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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  • http://feministing.com/members/prettyamiable/ PrettyAmiable

    “Schilling is, on some level at least, endorsing the Randian ideology by participating in the film”

    That’s like saying Forest Whitaker supports genocide because he played Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

    • http://feministing.com/members/victoriadickmanburnett/ Victoria Dickman-Burnett

      I’m not so sure about that analogy. _The Last King of Scotland_ was very critical of Idi Amin, and Amin is a historical figure who really existed. If Schilling played Rand in a movie about her life, it would be an apt comparison, but she acted in the movie version of a book that pretty much lays out Rand’s ideology. To put in another way, there is a difference between an actor portraying Hitler in an historical film and an actor participating in the movie version of _Mien Kempf_. Obviously that example is much more extreme than the Rand example, but it better illustrates the difference between the two.

  • honeybee

    I think you have to separate art from the artist. There are plenty of artists who were jerks or held anti-feminist beliefs who created amazing art. So you appreciate the art but not the artist. The same here.

    By the same token we shouldn’t automatically like art created by “feminists” or others we agree with. Art should be judged on it’s merit alone – not by who created it.

    Besides 95% of the time it’ll amount to the same thing in the end anyways, but at least this way the other 5% of the time we won’t exclude something that is actually good.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shasty/ emmie

    Wow, interesting analysis. I didn’t know any of this because I haven’t seen the show. I will say it is kind of funny that Ron Hubbard would list the “sexual deviants” Such as “homosexuality, Lesbianism”….. Even though, “homosexuality and Lesbianism” is pretty much the same thing! Except lesbians are of the female sex. But he could have just said “homosexuality” and anyone should be smart enough to realize that he is talking about all genders.

  • http://feministing.com/members/katiehalper/ Katie

    No, it’s not. Your analogy doesn’t work at all since The Last King of Scotland is unmistakeably critical of Amin. And Atlas Shrugged was unmistakeably supportive of the Ayn Rand. What would be like saying Forest Whitaker supports genocide would be saying Bruno Ganz supports the Holocaust because he played Hitler in Downfall. Obviously, that’s not true. The issue is not the subject matter. The issue is perspective on said subject matter. Clearly Birth of a Nation is a racist movie. It’s about the Civil War (and Reconstruction.) That doesn’t mean that all movies about the Civil War are racist. I hope you’re understanding what I’m saying.

    • http://feministing.com/members/victoriadickmanburnett/ Victoria Dickman-Burnett

      I didn’t see this comment when I posted mine. I’m glad someone else is thinking the same way.

  • http://feministing.com/members/michaelp/ michael anthony putnam

    Definitely had problems with this article. (1) To assume that an actress who plays a role which was originally written by Ayn Rand is automatically somehow associated with libertarianism and misogyny is really a stretch, and very unsympathetic to the artistic choices which actresses might make. (2) The blanket condemning of Scientology WITHOUT REFERENCE TO ANYTHING PROBLEMATIC PREPON HAS DONE OR SAID is just terrible. It completely overlooks any possibility of nuance or diversity in the religion of Scientology, and assumes that all Scientologists can be reduced to the claims of the founder. That’s like assuming all citizens of the United States should be judged in light of comments made by our racist and sexist “founding fathers,” or by racist and sexist policies which our government has implemented. There are plenty of feminist Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, etc., despite the fact that those religions have historically provided avenues for the oppression of women. I don’t see why Scientology should be any different.
    I don’t think feminism should be in the business of caricaturing women by ignoring complexity and nuance in order to criticize them.

  • hannahers

    Wow, I have to say I find this post absolutely absurd. That’s not something I’ve ever said about Feministing before.

    Artists don’t only choose projects that align with their personal views (I think your mention of Kate Mulgrew pretty much backs this up). I don’t see how Schilling’s decision to appear in Atlas Shrugged has anything to do with her thoughts on Ayn Rand (or perhaps it does – it’s not really our business, is it?); while I am certainly no fan of Ayn Rand, I can accept that some people are fans of Atlas Shrugged without supporting everything Rand herself subscribed to/believed in.

    If Mulgrew feels that way, she feels that way. I’m not really opposed to people who disagree with me living their lives as they choose. Isn’t that sort of… a major facet of feminism? Allowing women to live the lives that work for them?

    Scientology is bonkers, in MY OPINION. It seems to be bonkers in YOUR opinion, also. While I am not religious and can sometimes be a bit judgmental of those who are, we would all do well to live as Prepon apparently does: “I don’t get defensive. I know what’s true for me and what works for me.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/katiehalper/ Katie

    hannahers: Where do I say that Mulgrew shouldn’t be allowed to live the way she wants? I am allowed to be pro-choice and find anyone’s anti-choice stance to be problematic. I don’t think feminism celebrates the rights of women to be anti-choice, racist, homophobic, transphobic, classest etc. If I called out an actor for being racist, would you also say that if that actor “feels that way, she feels that way. I’m not really opposed to people who disagree with me living their lives as they choose”?

