3 things that will surprise about the cast of “Orange is the New Black”

orangeA scientologist, a libertarian, and an anti-choice activist walk into a prison onto a TV set…

Much has been written about the Netflix original bougie-bi-white-lady-goes-to-prison-for-a-year-dramedy Orange is the New Black (OITNB). Mychal writes about the show’s exploration of trans issues here. Major smartypants Salamishah Tillet at The Nation looks at the show in the context of violence against women. Kortney Ryan Ziegler talks about its trans black narrative at blac (k) ademic. But I’m not going to discuss the show’s politics. I’m going to discuss the politics of the some the show’s cast members.

Putting aside politics for a second (Ew. Did I just say that?), I have to say I was totally addicted to the show and consumed it quickly, thanks to the uncontrolled access provided by a Netflix series. I like the show about 10 times more than Netflix’s other series House of Cards (where I don’t care at all about the characters, except the one who’s now dead. Thanks, guys.) And though I loved Arrested Development, a show so good it has ruined all other comedy shows on TV for me, the Netflix episodes are disappointing. (For one thing, Jason Bateman’s character has become unbelievable and over the top. What happened to the restrained and hilarious straight-man Michael I used to know and love?) So, I started googling all I could about OITNB and its actors. And now, I kinda wish I hadn’t. Because here’s what I found out.

1. Taylor Schilling (who plays Piper Chapman) was the star of Atlas Shrugged: Part I, a movie based on the book of the same name by conservative-ish libertarian Ayn Rand, who hated taxes, any social safety net, feminism, women’s lib, female presidencies and called herself a male chauvinist. She’s also considered a hero by the TeaParty. Paul Ryan loves Rand, though she would no doubt be disgusted by his religiosity and fervent commitment to a government ban on abortion. OK. So the message of the book and the movie is problematic, to be extremely charitable. What is Schilling’s role here? Besides the lead (pun intended), Schilling is, on some level at least, endorsing the Randian ideology by participating in the film. Or at the very least she is condoning it by staring in a movie which perpetuates Rand’s message. I understand it’s hard for actors to get work. I just don’t like to think of her playing a character from that movie, which, in addition to spouting bad politics, was critically panned on a nearly universal level, so it seems like it was a bad decision all around.

2. Kate Mulgrew  (who plays Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov) is an outspoken anti-choice activist. She has said that, “Life is sacred on all levels. Abortion does not compute with my philosophy.” Mulgrew became pregnant at a young age and chose to go through with the pregnancy and have the baby adopted. And because she was OK doing that, she wants everyone else in the world to be forced to do that: “I have to be frank about my experience.. I survived it.  Women often don’t believe that they can survive nine months of pregnancy and place the child with an adoptive family.” Mulgrew, along with Michelle Malkin and Patricia Heaton, was among the “Remarkable Pro-Life Women,” list honored by Feminists for Life. In all fairness to Mulgrew, she is, unlike so many others,  consistent in her commitment to the sanctity of life and opposes the death penalty. But still, I genuinely wonder how she feels about OITNB’s portrayal of the anti-choice movement, which is introduced through the story line of character Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett and shown to be hypocritical, opportunist and fanatical.

3.  Laura Prepon (who plays Alex Vause) is a scientologist. Prepon told Women’s Health Magazine: “Anyone who knows me is just like, “Wow, if Laura is a Scientologist, then there has to be something to this.” When I hear something negative, I don’t get defensive. I know what’s true for me and what works for me.” This, to me, is especially strange given her own character on the show. For starters, she’s gay. And on top of that, the character mocks organized religion and its conservative ideas and specifically homophobia, throughout the show. Yet as an organized religion, Scientology has been very homophobic. The Church of Scientology says it, “supports civil rights for everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, race, color or creed. We are a minority, too; we understand what it’s like to be persecuted, so to the extent that anything prohibits or inhibits on civil rights, we don’t agree with it.” But their record proves otherwise. First of all, its founder Ron Hubbard, wrote that, “The sexual pervert” which  “includes any and all forms of deviation in dynamic two such as homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual sadism, etc… is actually quite ill physically.” He also described gay people as “intensely dangerous in the society, since aberration is contagious. A society which reaches this level is on its way out of history, as went the Greeks, as went the Romans, as goes modern European and American culture. Here is a flaming danger signal which must be heeded if a race is to go forward.” As for Scientology today, is hasn’t gotten much better. (Sorry, Dan Savage).

This doesn’t mean I’m not going to watch the show. Luckily the actors are so talented that you forget who they are in real life, anyway.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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