It may be coming to a close after its upcoming seventh season, but Orange Is the New Black has already set the precedent about what an inclusive, women-centered show can look like. Aside from shedding light on some of the realities of incarceration and the for-profit prison system in America, the hit Netflix show has also featured a wide range of health issues people face both in and out of prison, including sexual and reproductive health, mental health and basic access to general care.
Ahead of taking the stage at The Golden Probes — a satirical award show highlighting some of the people in this country actively working to limit reproductive rights and health care — two of the stars of OITNB, Natasha Lyonne and Jessica Pimentel (who play Nicky Nichols and Maria Ruiz, respectively) spoke to SheKnows about some of the most memorable women’s health storylines on the show so far and their thoughts on the show’s final season.
Pimentel tells SheKnows that the recent news of the show coming to an end after seven seasons was not a surprise to the cast.
“We had signed up for seven seasons at the very beginning,” she explains. “For a show to be renewed before it even got halfway there is huge. And as we were going on, it seemed like the right time [to end the show].”
But during the show’s run, Pimentel points out that OITNB has never shied away from addressing difficult questions surrounding health, and that has always been an important aspect of the storylines. Some examples she finds most powerful are how the show handled pregnancy and childbirth in prison (including for her own character) along with accessing OB-GYN exams and a transgender character (portrayed by Laverne Cox) having difficulty getting the medication she needs while incarcerated.
“And it’s not just women’s health — mental health, addiction — it’s all there,” Pimentel adds.
Similarly, Lyonne, who plays a woman living with addiction, tells SheKnows that mental health has always been a key component of the series, though PTSD may not be given its full weight in the conversation.
“The harrowing events of life have a huge impact, [which is] hard to see just below the surface,” she explains. And beyond that, Lyonne stresses the importance of the show’s function of sharing stories of women in prison and how that impacts their lives.
“I think on some level, just the day-to-day that people experience when they have their freedoms stripped from them is pretty devastating,” she adds.