"Orange is the New Black" leaves a legacy for black women

A few days before the premiere of its seventh and final season, on July 26, these actresses reflect on the impact the series had on their lives

Uzo Aduba with his award at the SAG Awards

Actress Uzo Aduba holds her awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series for her role in "Orange is the New Black" during the 22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

AP | Leanne Italie

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From corrupt and repressive custodians to a tense world of hierarchies between prisoners or friendships and unexpected romances, "Orange is the New Black" (OITNB) tells rich and complex stories about the lives of women behind bars that resonated beyond the cells.

Leer en español: “Orange is the New Black” deja legado para las mujeres de color

While it was originally focused on the life of a privileged white woman, Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling), bizarre, volatile, comedic or tragic secondary characters became the revelation stars of the show.

The award-winning Netflix series also became a platform for actresses of color thanks to its deeply nuanced and often elusive arguments.

Uzo Aduba won the only Emmy acting awards for dramatic comedy, while nominee Laverne Cox, Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley, and Dascha Polanco offered masterful performances that elevated their careers far beyond life at the federal correctional facility in Litchfield.

A few days before the premiere of its seventh and final season, on July 26, these actresses reflect on the profound impact the series had on their lives.

Uzo Aduba (Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren)

Something not so funny happened to Uzoamaka Nwanneka Aduba on her way to her audition for another role in the series: she was late.

She thought maybe the mistake was a message from the universe that tried to tell him that acting was not her destiny. Aduba, 38, had been trying to dedicate herself professionally to acting with little success for a decade and gave up after arriving late thinking that maybe a law career was the way to go, as her parents, of Nigerian descent, preferred.

But then she received a phone call with bad and good news. The bad news was that they did not give her the role of the intern Dam Janae Watson. The good news was that she was cast for the role of Crazy Eyes, although only for a couple of appearances as a guest. For the audition, she wore the Bantu bows that turned characterized her role.

Luckily she did not listen to the universe. The role of Aduba spread and earned her two Emmys, two SAGs and one Golden Globe.

"My phone did not ring, for movies or television, before our series was released," she told The Associated Press. "It was simply surreal, I think for many of us, to have this kind of experience." Now, with a much higher profile, she has a goal: "I'm trying to tell the stories of the disappeared, of the people and the voices that do not figure in the tapestry."

The following: his next projects include the movie "Beats" and the FX series "Mrs. America. "

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Laverne Cox (Sophia Burset)

The LGBTQ activist did not give up her job at Lucky Cheng's dragon cabaret in Manhattan until the first season of Orange ended. But it was not long before she made history as the first trans person on the cover of Time magazine.

"I just cried," she said.

In the report accompanying the cover on the inflection point for transgender people, the actress spoke about her childhood in Mobile, Alabama, where she suffered harassment for presenting as female. Years later she declared herself trans while working in New York, where she began to act.

Thanks to OITNB, where her character overcame cycles of hatred and violence, Cox has used its launch pad to educate the world and advocate for fair treatment for LGBTQ people everywhere.

"Seven years ago I turned 40 and I hadn't had the greatest opportunity in my career. I had a lot of debts, I thought it was time to do something else," she told the AP. "I thought, 'I should go back to college' and I bought a study material for the admission test from a friend."

Cox was the first openly transgender nominee for an Emmy in an acting category and the first in general since composer Angela Morley was nominated in 1990.

For years she told her co-workers at Lucky Cheng's that she wanted to be an actress and win prizes "and they would say 'yes, of course, whatever you want,'" Cox recalled. "A trans black woman saying in 2010 that she wanted to be a big star was like 'yes, of course'. Who was going to know? "

The following: She has several pending projects including the movie "Promise Young Woman".

Danielle Brooks (Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson)

Like the daring Taystee, Brooks not only paved the way for other actresses of color but for women of large sizes.

The actress from Augusta, Georgia, was preparing to do theater when Orange arrived after graduating from the prestigious Juilliard arts school.

Brooks is also a singer and was nominated for a Tony for her role as Sofia in the 2015 Broadway production of "The Color Purple". In February she released a video in February for Black History Month in which she appeared dressed very elegant in a bathtub singing "Black Woman", which says: "The world tells me that there is room for me if I cling and I sew on it. The world tells me that everything will be mine, with some eyelashes and lighter eyes. "

The song, Brooks told The Associated Press, was "my way of healing" and also exhort others to accept themselves as they are.

Brooks, 29, was working as a waitress in New York ("I was a horrible waitress," she says) when her agent got her an audition for Orange, although at first she was offered only two episodes.

"I almost said no because I didn't read the script and when I saw the scene I was in, I had to go topless. I said oh no, I'm from South Carolina. I grew up in a very religious family. I was nervous to interpret the stereotype of the black woman that the world can consider insolent and noisy and angry. Putting that on television ... I was not very sure. "

"How much has the world changed, how much has Hollywood changed that we can now have series like 'Pose', 'Insecure' and 'Atlanta' and a whole variety of other shows in which the main characters may be different from what we saw before?".

The following: She will be in the movie "Clemency" and is working on an EP. She is also pregnant with her first child.

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Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington)

Wiley spent two and a half years working in a bar after graduating from Julliard when he auditioned for Orange. There were no promises of a recurring role for her character. After obtaining the role, it continued working in Fred's Restaurant in Manhattan the first two seasons.

"I did not want to be stupid and give up my job and then end up with nothing," she told the AP.

Like her character, Wiley is gay. The actress grew up in Washington, where her sexuality was accepted by her liberal pastor parents, which she considers a key to her success. Now she is an activist for LGBTQ causes, immigration and penitentiary reform.

Wiley, 32, had not publicly left the closet those first seasons of Orange. She recognizes Poussey for giving her the strength and confidence to do so, as an actress and as a gay black woman.

"Deep down, I think both of us, Poussey and I, are very open and honest with our hearts," Wiley said. "There are real Pousseys in prison and outside it that are rejected because people think they do not matter."

Wiley won three SAG awards for his character of Poussey. She was also nominated for the Emmy in 2017 for her portrait of Moira in the Hulu series "The Handmaid's Tale" and won an Emmy the following year for that same role.

What follows: Wiley will perform in the movie "BIOS" and is working on a comedy titled "Breaking News in Yuba County".

Dascha Polanco (Dayanara "Daya" Diaz)

She had dreamed of being an actress since she was a child but thought that her weight would be an obstacle, so she enrolled in Hunter College as the same time she was a teenage mother of a young daughter.

Polanco, born in the Dominican Republic, graduated in psychology and worked in a hospital while studying to be a nurse (eventually had a second child, a boy). But eventually, she decided to try her luck as an actress.

After getting small roles in two television series, she was selected to be part of OITNB in 2012.

"I had three jobs back then and I was finishing my nursing practice," she told the AP about her life before Orange.

"We are the reality," she added. "Hollywood has been very exclusive in terms of what they consider an actor and who they want to portray on screen."

"We can all feel identified with that, with not feeling enough. I was very afraid of going to auditions and being told 'you have to lose weight' or 'you have curly hair'," she said. "You face this discrimination and these prejudices and you do not realize how much it affects you ... It's about learning how to accept those scars and how to use them as a basis, not as an identity."

But it is not always simple. Although her passions are acting and music, "I'm still here without receiving (new) papers," said Polanco.

The following: Interprets Cuca in the film version of the musical "In the Heights" and worked on the movie "iGilbert".

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