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The New Margins on TV

“On TV, shows are getting cautiously gayer, but Netflix’s breakout drama waves its rainbow flag like it just don’t care” (Lang 2014).

Relatively new video-distribution platforms like Netflix and Amazon, are offering a wave of new content like ‘Orange is the New Black’, that represent a larger variety of genders, ethnicities, and stories than mainstream platforms. Smaller networks are allowing creators fewer limitations, like Amazon offering creative freedom to Jill Solloway with her show ‘Transparent’,  and “the guarantee that if the pilot didn’t get off the ground, [Solloway would] get the rights back” (Yuan 2015). Most networks never offer this deal, which is an important challenge to the standard control and limitations that creators face when working in the industry. It’s arguably the restrictiveness of the industry which prevents TV shows to represent a greater cast of genders and ethnicities. Industries have “justified this approach with the claim that audiences won’t tolerate non-white characters or actors in dominant roles” (Cox 2013). But there are a number of popular new shows which challenge this justification.

Jill Solloway, the creator of the TV show ‘Transparent’, based the story on her own experience of her father coming out identifying as a women at age 75. The show has been widely recognised as representing the transgender community to the mainstream audience in a way that doesn’t devalue the characters. ‘Transparent is a comedy which examines a family struggling to come to terms with their father changing genders. There’s also a transgender character in Orange is the New Black, including black women, Latinas, lesbian and bisexual women. “Orange Is the New Black focuses on the stories of all of those who live at the margins, whether by dint of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or cultural dislocation” (Lang 2014).

Unfortunately the character’s backstories in Orange Is The New Black misrepresent the systematic injustices of being a minority (Berlatsky 2014) and instead focus on the weaknesses of the characters. But, allowing viewers to sympathise with these marginal character’s reflects an “enlightened culture” that has progressed from discriminating characters due to their identity (Alsultany 2013).

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