“Orange is the New Black” released its seventh and final season on July 26. With Season 6 ending in a whirlwind, the writers could have chosen almost any direction to continue the series. By creating a bold and much-needed perspective on the conditions within ICE detention centers, the creators opted to use those loose ends to make a statement.
The both visually- and morally-striking show gives viewers the opportunity to experience only a fraction of what ICE detainees face. Through their method of storytelling and technical expertise, the writers of “Orange is the New Black” created a healthy mix of character, plot and setting development that comes together to form a properly politically-charged end to the series.
When the creators agreed to tackle such a heavy topic, they decided to place the utmost importance in accurately portraying ICE facilities and conditions. Prior to creating the final season of “Orange is the New Black,” the writers and production designers dove deep into their research.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the complicated web of subplots and characters, it’s important to appreciate the importance of visual storytelling. Production designer Malchus Janocko, who has been on the “Orange is the New Black” team since Season 4, took on the task creating a realistic ICE detention center.
Since Janocko had previous experience creating maximum security sets and confined spaces, he was excited to have the privilege of working on this project. Even though he designed the set in only two to three weeks, he wasted no time in perfecting its production.
During the transfer of several thematic aspects from the prison set to the ICE detention set, Janocko made a point of stepping into the shoes of a warden. He pointed out that, “With the privatization of all of these facilities in our show and in reality, they are obviously looking for the cheapest possible and fastest ways of dealing with things.”
It’s clear that Janocko used this theory to create one of the most accurate sets to date in “Orange is the New Black.” The metal, single room set paints a heinous picture for the viewer of no privacy, no rights and bunk beds stacked three tall.
Janocko was sure to research existing facilities extensively, even going as far as visiting one based in New Jersey. He explains the process of building an ICE detention center, claiming the most popular method is “just to throw up a steel shed for a warehouse in a couple of weeks.” The simple design achieves this look perfectly, allowing the narrative to unfold freely within the space.
In their effort to represent the detainees correctly, the writing team visited a California-based facility to gather as much information as possible. What they found burned a hole in their minds long after they left.
As shown throughout Season 7, it becomes apparent that the detainees, many innocent of any crime, were living in inhumane conditions. The holding areas were overcrowded and no one was given the opportunity to bathe or even brush their teeth. They maintained fewer rights than even felons and were completely stripped of their humanity.
One somewhat redeeming quality of the detention center (no thanks to ICE) was the detainees’ sense of camaraderie in the face of a common enemy. Based off a true story, this type of alliance was represented in the series by Blanca, who befriends another detainee and helps her find the legal knowledge to represent herself in her deportation hearing.
The camaraderie is not the only aspect of the show that is inspired by reality: Many main plot points are based on real life events. In order to realistically drive the plot, the series’ creators chose to put their characters in plausible situations as told through the media or directly by detainees. The result: a hyperrealistic portrayal of the injustice dished out by ICE.
Moving on to the story, much time and effort was put into developing realistic and meaningful relationships between the characters and effectively pulling in the audience while making a clear and firm statement.
While the season starts off revisiting Piper’s story, it quickly becomes clear that even though she might be a main character, she is not the most important. Her purpose in the final season of “Orange is the New Black” is to offset the convicts and detainees who will leave their facilities with nothing.
The two characters who are affiliated the most with ICE are Blanca and Maritza. After Blanca, a green card holder, pleads guilty in association to the riot in the Season 6 finale, she is put in a detention center, as this plea is a deportable offense. Maritza, who was released from Litchfield, was picked up and re-incarcerated when she was unable to produce an ID during a club raid.
Each of these women face obstacles unimaginable to many. For example, while visiting Blanca at the detention center, her boyfriend is taken into custody and Maritza finds that she is not an American citizen like she thought and is ultimately deported.
The goal of the “Orange is the New Black” writing team was to accurately and respectfully portray women who have been detained just as they originally wanted to do with those who have been incarcerated. With all the evidence that the show tugs at the viewers’ sense of justice, it doesn’t have to be said that the writers have achieved that goal.
During such a politically-charged time, it is important for everyone, including minorities, to have the opportunity to speak out. The writers of “Orange is the New Black,” who saw this need, took it upon themselves to deliver.
For many Americans, now is a fearful time in their lives. It is easy to forget this when others are so far removed from the situation. “Orange is the New Black” is sure to remind people that it is their duty as citizens to help one another and that they have a voice. The end of the “Orange is the New Black” series is the end of an era, but the message it sent will live much longer.