Everyone’s talking Orange Is The new Black – and so am I.
This second season of the Netflix original series was not really about a nice middle class white girl wading through the netherworld of prison; it was really about a clash of the titans
No spoilers herein but if you haven’t finished watching yet why not?
Season two de-emphasized Piper to reveal a prison social universe revolving around three planets. Rather, three big mamas with grit, gravitas and prison families that function as armies: Red, Gloria and Vee. Litchfield’s OGs. Among them I was most compelled by Vee, played by the Juilliard-trained, veteran actress, Lorraine Toussaint. I suspect the writers were drawn most to her, too, because she’s in the first scene of episode two, in the final scene of the season and she dominates the show the way she dominates Litchfield. Vee is interesting as a figure in the era of Thomas Piketty in that she’s an evil CEO who creates a small company and runs it ruthlessly, keeping 90% of the profits for herself while preaching about how the effective deployment of capitalism can help employees make something of themselves. She has these women in control because she gives them more than the fruits of sales, she also imbues them with self-respect.
A key scene comes in episode three (“Hugs Can Be Deceiving”) when Vee has a one-on-one with Crazy Eyes. Vee calls her Suzanne, showing a level of respect that no one else in Litchfield has ever shown. “In my day,” Vee says referring to her previous stint in Litchfield, “the Black women ran this place. And I say women because that’s what we were. Women. Not a bunch of little girls… Now, I see you. You understand? I see you. You’re a smart, strong Black woman.” I see you–I know who you really are. Then Vee tells Suzanne she’s “a garden rose” compared to the “weed” that is the golden child, Piper. Suzanne eats it up and grows unfailingly loyal to Vee. And why wouldn’t she hunger to see herself through Vee’s eyes?
It reminded me of how in the 50s and 60s Malcolm X won the respect and loyalty of millions of Black people who loved seeing themselves through his eyes. I kind of rooted for Vee because in spite of her being a villain, she has ambition and knows how to build a community and shape it into something formidable. Vee is a leader, a thinker, a disrupter, a self-crowned queen who takes lemons and makes prison lemonade.