WARNING: This post contains major spoilers regarding Season 4 of Orange Is The New Black. Proceed with caution.
Actress Samira Wiley has made me renege on a promise I made earlier this week: after accidentally coming across certain spoilers regarding the fate of the character she portrays on Orange Is The New Black, I decided not to tune into Season 4 of the Netflix series. Yes, I realize how shocking that may sound to most people, especially with the show’s massive popularity, but I assure you there were several good reasons why I came to this conclusion.
Firstly, due to a combination of issues outside of my control, and my annoyance of the focus on the bland Piper Chapman (no offense to the woman who portrays her, Taylor Schilling), I had initially tuned out just a handful of episodes into Season 3. Secondly, as I’m sure that most who have already binge-watched the entirety of Season 4 know by now, the character of Poussey Washington; whom Wiley plays, doesn’t make it out of the season alive. In fact, not only does she die, but she dies in a way that was purposefully used to bring forth mentions of the ongoing and necessary “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Lastly — and this is the big one — Poussey’s death now involuntarily becomes the latest piece of a problematic trope that has repeatedly come up on our television screens as of late: the death of a queer character in hopes of “furthering” a story. Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter spoke on the repeat offense at length quite a few months back, but unlike the series that were mentioned in those pieces, both Orange Is The New Black and Samira Wiley’s Poussey were two pieces of the current entertainment scope that personally resonated with me. Losing someone who seemed so much like me; someone with so much light as the intelligent, hopeful, caring and loving Poussey — even though she was fictional — was a pain that I just couldn’t bear.
Even writing this out, I can feel my eyes brim with tears.
Early Wednesday morning, I came across an interview that Samira Wiley did with Vulture to promote her final Orange Is The New Black run, and against my better nature, I clicked on it to read her thoughts on the end of Poussey Washington. After just a few paragraphs into her thoughtful and oddly inspiring words, I was in tears. Not only is she just as emotional as many Orange Is The New Black viewers are to see her character go, but she somehow had the courage to admit that she wasn’t ready to face our sadness right now.
“I’m scared, yo. I’m scared. I honestly am scared. It’s a huge moment in television. It’s a huge moment in our show, something I’ve been a part of for so long, and fans go crazy for Orange Is the New Black, man. After the season comes out, they want to come up to you on the street and talk to you about what happened and wrap you up for a bit. I don’t know if I have the emotional strength to stop on the street and talk about me being dead. I guess I’m a little wary about that part of it.”
“Some people who love Orange Is the New Black don’t know what ‘Black Lives Matter’ is. They don’t have a black friend and they don’t have a gay friend, but they know Poussey from TV and they feel like [they] knew her. I talked to another reporter who had just seen the episodes, and she said her stomach hurt so bad she felt like she was going to throw up when she watched it. If we’re making people feel like that just from a TV show, then that’s the kind of TV I want to make. That’s the kind of art I want to make. Make people feel things so deeply that it affects them in that way. To know that we might have achieved that this time is awesome.”
People who aren’t as tied to the world of entertainment may not understand just how huge it is to see someone like Poussey Washington go, but to someone like me; an openly gay, black man who rarely sees his existence given the amount of respect it deserves, the necessity of inclusion in the media is of the utmost importance. Losing Samira Wiley from Orange Is The New Black is causing quite the deep hurt today, only because for the first time in a long time, I was able to see a bit of myself in someone on my television screen.
With that being expressed, I suppose it would be wrong of me to not complete the journey that was started by both Jenji Kohan, the creator of OITNB, and Samira. It’s time for me to go back, albeit begrudgingly and with a heavy heart, to Litchfield Penitentiary. Poussey deserves a proper goodbye from yours truly. It’s only fair. Thank you for everything, Samira Wiley. You will be missed.
[Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images]