By Paul Chi
Netflix’s acclaimed series “Orange is the New Black” ended last season with the heartbreaking death of fan favorite character, Poussey (Samira Wiley), who was accidentally killed by a prison guard during a peaceful protest. Her death caused her fellow inmates to riot and take over Litchfield Penitentiary. Season five — available to stream now — begins immediately where last season’s intense finale left off, and viewers will learn that the prisoners are in complete control, holding all the correctional officers hostage. This year’s 13 episodes unfolds over a three-day period and tackles relevant themes of resistance, rising up against oppression and the power of using an individual’s voice to make change and overcome human injustices. Although the season was already in production during the presidential election, the show’s storylines mirrors the death of Eric Garner, who died at the hands of a police officer in July 2014, and also reflects the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This season we are giving a voice to the voiceless, especially to the people who have lost their lives to police brutality,” said Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, at the show’s premiere party held at the New York restaurant Catch on Friday night. “Even though our story is fictional, we are trying to give a realistic glimpse of what it’s like to lose somebody you love in a similar situation and to reflect the climate of our country. There’s a lot of human injustices happening right now, but I feel you can make a difference just by raising your voice. Like my character, who doesn’t even know how to use an iPad, people really can still find ways to fight for what they feel is right. You can add beauty to this world in your own way.”
Uzo Aduba, a two-time Emmy winner for playing Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, is in favor of expressing her opinion in order to make positive changes, especially in today’s society.
“As members of the human family, I believe it is our responsibility to use our voice as often and as loudly as possible,” she said. “The safe thing to do is stand on the sidelines and wait for somebody else to manage that responsibility, but the realistic thing is change doesn’t belong to one — it belongs to us all and we all need to act together. What I love about the show this year is we are reflecting this responsibility of working together to make change.”
And she has a response for critics who strongly believe that Hollywood celebrities should keep their political and social opinions to themselves.
“I don’t understand why people think that. I vote like you vote. I’m impacted by the rules and the legislations that occur. I don’t know why because of my profession I should not be able to use my voice,” explained Aduba. “So I don’t know why mine should seem restricted in any way. I think when it comes to issues of politics or voting, it’s not my responsibility to necessarily convince anyone out of their opinion. I think it is my job to speak and give a voice to those convictions and ideas in what I believe in.
With President Donald Trump threatening to cut federal funding for the arts, Lea DeLaria, who plays Big Boo, is also speaking up against the president and believes he is making the wrong decision.
“I think art affects change almost better than anything else that you can do,” said DeLaria. “People tend to go with this ‘spoon full of sugary’ method— if you can entertain people as you are making a point, it tends to sink in a little easier. We do that with Orange is the New Black and I’ve done that my entire life and my whole career. If we want to affect change in our society, then we need to stand tall as artists and be there every second in the face of the current administration, who is so anti-art and fight them.”
Laura Prepon agrees with DeLaria and stressed that the arts is “more than about acting,” since it provides life-learning tools.
“We all have to fight to keep the arts on the forefront,” said Prepon. “Every society would be nothing without the arts. You need the arts for people to express themselves, to learn and to take on issues. The arts are really the most important thing. That’s why I am involved in arts. It’s made me who I am today. The arts and Orange is the New Black has helped me grow in every way. I’m so thankful for the arts.”
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