Chances are, if you are a living, breathing person you’ve watched — or at least heard of — Orange is the New Black, America’s hit Netflix series about the lives of women in prison. The show is especially popular amongst queer women who have raved about its positive queer representation, feminist storylines, and diverse casting.
Chances are also good that you may not have heard of Wentworth, Australia’s take on the same theme. Wentworth, a re-imagining of the long-running Prisoner series, debuted in 2013 (the same year as OITNB) and has been a hit amongst Australian audiences. Now that the show is available on Netflix, it’s becoming an increasingly popular series for both straight and queer viewers. To help you make the oh-so-difficult decision of adding this show to your Netflix queue, here are just few reasons why you should be watching:
- Badass women
The show’s protagonist, Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack), is sent to prison after attempting to kill her physically and emotionally abusive husband. Over the four seasons that have aired thus far, Bea transitions from a battered housewife into the Top Dog — Wentworth Prison’s most powerful and respected prisoner. In addition to Bea, there are other badasses as well, from prisoners to the correctional officers to the governor in charge.
- Coming Out
Not only is Bea a badass who will do whatever it takes to survive, she is a relatable character who later comes to develop feelings for a female inmate. Throughout the series, Bea describes herself as someone who is not interested in sex because of her violent, disconnected relationship with her ex-husband. It is not until she meets Allie, a fellow prisoner, that she slowly comes to terms with the fact that she may be interested in women. It’s a realistic, heartbreaking struggle that so many can relate to. (You’ll never be able to talk about seahorses again without shedding a tear…)
- Queers aplenty!
There is a healthy mix of LGBT+ people on the show. Franky, the cocky Top Dog (for the first few seasons), is a favorite amongst lesbians, especially when she proudly exclaims to anyone who will listen that she is a “vagitarian.” She has a string of love interests, including the out-lesbian prison psychologist Bridget Westfall. The show also brings in diversity points with its transgender character Maxine, played by bio-male Socratis Otto, who challenges gender stereotypes and later comes to terms with a breast cancer diagnosis. Another notably queer character is Joan “The Freak” Ferguson, a lesbian character brought in from the original series, Prisoner. Though Wentworth’s Ferguson is not outright labeled as a lesbian, her history with a female prisoner is anything but platonic.
- Women in power
The women of the show are the ones with the power. Governor Ferguson runs the prison with a leather-clad fist, wielding power and exuding a confidence that is equal parts terrifying, awe-inspiring, and lesbihonest — arousing. The Top Dog has just as much power, if not more, in the way that the innermost workings of the prison are orchestrated under the noses of the staff.
- Women as anti-heroes
This show does not put women on pedestals, nor does it depict women as delicate, wilting flowers who can do no wrong. Women are unapologetically human, with flaws and rough edges and questionable motives. Bea is the hero of the show, but she is also a character who has murdered out of vengeance more than once. Joan Ferguson is another fan favorite, though her dark side and precarious mental health make her an antagonist that viewers love to hate. The show doesn’t hesitate to show the dark, gritty side of the “fairer sex.”
One of the most compelling elements of the show is the sense of community. These women have their tribes, accurately reflecting the nature of segregation in prisons, and wholeheartedly protect and care for each other. With the Top Dog as the archetypal mother and protector, the groups are then families who look after each other when society has turned its backs on them.
- Another look at prison life
At the end of the day, Wentworth is another dramatized version of what life is like in prison. While the correctional system in Australia undoubtedly varies from America’s, the fundamental reasons for why these women are imprisoned tell a bleak, realistic story. Domestic abuse, alcoholism and heroin addiction, poverty, and mental health issues are all core experiences that impact these lives, and shows like Wentworth and OITNB expose the very real culture of drug use, rape, and self-harm/suicide in prisons.
I can’t begin tell you how much I love this show — but I do hope you’ll tune in to see for yourself. If you start your binge-watching now, you’ll be ready for the series 5 premiere in April!