Rarely do we get a portrayal of the Santeria Religion, more correctly known as La Regla Lucumi, on television. It seems that Orange is the New Black is trying to change that. In the past media has made the religion a scapegoat for all dark and mysterious practices they wish to demonize. Television history has given us such sensationalized Santeria offerings as Eartha Kitt as Priestess Chata on the 1985 “Whatever Works” episode of Miami Vice. The episode opens in a typically trope-tastic way with carved candles, funky loteria cards, a dressed amulet for the Santeria God of justice, Ochosi, and a dead body. From 1985 to 2014 we’ve come a long way, Santeria on television doesn’t always mean animal sacrifice and dubious murder, and it’s about time.
On Orange is the New Black we get to see a Santeria that probably more closely mimics most people’s direct experience. The character of Gloria Mendoza knows her way around the Orisha. Mendoza is inspiringly played by Selenis Leyva. In
the early episodes of the show she makes herbal preparations to help with unwanted pregnancy and constipation. Eventually in Season 2 we are given the blessed chance to explore her backstory. Mendoza runs a bodega with a Santo Madrina working out of the back, wearing her elekes, lighting candles and performing fresh sweet herbal blessings. There are shrines and shoutouts to Eleggua, often associated with St. Anthony. Yet in this situation Santeria is more of a sideline than a solution, even if it is responsible for the evil boyfriends accidentally designed demise.
Orange is the New Black is the creation of Jenji Kohan who most people know better as the creator of the show Weeds. The show is being directed by Hollywood notables, namely two of my favorite actor turned directors: Andrew McCarthy and Jodie Foster. Mr. McCarthy told me I was funny once, and I keep my personalized autograph of Ms. Foster nearby whenever I need inspiration. Then there is the amazing cast. I have long been a fan of Kate Mulgrew, her strong feminine power shows through in all that she does. I recently wrote about her inspirational appeal as Captain Janeway in Star Trek. Her character in Orange is the New Black, “Red” Reznikov, highlights the power of food. For these women it is currency, prestige, and sustenance and “Red” has a reign as the prison’s culinary Queen.
Regular readers of these Voodoo Universe musings know I am a Voodoo priestess and Santeria Initiate, what some may not know is I did my graduate work in Cinema and Television Studies at NYU. Unlike most of my fellow students tv was, and is my passion. I have always believed it is how we create meaning, this is especially true in our post-modern world where we are physically disconnected yet cyber-linked to each other. Orange is the New Black gives us a way of creating meaning in a situation thankfully few get to experience, the federal prison system. It gives us glimpes into culture, including their brief episode about the Santeria (Lucumi) religion. This is a storyline that I hope continues into the future. If the show needs a Santeria/Vodou consulant, or just an extra/ crew person who knows the difference between a shiv and a shim, I’m write/rite/right here. Stay Tuned !