(If you haven’t reached the end of Orange is the New Black yet this year, whether it be because of the all-day-all-night schedule your boss has had you on all week or the coma you’ve just entered, stop reading).
It has been over one week since the fourth season of Orange is the New Black dropped on Netflix, so it’s been about a day’s-less-time since serious viewers reached the last two, traumatizing episodes (the rest of the fanbase caught up a few days later). And while the world mourns the death of sunshine-encapsulated Poussey Washington, no one should be feeling it more than Danielle Brooks, otherwise known as Taystee Jefferson.
Brooks felt the weight of Poussey’s lifeless body on her shoulders, just as much now as she did during her initial performance. In an interview with Variety, Brooks revealed how much heart went into acting those two episodes out, from the moment she realized her in-show best friend was dead to the harrowing, powerful riot she whips up in the last moments of this season against warden Joe Caputo and his men when they exonerate Poussey’s killer CO.
“I told [Matthew Weiner, the director,] ‘The minute you say “action,” I’m going to give you exactly what you need,'” says Brooks. She continued, “So we shot [the scene] twice, and I was relieved because I get to shed this off, I get to take this out of my body now.”
After all, the body-splitting pain that Taystee experiences over the murder of her dearest friend in the show was not just acting to Brooks. The actress pointed to a day seven years ago that Samira Wiley, aka Poussey, helped her move into her college dorm–ever since then, the two have been inseparable. If it weren’t for Brooks, Wiley would have never gone out to become Poussey in auditions, never ended up lying for hours on a cold prison cafeteria floor while droves of Americans soaked their screens in tears.
“The relief comes in the fact that Samira is still alive,” says Brooks. “So we can cry, fake-cry all day. We can fake-grieve all day, and hug at the end. But the problem is that real people are dealing with this issue, and that’s where the pain comes in. That’s where the real hurt comes in.”
Brooks explained that she flooded her mind with thoughts of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and all of these black victims to police brutality in only the last few years–most notably, the actress says, she thought of Michael Brown Sr., weeping over the casket of his son.
It is for that reason that Brooks expressed bafflement at the reaction some people have given the death. After being read an excerpt from the article “Orange is the New Black Is Trauma Porn Written For White People,” Brooks swept the feelings of black lives being used for entertainment aside for a new purpose.
“I view it as a moment to educate people,” says Brooks. “This show does not just have viewers that are white The show has viewers from all different colors, backgrounds, religions, ages. So to think this is something to just profit for white people–”
Brooks also pointed out that a good chunk of the fans crying sorrow over Poussey were being brought into the Black Lives Matter movement as they may never have been able to before. “There’s kids out here, adults out here, that are just clueless when it comes to Black Lives Matter…but they are so invested in Poussey. And so invested in Taystee. And now we get to have a voice and say listen, ‘this is the world that we live in. We’re telling this story for the lost, the last, the least, the left behind, the looked over.'”
Danielle Brooks’s (possibly Emmy-winning) performance, as well as the rest of this season of Orange is the New Black, can be viewed on Netflix.