Teal is the New Orange
Popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black depicts the lives of American women behind bars in upstate New York. After bingeing Netflix coyly suggested watching Wentworth next. Not sure what to expect, I begin to follow the lives of prisoners in Australia. Wentworth is the soapy guilty pleasure to OITNB.
The show Wentworth mirrors Orange is the New Black because both are set in women’s correctional facilities. Both have protagonist that are clearly out of their element, and both have powerful women characters that have you rooting for their survival.
My experience with prison comes from American produced reality shows like “Behind Bars: Rookie Years” or the “Lock Up Raw” series played late night on MSNBC. Of course no one can forget the “Tossed Salad” man from the HBO documentary Life in American Prison. These shows were DEFINITELY deterrents to me spending anytime behind bars, but strictly American views of life in prison.
Australian’s Wentworth introduced me to prison that almost seemed like a college dorm. Women are placed in pods with five cells, a kitchen area that allows them to make tea or snacks at will, and access to knitting needles. Even I know that a knitting needle can be a weapon.
One of my first questions watching this show:
Why is there a child in prison?
A child is seen playing in the yard among the prisoners playing basketball, and starting a riot. In American prison shows, children are relegated to visiting rooms. In Australia, the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia state that if provision is made for children and infants to reside with their primary caregiver in prison, “comprehensive and well structured policies and programmes should be developed where the interests of the children are paramount.”* The other guidelines on this matter are as follows:
- Assessment processes for determining the placement of a child in a custodial environment should include appropriate input from the relevant external agencies.
- Children and infants should be allowed to reside with their primary care giver in prison only after the Administering Department is satisfied that it is in the best interest of the child/ren to do so and there is no mechanism for the primary care giver to complete her/his sentence in the community (for example via home detention).
- The accommodation for primary care givers and their children should, wherever possible be domestic rather than custodial.
It would be interesting to see how children would fare if given an opportunity to bind with their parents here in the states.
Bea Smith is the main character in Wentworth. Abused for years by her husband, she goes all Oxygen Snapped and tries to kill him with carbon monoxide poisoning. Her daughter saves his life by opening the garage and ringing the police. Despite the three colluding on a story, Bea is still charged and sent to prison. Bea is totally out of her element. She minds others’ business, not realizing that speaking up is putting a target on her back. By constantly speaking out when she sees something wrong, Bea soon begins to tangle with Franky Doyle, “top dog” drug pusher and her nemesis Jacs Holt. Bea really wants no part of any of this, just a desire to get home to her daughter. But each woman keeps pulling Bea in until “Queen Bea” is born.
After Ellen hipped me to this part of Bea’s personality. Outside of prison, Bea was a hairstylist. The inmates call her “Red” after her dyed locs. In the first two season, Bea manages to keep her hair as collected as her personality. By season 3, “Queen Bea” shows her true colors. Still red, she now sports a style that’s primed for earrings off and Vaseline fights. By season 4 Bea’s hair is in straight eff it state. Like her inner turmoil, her hair looks tired. She looks tired, dye doesn’t seem as readily available.
The inmates call the guards screws. If by screws they mean screwups, then they are correct. Will Jackson is the prison eye candy. He’s also the one I keep asking “How the eff do you keep your damn job?!” He loses his wife in the very first episode rather than utilize some time off for grief and bereavement, he returns immediately to work, intent on finding the person responsible for her demise. He visits and threatens Bea’s soon to be ex husband, causing eyebrows to raise about their already questionable relationship. He confronts a vigilante he thinks is making his life hell. He uses illegal drugs IN PUBLIC and then comes to work the following day still high. He is constantly in situations where CCTV shows him alone with prisoners who have made trouble for his as recently as the last damn episode! What the hell, Will? You really need to chill.
Colonialism destroys countries. In the US, Native Americans barely maintain their culture and fight daily to retain the tribes that are left. In many African countries, the effect of British and French rule can still be found in the wars that plague some of the countries. In Australia, it’s the lives of the Aborigines. Aborigines were the original inhabitants of Australia for at least 40,000 years before the arrival of British settlers in 1788. Like many original people, the numbers today are greatly diminished. Aborigines are plagued by racist behavior and Wentworth has a few scenes with that show that despite being behind bars, someone will always find a way to make a person feel low.
If I had any complaint about Wentworth it’s the use of slow motion camera technique in EVERY episode. I think slowing a scene down to enhance the drama is a great techniques, but it felt like over kill to see this employed in every. single. episode.
Is Wentworth better than OITNB? It depends on what you’re looking for in a show. Online commentators feel the original Prisoner is better than both. I watched all three. Each can stand on it’s own as a guilty pleasure. All seasons of Wentworth and Orange is the New Black can be found on Netflix.
As a member of the Netflix Stream Team, I receive consideration for watching and reviewing shows. This post and the opinions expressed are all my own