The fifth season of “Orange Is the New Black” can’t avoid getting political, even if it’s not entirely the intent, actresses Taylor Schilling and Natasha Lyonne said on May 9 at the Essex House in Manhattan.
Centered around the crucial days that follow the death of beloved, hooch-making Poussey Washington at the hands of a prison guard, the season sheds new light on corruption within the criminal justice system and beyond with a unique narrative structure covering just three days across 13 episodes.
As the Litchfield inmates riot following Poussey’s death, one can’t help but notice the real-life political parallels in a nation where many have been resisting the Trump administration since its inception.
“OITNB” has never been a show to shy away from incorporating current-day cultural movements — women’s equality, police brutality, Black Lives Matter — into its plotline, but according to Schilling (Piper Chapman), the goal isn’t to make a political statement, per se.
The show is “inherently political,” but creator Jenji Kohan chooses to call herself a storyteller rather than an activist, Schilling said.
Still, women in Litchfield have protested against their conditions, standing silently on lunch tables, asking authority to heed their demands; women in New York City have lined the streets, signs in hand, rallying for health care rights and equal pay.
No matter the writer’s intent, viewers will be able to find character struggles relatable somewhere within the new season’s story.
“[The] deeper you dive into the personal, and the more rigorous you are honestly telling someone’s story, the more universal it becomes and then that becomes a political act because you have people seeing seeing themselves in people they once viewed as ‘other,’” Schilling said. “That is radically political.”
The fifth season lets viewers see exactly how each of the inmates choose to cope during dire circumstances within the prison.
“It’s so compressed. It’s just these three days, it’s like racking up the intensity to 11. It’s maximum stakes, constantly,” Lyonne, who plays Nicky Nichols, said. “So, I think that for us, it was an intense and just a wild ride. Still, though, we shot it over six months, so I imagine that for viewers it’s going to be even that much more intense.”
The new season is crucial for everyone, not only for the characters closest to Poussey.
“[OITNB] is telling a story as truthfully and as close to the bone, to get into the marrow. Hopefully, that’s what great art does; it sparks a conversation, because everyone can see themselves in it,” Schilling said.
The fifth season is slated to hit Netflix on June 9.