With all the commentary about how there needs to be more black writers in the writing room of Orange is the New Black–isn’t it a little hypocritical that two white writers from Autostraddle writing this analysis?
I’m grateful for the article mainly because it gave us the comment section where I was able to read a lot of amazing perspectives from queer people of colour who watched the show who not only wrote personally and emotionally but also linked to other sources of writing from other black viewers.
I said something similar in my comment way up on this thread.
I will say that given the broad importance of the subject, I get the decision to have Riese and Heather, the editor in chief and the head television editor, write this response piece. That said, it is my hope that they use a writer of color to write the actually episode review/recap when we get to 4×12. This really requires a QPoC point of view.
Autostraddle employs so many talented writers of color who I think would have some really important reflections here, or will at the very least open up the space for POC mourning/ rage/reflection/etc in a particular (and necessary) way.
And, given their past track record of being supportive of QPoC spaces and voices on their website, I have the utmost faith that they will handle this appropriately when the time comes.
Being a long time reader of Autostraddle–it’s the first place I come to whenever there is an occurrence that I know will have a written follow up. It’s probably the first website I open up every morning. So I know that they do their best to ensure that the perspectives and voices of queer women of colour are heard. I’ve seen them get called out and respond and improve.
It just seems to be that as editor-in-chief and as a senior editor, who’s opinions I always appreciate and pieces I always love, it doesn’t necessarily always mean getting the byline and having your voice be heard. Sometimes it’s making the decision on who’s voice should be heard.
Saying “they have diverse writers” is almost like saying “I have gay friends” or “I, Judy King, have black people in my kitchen”–but when it comes down to the spotlight for this major piece–I, the white leader will be the focus. And as much as Riese went through and read all the comments and responded and let her mind be changed and shared new articles–it really felt like that was relegated to the comment section–which not everybody reads.
I love Autostraddle. I love reading Riese and Heather’s writing. I love the majority of the writing that happens on here. I just didn’t love how this was handled.
Thank you for this. I was so enraged after watching this episode that I have been searching for hours for answers or even people that felt as upset as I did. All I could find was how they are fine with it and how it proves a point. But no, the point could have been made in so many other ways, as you pointed out, without killing off so many viewers favorite character and at the happiest we have ever seen her. I am so upset, to the point of possibly never watching the only television show that I watch again. So happy to see someone making such valid points on a subject so important
I’ve gotten really good at avoiding spoilers. When I saw this post go up the other day that was my first and only clue something bad was coming. I didn’t read it so I didn’t know what it was. I don’t know if having known would have helped at all. I’m just sobbing after watching the end of the season just now. I’m so mad. I’m so done.
Thank you for this space. In the last two weeks, this website feels like the safest space I have. So glad to have a safe space, I just wish the need for it wouldn’t keep building like this. Even the shows I used to love are hurting and traumatizing me now. Where does it stop? Will it?
These are just the things on my mind right now about how FUCKED UP this season was, and if the opportunity presents itself, shit that could have happened instead of what did.
1. They gave us like 10 literally evil new corporate CO’s and one “good” CO to balance them out. They even went into this guy’s backstory, painted him as a dumb kid from the start (which he was, but whatever), and then let him kill Poussey without getting fired… or jailed… or tried… or convicted. Of course this sparks the beginning of an uprising, but it almost doesn’t matter. The death wasn’t warranted, and the ever-charming “good guy” narrative they tried to write is like a stab in the back. The writers fuuuuucked that one up, big time.
2. Fucking Piper and Alex get to be a happy (white!!!!!!!) couple now whereas Suzanne and Maureen only get exploited and tortured for their mental illnesses and Poussey is now dead, leaving Soso behind. They were happy previously, despite their (very realistic) issues surrounding Soso’s sexuality and Poussey’s reluctance to participate in a peaceful protest. The very least the writers could have done would be to leave Piper and Alex alone as single people for the rest of the season, but no. They wanted to drive the point home that only white people get to be in loving, functional relationships, apparently.
3. To that end, Sophia’s wife had been trying to get her out of the SHU all season, and when she finally is released at the end, there’s absolutely NO WORD AT ALL on the status of their relationship or on any legal recourse for the time Sophia spent there. We’re also left dangling for way too many episodes regarding the possibility that they killed her off, too. The blood scene on the cell walls was too much. And then they just left it there as a cliffhanger… why? It’s not humanizing, which is what I thought this show was aiming for.
4. Bringing it back to Maureen and Suzanne- I could not be more disappointed. The writers just won’t let Suzanne have anything good, no matter what. They’ve played into the fact that she’s mentally ill to the point where it’s consumed her entire character, which is what I thought they were trying to move away from when they stopped calling her “Crazy Eyes.” Guess not.