    I don’t find the Prepon quote particularly inspiring, but if you do, great. It’s not that I find scientologists to be BONKERS. It’s that it is bigoted. I don’t feel like being particularly zen about that.

    michael anthony putnam: I don’t call Taylor Schilling a misogynist. And it’s weird that you say I’m being unsympathetic when I explicitly said: “I understand it’s hard for actors to get work.” Can you point to any nuanced positions or diversity among scientologists? Buddhism is 25,000 years old and there are between 200 and 500 million Buddhists. Islam was founded in the 7th century and there are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. And Catholicism started sometime in the 300’s, depending on how you define it, and there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. Scientology was started in 1950 and is estimated to have 40,000 members. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/07/scientologists_1.php It lacks the age and population required for the diversity and nuance that exists in these major world religions. Where is the Scientology equivalent of Liberation Theology? Also, moving to a country or being born in a country is different from choosing a religion.

  • http://feministing.com/members/snarkytiger/ snarkytiger

    I find this commentary really disappointing and I really would like to echo the comments of those who’ve spoken up here. I think it’s quite unfair to assume that Taylor Schilling has political sympathies for Ayn Rand simply because she worked on a film adaptation of Rand’s work. I think many of us have had the experience of working in an environment or for an organization which did not wholly square with all of our personal and politic views but the nature of capitalism generally compels us to continue there! The author’s argument (or intonation) just seems to lack integrity…and also, logic.

    I also have to agree with other commenters here who have pointed out that people often hold views that are contrary to the religious affiliations that they have. Religious people, like non-religious people, have diverse views which sometimes conform with their tradition and sometimes do not. I think the author has tried rather unconvincingly to defend herself by suggesting that somehow she (conveniently!) accepts that argument for religions other than scientology but her explanation seems just as petty as the article itself. Which brings to me to my last point, which has until now compelled me to delete my comments and spend my time reading something a little sharper or at the very least better written, who cares? Who cares if Kate Mulgrew is pro-life? Perhaps its just me but this post feels like little more than sad filler on a slow news day…

  • http://feministing.com/members/deezkneez/ Deez

    I am a bit confused by your response Katie. Is it that you think “religions” have to be more than 60 years old to be authentic, diverse, etc.? Can you not conceive of other religions that have nothing in common with Liberation Theology, to use your example. As Liberation Theology stems specifically from a Christian context in South America, would you say other religions are therefore less diverse, or more bigoted? You seem to conflate and restrict a variety of possibilities for understanding or interpreting a spectrum of religious realities. While I can’t give you specific nuanced positions from Scientologists, I would not reductively close the door on the possibility that they exist. To do so would be a reductive reification on something I am willing to learn about. I am sure you can cite billions of examples of bigotry in Catholicism, for example–this doesn’t mean it necessarily is, nor are its practitioners. I think this is the point proffered in some of the comments above.

  • http://feministing.com/members/boudledidge/ boudledidge

    This is ridiculous. To call Taylor Schilling a libertarian because she was in Atlas Shrugged is the type of lazy, deliberately misleading journalism that I expect from the far right, not Feministing. This is a totally uninformative article that is intentionally simplistic in order to give you your catchy heading. And it’s hardly a revelation about Laura Prepon. Pretty sure a million gossip and newsstand rags broke that years ago.

    There’s plenty to write about that is relevant and of value. I’m surprised that this was published.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jp77/ JP

    Eek. I really echo what snarkytiger said. Really disappointing. I can maybe understand one being ethically opposed to supporting the work of someone who is anti-choice, but I find the other two examples to be highly irrelevant. Actresses/ors choose roles all of the time wherein they are playing awful people, violent abusers, immoral assholes, etc. We should support someone’s work based upon their actions, not based upon the work they choose. And not based upon their religiosity either, for that matter.

  • http://feministing.com/members/crimsonghosts/ Jenna

    I’m sorry, but I find this entire article quite immature and a little blinkered. I’m not going to add much to rebuke the ‘Taylor Schilling is a Libertarian” argument, as people have done that already. I will say though that people need to pay the bills – she’s an actress with six jobs on her CV and we all need to start somewhere. Do you think all the people who work for a Nestlé subsidiary agree with the conglomerate’s ethos, or do you think they’re just trying to put food on the table and keep the power on? You have to be in a pretty privileged position to be able to say no to work based on political beliefs, especially so early in your career.

    What really bothers me about this article though is the attack on Kate Mulgrew. You describe her as an ‘outspoken anti-choice activist’. Is this so, or did she express a view in print that has been taken as her definitive political view? I haven’t read anything anywhere about her attacking abortion clinics or lobbying government on the issue. I can’t find anything on her advocating the ‘forcing’ of the adoption option on pregnant women, and I think it’s a stretch to claim that she’s OK ‘with every woman in the world’ being made to go through with pregnancy. Elsewhere she describes how the choice not to be a mother either through “adoption or abortion almost always promises the mother a legacy of shame and regret” because she understands the ridiculous expectation on women to conform to gender roles.

    Do you know what? I agree with her – abortion doesn’t compute with my philosophy either. However, as a feminist, I will defend until my last breath a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body. I will fight moves to legislate women’s bodies. Because that’s what feminism is about.