Why the Poem 'Protest' Served as Inspiration for 'Orphan Black's' Final Trip Episode Titles
Editor’s Note: Cosima is a real person… sorta. The character “Cosima” is loosely based on co-creator Graeme Manson’s old friend... Cosima, who happens to serve as Orphan Black’s science consultant.
Why “Protest”? Why this poem from which to draw titles for this final season?
When I am stumped with writer’s block, with a lack of inspiration, with lack of confidence and full of fear of inadequacy that I won’t ever be able to produce anything of worth or creative quality, I usually step back from my desk, away from the computer screen, and look to poetry. I first read this poem when in my late teens. At the time, I read it as a hail to women’s suffrage, something I was only just beginning to understand – although I’m not sure that that is what Ella Wheeler Wilcox intended by it. But it moved me then. It moves me now.
I felt, for this concluding season of Orphan Black, that the titles should be less science or theory specific, and more about the overall sense of not only women’s suffrage, but inclusive of some of the most important (at least to me) themes that underpin the entire show: body autonomy, political and personal agency, continual resistance to oppression and ideological authority, courage, hope, and change. The idea of protest is deeply embedded in and woven into the OB narrative on so many levels. I felt that “Protest,” being short and poignant was pertinent because it reflected the strength and perseverance not only of these characters that I’ve come to love, but of something more deeply philosophically and politically meaningful to me as person. The question then, is less, "Why 'Protest'?" the poem, and more, "Why protest as an action in the world?"
I was the first, and only, child in my family to be born in Canada. My parents, both American-born children of working class immigrants themselves, moved to cross the Canadian border as conscientious objectors not long before my mother gave birth to me in 1970. I was raised with anti-establishment sentiments, taught to question authority, stewarded to think critically, pushed to open my heart and mind to ideas that were outside a generalized, conventional education system. “I wanted something better for my kids,” my mother, now deceased, used to tell me. She often lamented that she’d wanted more children, “But you, Cosima, were the last.” I was birthed by Caesarean section — she told me — and while she was under sedation during that procedure she was sterilized without her knowledge or consent. Once aware of what had happened – the reason given to her was that she’d already had “too many children that could barely be supported as it was” (I was her fourth child) – despite it being illegal, she’d felt she had no recourse, nowhere to complain, no one to appeal to for help. She could not protest.
The woman with whom I live immigrated to Canada as a child; English is her second language; and is descended from a faith with a long, violent history of persecution. She is outspoken and brave, yet balanced with subtly and softness. We spend many a night trying to reconcile our families’ histories with our own current and contingent privilege of having the chance to live somewhere relatively safe, with having the civil rights to love and partner with whom we choose, to have autonomy of body, to vote, to own property, to have access to education, to be independent women, to gather in public demonstrations against tyranny and greed. These are privileges born on the backs of those who protested before us — and those who continue to protest still — who rallied, and still rally, under the threat of incarceration and death, who stood together in the belief that protest matters, who refused to remain silent, who dared to speak against injustices. “Protest,” she whispered to me one evening while I was struggling with what and how to name these final episodes, “is not simply about the present. Protest is about having faith in a different, less oppressive, and yet-to-be-imagined future.” It is the reason why she and I have the opportunities we do. It is the reason why she and I join public demonstrations to fight alongside our sisters and brothers. It is voice of our anguish, and voice of our hope.Protest is not only an attempt to fracture the existing structures of inequalities, but a perseverance towards a different future. It is the embodiment of hope for change, a hope that courage and fortitude do and can produce change. Hope that one day, even if it isn’t THIS day, our bodies that have been legislated and governed by violence and inequality may one day gain autonomy, equality, safety, and political and personal agency to determine our own futures.
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Everything the Seestras do, are, desire, and work towards is protest. At least, I have always seen it that way. They embody some of the voices representing multi-generational, multi-classed, multi-gendered, multi-sexualities which demand not a perfect world (what is “perfect” anyway but a moving target, contingent on imaginations that can never be realized), but inclusion, diversity, heterogeneity, and liberation from violence. A world that we may not yet know how to conceive of, but a world that is built on new paradigms we are currently trying imagine and create. Perfection is a fantasy. Evolution does not work towards perfection; it works towards change, resourcefulness, adaptation, mutually developing environments, continual striving towards a contingent and unpredictable future. Orphan Black — in so many ways that I cannot even begin to do justice with my words here — is, has always been, to me an allegory of evolution, resistance, and protest. It is a testament to what we can achieve, what we hope to achieve, and what we have to yet to imagine that might be achieved through collective and collaborative efforts. So, this final season may well be a sum of what has been written, but it is also a call for that which has yet to be written, has yet to be voiced, has yet to be born.