5. The new CO’s are fucking gross. One of them made Maritza eat a baby rat. That didn’t need to happen this season, or like ever!!!! We didn’t need to be reminded in that way how evil the guards were!
6. The writers like, kept peppering this season with what they probably thought was socially conscious language, but it just ended up feeling cheap and like name dropping. They did the actors wrong. They did their viewership wrong. I’m mad because it’s like, not *on* actors of color to expose this shit even in the roles they play. Poussey shouldn’t have been used to further a plot. Why is it a trope to kill off happy queer characters, and queer characters of color no less? It’s not useful, not “edgy,” not nuanced, it’s tired and dehumanizing.
7. I don’t give a shit about Caputo. The writers should have stopped trying to soften his storyline and character; he’s still a piece of shit.
8. The neonazi angle really pissed me off. They kept trying to have those characters make fun of themselves by saying obvious shit about how easy it would be to theoretically NOT BE A NEONAZI, but it wasn’t focused enough, definitely won’t be interpreted by everyone in the ways the writers probably intended, and was just generally cringeworthy.
There’s more, but what it all comes down to right now is the fact that they’re increasingly focusing on stories about the management and staff of the prison, which I could not give less of a shit about. This means that they’re focusing LESS on the lives and deaths of the inmates, which is heartbreaking. I heard that this show was renewed through season 7, but I don’t think I’m going to be coming back to watch. I know that in the grand scheme of things, one lost viewer is a drop in the pond, but it’s not worth it anymore. Fuck this show, and fuck the writers especially.
I used to feel like one of the things OINTB did best was not allow privileged viewers on the show to get too righteous: even if you were in the show and you were the nice white lady inmate, or the nice white dude guard, the show lets you know that you would be doing horrendous and racist things anyway, because that’s the situation prison sets up and you are not above that no matter how nice or ‘enlightened’ you are.
And now I feel like the show writers have done exactly that; become too righteous about an issue that doesn’t personally affect them and then horribly hurt the people they publicly intend to do right by.
I am really fucking tired of people dying.
So.Deal is this. Wanna make a statement about a system that fucks over vulnerable people? Kill off Flocka. Honestly, if the writers wanted to make a statement about aggressive policing while also highlighting abuse of a minors being sentenced for petty crimes the may or may not have committed but had no financial means to fight, Flocka would have been on point. Flocka also had a tendency to put themselves in situations that could be combative, while not understanding the consequenses
I read once that good writing makes you mad at the characters, but bad writing makes you mad at the writers. It might have been a Riece L Word quote…now that I think about it…. Regardless, this was bad writing.
So….. this is what i get for positing on my Kindle…. twice the comments…why can’t I delete it? #goingtobed
Ever since I saw this post go up, I’ve been wondering what horror was waiting for me at the end of this season – but I NEVER would have guessed it was this. I just finished watching the season, and I’m just really angry and sad, so I’m glad this thread was here so I could be angry and sad with other people. There were a lot of things in this season that were terrible, but this whole storyline can fuck right off.
The biggest foe to black people and the Black Lives Matters movement in America is white liberal men and women who are “trying to help” but do nothing to actually break the system. They just enable it, like that moment where Piper said “I can’t help you but I am rooting for you”. Many black people are unbothered by people who we know are racist because you know where you stand. With white liberal America you really dont. And you really just can’t make them see how they contribute no matter how much we scream and shout. It is the most painful and hurtful thing. Why do you think BLM protested Bernie and Hillary looong before they went in on Trump? People like to separate things into “I’m not a racist, I’m not like trump etc” but you don’t have to be aggressive or outspoken to be racist, simply enabling the system to exist is enough. And that silent consent or consent via inaction is the most danaging. Y’all missed the point completely. It HAD to be THAT guard who killed Poussey. He is the representative of white liberal America- he literally just stands around and watches all the horrors. It isn’t “those guys over there” who are the threat but you too. It was supposed to be a moment of reflection like damn those of us who stand around and watch the continuation of these systems of oppression are complicit. But over the head and out the window…. This article was a very big misstep on intersectionality. Why is Poussey better off as a living representative of lesbians than as a symbol of police brutality against blacks? This is a moment that is really not about you. If you didn’t love her there would be no point in killing her. All those dead black bodies killed in cold blood on camera in front of witnesses and killers getting off with paid leave. Pousseys’s death didn’t start the riot, the fact that they they didn’t charge him or say her name/acknowledge her personhood did. And it is crazy to me that you came away feeling he was a sympathetic character. He was a villain too. If you identify with him it doesn’t mean you should sympathize with him, it is rather a moment for self reflection. He enabled an environment where this happened and deserves to be CHARGED and pay for his crime. How many sad stories have we seen from these women of color on this very show who made a stupid choice when in a very unfortunate circumstance and they have been locked up for god knows how long now. Why was there not one word about his “attractive straight white male good grades from the right socioeconomic status and background” privilege??
