In the book, Piper’s ex is named Nora and described as “short and looked a bit like a French Bulldog, or maybe, a white Eartha Kitt. Everything about her was droll – her drawling, wisecracking husky voice, the way she cocked her head to look at you with bright brown eyes from under her mop.” She was described as “older,” 30-something to Piper’s mid-20s. The Netflix series has a much different take on Piper’s ex. Alex is played by Laura Prepon, about the same age as Piper with a rockabilly look, dark long hair and colorful arm tattoos. The biggest change of all is that the two exes are placed together in prison, as in real life, Piper didn’t see Nora again until she was moved to a separate facility toward the end of her sentence.
Natasha Lyonne plays another lesbian inmate named Nicky Nichols, and she’s unabashedly interested in having sex with women in the shower as well as flirting at the lunch table. She doesn’t take any shit and she’s not good at sharing, but she thinks Piper’s alright and, as Piper finds out on the first day, white girls stick together inside.
Out lesbian actress/comedian Lea DeLaria plays Carrie “Big Boo” Black, a butch prisoner who likes her food and doesn’t seem to mind her circumstances much. She doesn’t have a big role, but when she’s on screen, she’s stealing the scene.
Uzo Aduba plays the hilariously creepy “Crazy Eyes” who wants to make Piper her wife. It’s too much fun to watch her courting Piper play out, so I won’t ruin it for you. Suffice to say, Piper isn’t interested.
In other on-screen stories about women in prison, most of the sexuality seems to be something discovered inside. The fact that we have a bisexual protagonist from the start gifts us with what it’s like to be queer and entering a place where lesbianism sometimes happens out of lack of options rather than explicit desire for females, and where the guards are homophobic and say things like “Lesbians can be very dangerous. It’s the testosterone.”
“I don’t think it’s particularly lesbianism as much as sexuality,” Jenji said of the show’s innate queerness. ” I think people – sex is so many things. It’s – you know, its emotion and it’s closeness and it’s expression and it’s oppression, and it’s so many things. And I think I’m a big – you know, adherent to the Kinsey scale where there’s 10 percent – and 10 percent, I mean the random we all float in the middle. And when you’re in prison, you need that expression. You need to – you need your sexuality, and if all – if the only people there are women and you might express yourself with other women. I think certain people in the prison are absolutely lesbians and I think others who might be gay for this day. But more than an exploration of lesbianism, I think it’s just about an inherent human need to express yourself sexually. ”
Episode 3 of the series, “Lesbian Request Denied,” was directed by Jodie Foster, which Jenji said was pure coincidence.
“You know, it happened because she had a deal at Showtime to do a show, and very wisely she realized, ‘I haven’t done television and I want to check this out.’ And when Jodie Foster says she wants to come direct your show, you say, ‘Yes,’” Jenji said. “The title of the episode really had nothing to do with her being the director but it was a total treat to have her on set and at the home for that episode.”
Taylor Schilling said of working with Jodie, “I think she’s really smart and really good at what she does. And funny, I just like her. I like her as a person and I admire her talent as a director.”
Taylor Schilling and Piper Kerman
Fans of shows like Bad Girls or Weeds will not be disappointed by Orange is the New Black. It’s smart and the cast (outside of Prepon, who just feels kind of wrong for the role) is excellent. The approach on sexuality, race, class and prison life is never mocking or offensive. Instead, it almost makes you want to be wearing one of those jumpsuits yourself, and that isn’t something that happens when you’re watching Oz.