OITNB's New Asian Character Could Be Groundbreaking
Orange is the New Black is back today with a full second season. Cancel any plans you had (or have them cancelled on you) because all anyone is going to do this weekend is binge watch 14 straight (hah) episodes of Orange is the New Black Season 2 on Netflix and then talk about the show for the next three weeks. I, along with anyone else who likes to watch good television, have been waiting for this moment since last summer.
If you haven’t seen Season 1 yet…. what are you doing with your life? Stop reading this article, go on Netflix and watch the show, and come back to this article when you’re done.
Assuming you’ve watched Season 1 like a normal human being and have seen the trailer for Season 2, it looks like there are a few additional inmates Piper will have to deal with this season. I'm very excited to see the background stories of these new characters, especially the new Asian mixed-race inmate. Although the trailer doesn’t give away much about the character Brook Soso, IMDB credits Kimiko Glenn as being in 8 out of the 14 new episodes. This could be huge!
Even though we only get a few glimpses of Brook in the trailer, she already seems like a better character than Chang, the only Asian inmate from Season 1. Chang couldn’t speak English, rarely spoke at all, and was seen as an unattractive, asexual character. She's portrayed as weird and unassimilable, and hardly interacts with the other characters on the show. This quiet foreigner who doesn’t understand American customs is a common representation of Asians in mainstream media, when they are even represented at all. Even in a fictionalized television show where every character “doesn’t belong” but is “normal” in the context of the show, the Asian character still cannot fit in.
Maybe the producers of OITNB heard my grievances because it looks like Brook Soso could (hopefully!) be a breakthrough for Asian American representation in popular culture. She is an attractive, seemingly “normal” character, and – surprise! – she can speak perfect English! That speaks volumes for how underrepresented Asian Americans are in mainstream media. Think about it, how many non-stereotypical Asian American TV characters can you think of off the top of your head? One? Two, at the most? Exactly.
Orange is the New Black is widely accepted as a groundbreaking show highlighting a cast of complex characters of color, as well as different gender and sexual identities. If Brooke turns out to be another one of the show's developed characters, she'll be portrayed as a human being who happens to be Asian American, rather than just a token minority stereotype. And that’s a pretty big deal.