Thank you, I needed this so much and I wish I had seen it sooner. I’m a solidly empathetic person, and crying over tv is not a new thing. I shed many tears over this season, over the microagressions, monstrous overt aggressions, pain & suffering of characters I see as so raw and real. My girlfriend teases me about it. She never cries.
But when we saw her suffocating, saw the struggle, saw Taystee slide between the guards onto the floor next to her, I sobbed in a heavy, loud, painful way I can never remember crying over tv before. My girlfriend held me and cried herself for the first time I’ve ever seen.
And all of that pain occurred with the assumption that Poussey would recover. Period. It was already awful. I’m still so heartbroken that she was taken and I know it isn’t real but we’re all still struggling with the pain in the real world and I just… It’s so unnecessary to extinguish this bright light of a character.
Thank you autostraddle for creating a place for our voices. Thank you Riese & Heather for giving voice to this. I’m so incredibly grateful for all of you. ❤️
I understand that they were trying to bring attention to the corruption of the prison system and black lives matter but REAL LIFE IS FREAKING TERRIBLE IN SO MANY WAYS. Did they HAVE to take our one show, the one we trusted to treat women with respect and show their strength and compassion and diversity, did they have to use that ONE show to make those points?
All I could see watching that scene was Eric Garner. This is real life. They took real life and tried to turn it into entertainment, and don’t think this wasn’t for entertainment, they took a real life story and turned it into entertainment for consumption.
And that is unacceptable.
My God, I’ve spent this last month reeling from Orlando and trump and the potential Muslim ban and all the islamophobia everywhere I turn and now this. It’s so incredibly traumatizing to be reminded once again that your particular intersection is screwed, partly because it sends you reeling and mostly because you can see the self fulfilling prophecy they’re trying to force you into.
I refuse. I refuse to be afraid. I refuse to stand by silently and hope people treat me kindly when they find out I’m gay. I refuse to let the West dictate the future I can have based on their whims.
and i refuse to consume any more media that treats me like I’m a lesson that needs to be taught to ignorant fools. That includes ointb. Enough.
Damn, this piece was great. Like GREAT. Everything in this needed/needs to be said/heard/understood.
I had to explain to my mum (who’s hetero af) how OITNB made me feel distraught, not because I was an SJW but the reality was there was just too few queer woc on TV and now they killed P to make an example so some ignorant whites would learn a lesson? Because the news wasn’t enough?
1. It’s highly problematic to get offended about any number of the queer deaths this year and then give this one a pass. Every single showrunner has their reasons. Jason Rothenberg had his reasons. Ilene Chaiken had her reasons. Jenji Kohan has her reasons. But these shows do not exist in a bubble. And combined, the trend of queer woman being killed off in excessive numbers in 2016 (and in general) is highly problematic and dangerously hurtful to a large group of people. To excuse Poussey’s death but not Lexa’s is saying #LexaDeservedBetter but not #PousseyDeservedBetter. Black lives matter – even and especially on tv shows. Poussey and Orange is the New Black are participating in a larger theme of queer deaths and they do not get some special exclusion because people think they did it better than other shows.
2. I find it disturbing that OitNB so clearly called to mind Eric Garner’s death and then didn’t seem to give him the respect a real person deserves. They greyed the situation. They tried to make you mad at the institution, not the man. But the fact that the Eric Garner’s of the world are being killed and their killers go completely free IS a problem, and not a grey one.
3. I find the internet’s reaction of Poussey’s death very reminiscent to the Black Lives Matter issues in general. People are calling it “necessary” to the plot or to the point. It reminds me of how the media and (white) people in general always ask for the details around one of these violent deaths. Were they a criminal? Did they have a gun? No. These questions are offensive and demean the life of the man or woman or child who has just been stripped of life.
4. I also felt very icky watching this season after I heard the writers room of OitNB was mostly white.
5. Although this whole thing enrages me, real life and this show, I also think we’re not above learning these lessons of racism or being implicit in a racially biased system. I do, however, think the rest of the season covered that and we didn’t need this death to get the point. Piper standing by is all of us standing by and not speaking up. Being a part of this system makes us the racists too. We need to actively fight against the system that is holding down and killing our fellow human beings.
I never finished last season, and for a couple of weeks I considered catching up and watching this season. Now I’m not so sure. Not because it was spoiled for me, but because I don’t know if I want to put myself through watching this. My heart aches with every real life LGBTQ death, and I’m not sure if I want to watch it played out in such a horrifically realistic way to a character I love.
Thanks for an amazing post. I hope you continue writing.
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