Reflecting reality: Jenji Kohan

Orange is the New Black showrunner Jenji Kohan talks Wentworth, The Katering Show and why diversity needs to be the norm, not a trend. By Caris Bizzaca.

It’s not unusual to see Wentworth and Orange is the New Black favourably compared to one another – which is exactly why Jenji Kohan is yet to see it.

Kohan, who created Weeds and the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black, says she heard there was this another women’s prison drama with Wentworth, but intentionally never watched the acclaimed SoHo series for fears it would influence her own writing.

“You watch something and then it seeps in and pops up somewhere and you don’t realise where it came from and I did not want to run that risk at all,” Kohan said onstage during an interview with Please Like Me creator Josh Thomas in Sydney for Vivid Ideas.

However, Kohan says she’s keen to start bingeing on some Australian TV.

“I’ve been told I should watch The Katering Show… I’m going to start the deep dive.”

While Screen Australia is currently undertaking a study into diversity in local TV drama, Orange is the New Black is an example of a series that has done it right. The Netflix show, whose fourth season drops on June 17, features black, Hispanic, Asian and Caucasian characters, some who are gay, some who are straight, one who is transgender. It passes the Bechdel test hundreds of times over.

Kohan says it’s not about being politically correct – it’s simply about reflecting reality.

“We just show it and we don’t get into the politics of it, or we try not to,” Kohan says.

“We’re presenting what’s out there and what’s real. What has been presented before isn’t normal and I think that’s the argument.”

Kohan says there’s a gap between what’s being made and who it’s being consumed by.

“There’s a fear and fascination of the other, of what isn’t mainstream, of minority populations,” she says.

“With the gender gap they’re leaving so much money on the table because the same guys are making the same decisions about what they like… and they’re ignoring everyone else who could be a huge market to them.

“Minorities have huge financial stakes in things and they’re not being catered to and it’s this myopic view because a lot of the people making the decisions have an unintended but very real bias.”

Kohan thinks the needle is being moved, but the concern is that issues – whether they are gender or LGBTQI representation – are just being seen as ‘trendy’.

“Like trans is ‘hot’, but trans has always existed and it probably always will,” she says.

“It shouldn’t be a trend it should just be integrated.”

Orange is the New Black seasons 1-3 is on Netflix now, starring Australians Ruby Rose and Yael Stone, with a fourth airing from June 17. Wentworth is available on Foxtel’s SoHo channel and The Katering Show Season 1 is available on YouTube with a second season showing exclusively on ABC iview.

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