Samira Wiley talks 'Orange is the New Black' and Black Lives Matter
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TORONTO — SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses plot points from the current season of "Orange is the New Black" that's now on Netflix.
"Orange is the New Black" actor Samira Wiley's appearance at Sunday's Pride parade in Toronto couldn't have been more timely.
Wiley and several castmates appeared on an "Orange" float at the parade as the group Black Lives Matter Toronto disrupted the route to force Pride organizers to sign a list of demands.
Coincidentally, the current season 4 of "Orange" and its major plotline involving Wiley's character Poussey Washington are inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, she said.
"The death of Poussey has very much echoed the deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown and other senseless deaths caused by police and brutality," Wiley said in an interview the day after the parade.
"I'm really honoured to be able to be a part of a television show that's not afraid to tackle those issues."
Near the end of the season, Poussey dies when a guard at the women's prison accidentally suffocates her during a peaceful protest.
"It's heartbreaking the way that it happens," said Wiley, 29. "It happens so quietly and it happens in a way that goes so unnoticed.
"I think that that is symbolic that this is happening over and over and over again and there's not enough attention on it. No one's looking. No one's seeing."
Naturally, fans are reeling.
"People are really sad. People are really mad and I think people should be," said Wiley, "because this is actually going on in the real world ... and we're trying to bring awareness to that."
With her intelligence, good nature and educated family, Poussey was a beloved character who struck down stereotypes about people of colour behind bars.
"She really was a beacon of light and I'm going to miss her a lot," said Wiley, getting choked up.
The Washington, D.C., native, whose next projects include the indie movie "37," said she was shocked and confused when she first heard of Poussey's fate over a year ago.
"I knew vaguely it was going to have to do with Black Lives Matter, but at the time I felt like it was me," she said, implying she took it personally.
"But in reading the script, in seeing what they're trying to do with the season, I feel so much better about it. I feel so honoured to be able to be the person to be the vessel to tell this story."
She had to keep the news from castmates until they received the script a week before shooting the episode.
"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," she said, noting it was especially tough keeping the plot twist a secret from close castmates like Danielle Brooks and Uzo Abuda.
The wrap party at the end of the season was particularly emotional.
"There was just a knowledge that this was my last one," said Wiley, getting choked up again. "Aw, man, I'm going to cry."
While Poussey's fate is still raw for Wiley, she said she has come to terms with it and is grateful for the opportunities the show has provided.
"Four years ago when this show first came around, it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, specifically the representation of the people that you saw onscreen," she said.
"You saw different sizes, different shapes, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, all different kinds of women that were not represented anywhere else, and ... they're right here on this one show.
"In so many ways, I feel so naive because that was my introduction into the entertainment industry is this show. Everyone behind the scenes is a woman.
"I feel so lucky to be able to have this be my first venture."
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