Samira Wiley is no stranger to her acting choices resonating strongly with current events. The 29-year old actress is best known for her role as Poussey on the Netflix Original Series, Orange is the New Black. As she was filming the new Hulu Original Series, The Handmaid’s Tale, last November, she watched with the rest of the United States as Donald Trump and Mike Pence were elected to the White House. Suddenly, the dystopian novel adaptation seemed a lot closer than it used to.
The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a future United States of America, where a government ruled by a new church has seized control. In this new society, the newly formed Republic of Gilead sees women as extremely controlled. A plague of infertility has spread across the country, with the majority of women being unable to bear children. Fertile women are put into castes as Handmaids, forced to bear children for the ruling class of men.
When Wiley was asked about her role in The Handmaid’s Tale, she responded by pointing out how Margaret Atwood’s novel has always been a cautionary tale, now more than ever.
“The feeling on set definitely changes. And then we felt like we had an added responsibility to really do this show right, because it was so much more relevant than we wanted it to be…and I think the show does well of showing us how this reality can occur. It seems far away, but it also seems like it could be so close.”
Wiley was cast in the role of Moira, the best friend of the lead character, Offred. Moira is a rebellious handmaid who refuses to accept the new world order and the way that Gilead does things. She fosters and encourages Moira to question what is going on in Gilead and her role in this new society.
Questioning the current atmosphere of society is something that Samira Wiley is comfortable with. The openly gay actress recently married Lauren Morelli on March 25, 2017. Her parents are co-pastors of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ. The Covenant Baptist was the only Baptist church in Washington DC to perform same-sex unions in 2007, which caused her parents to be called pillars of the LGBTQ+ community.
Samira Wiley didn’t find the source material for the Hulu series comforting at all when she read it.
“It’s a scary book. And for me especially, being a lot of different minorities, a black, gay woman, the book didn’t necessarily comfort me. And the scariest things are not so overtly scary, but the simple things: How everyone has to greet each other every day with ‘blessed morning,’ and the Handmaids aren’t really allowed to look at each other. If we just stray from the path for two seconds… you could see these things happening.”
Wiley does appreciate how her roles on television have enabled her to impact viewers far outside her normal social circle. When her character Poussey was killed at the end of the last season of Orange is the New Black, it had an eerie resemblance to the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York Police Department.
“Television can elicit change in the real world, change in the way people think about things. People were sad. People were outrages. It was like someone real had died. People who didn’t necessarily know Eric Garner, who didn’t know Michael Brown personally, they knew Poussey. I want people to transfer their anger (over Poussey’s death) to the lives of people who were actually real and walked the Earth. And I’m honored to play that role and to tell that story.”
Even though Samira Wiley is no longer part of the cast of Orange is the New Black, she looks forward to seeing what future opportunities lie in store for her. The SAG Award-winning actress is sure to have doors open for her as she continues to use television and film to challenge people’s perspective.
[Featured Image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]