Why You Should Watch Orange Is the New Black

Did Netflix just create the greatest lesbian TV series ever?



At left: Laura Prepon

The same could be said of DeLaria, Broadway’s butch darling who bristles at the idea that TV viewers won’t recognize her. She’s been on American TV since 1992, having guest-starred in everything from Friends to Saved by the Bell; she recurred on Matlock for two seasons and portrayed Madame Delphina on One Life to Live for over a decade. On Orange Is the New Black, she plays the proverbial TV unicorn: an authentically butch lesbian.

“We never see butch women on television, except for the one on Modern Family that had long pink nails,” says DeLaria. “Lesbians on American television are usually pretty and feminine, or hard sexy girls. They are most often doing each other to the delight of the 16-to-24-year-old straight male audience for whom these images are created. Orange Is the New Black is the only show on television that represents butches, and we butches are being very butch.”

Indeed, DeLaria’s character, Big Boo, is among the show’s most captivating, emotionally zigzagging in a way that always disarms viewers. Even lesbian viewers will be surprised. As an actress, DeLaria seems unrestrained in the role.

“Our writers room is filled with intelligent, talented hacks and more than a few queers,” she says, adding that she never got a script or direction that didn’t feel right for a butch. “In fact, I was allowed more than my share of ad libs to add to the authenticity. What made it magical was how they kept writing great stuff for me, like what I do with the screwdriver in episode four. I don't want to say what happens because I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say I could not wait to do it.”

This may also be the first women-in-prison narrative that includes a real transgender woman, a character played by an out trans actress. Laverne Cox (who most recently starred in the indie film Musical Chairs) plays Sophia, the prison hairstylist who is married to another woman.

“Sophia has some beautiful and rich storylines in the show I have never seen a trans woman of color get to play on television,” says Cox. “The character is written with so much humanity. I feel so very grateful to have gotten to play her.”

She’s even more grateful to have worked with Jodie Foster, who made her TV directorial debut on the series.