Weeds Creator Jenji Kohan Talks Women, Humor, Race, Sex, And Her New Show About Ladies in Prison
Jenji Kohan is no stranger to stories of women doing illegal things– she is the Emmy-winning creator of Weeds, after all. Now she’s putting out a new 13-episode dramedy, Orange is the New Black, on Netflix. The story (based off of the memoir of Piper Kerman) follows one Piper Chapman during her year-long incarceration after being detained for her decade-long relationship with an international drug runner. She ends up in the company of a rowdy and eccentric group of inmates, and is forced to question herself while donning the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit.
Kohan knows what she’s doing. She spoke with Collider about creating the show, Jodie Foster‘s TV-directorial debut, and writing a diverse cast of dynamic women. See what she has to say under the cut.
When asked why she “likes to do shows with female lead characters”, Kohan made a great point about characters and pitching in Hollywood:
I don’t set out to write female lead shows, necessarily. I like deeply flawed characters. When they come to me, or when I’m introduced to them, I follow the stories and the people, rather than setting out to do a female lead thing… And when I read Piper Kerman’s book, I thought, “This is a way into a really interesting world. It’s the yuppie’s eye view to get you in there.” If you go to a network and say, “I wanna do prison stories about black women and Latino women and old women,” you’re not gonna make a sale. But, if you’ve got this blonde girl going to prison, you can get in there, and then you can tell all the stories. I just thought it was a terrific gateway drug into all the things I wanted to get into.
It’s great seeing someone confront race bias in storytelling head-on, and Kohan didn’t shy away from discussing the realities facing women of color in acting. Because the cast of Orange is the New Black required the production team to look for lots of racially-diverse women, they came face-to-face with the dearth of parts open to this underrepresented group:
Even during the casting process, the pools of talent are so deep when you have a call for Latin women or black women or a middle-aged woman because they never get their shot. There’s so much talent there… There were so many people who were just waiting for something like this. The stories are great and the characters are interesting. I don’t know why you don’t see more of it. It’s a missed opportunity… They’re people. Yeah, they’re incarcerated, but it’s hard to find these crossroads where you can bring in all these different groups and have them all in the same place. I’m always looking for a nexus, where you can put all these diverse people together…
Kohan is known for telling stories about women, but perhaps she is equally notorious for being extremely open to portraying sex on-camera:
I want more fucking, everywhere. That’s one of my things. It expresses everything. It’s comfort, it’s release, it’s brutality, it’s companionship. It’s so many things. We’re all doing it. We’re all thinking about it. We don’t see it enough… It’s so vital and integral in life, and it should be reflected in what we’re watching, if we’re reflecting our experiences. And it’s hot.
That it is. With sexually-explicit shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones and True Blood doing so well on the television circuit, it seems that the old maxim holds true: sex sells. However, in the hands of someone like Kohan, who is very much aware of her female subjects as people rather than as objects or characters, we can hope to see some representations of sex that aren’t so much male-gaze driven as they are true to life.
On another note, it’s also worth mentioning that Jodie Foster directed an episode.
…she said, “I’ve never done TV. I don’t know how this goes.” She actually came to us and said, “Can I try? I’m about to go off and do this, so I wanna see what it’s like.” And when Jodie Foster wants to do your show, you say yes.
If you want to see the final product, Orange is the New Black will be debuted on Netflix July 11.