Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley have the same adorable friendship in real life that their characters, Taystee Jefferson and Poussey Washington, do in “Orange Is the New Black.”
“She actually, in college, helped me move into the dorms,” Brooks said during a panel discussion this week at New York’s 92Y, prompting a chorus of “aww” from the assembled fans. (”I know, right?” the actress responded.)
So when the subject of Poussey’s Season 4 death came up, Brooks expressed well-wishes for her friend, who wasn’t onstage but has since gone on to appear in Hulu’s smash-hit “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Brooks shared one other hope for Wiley, too ― that her character’s shocking and emotional death by a poorly trained prison guard could help viewers understand what it’s like to see a friend or family member die a similarly unjustified death at the hands of police.
“This is one of those things I just pray so hard about,” the actress said. “We show so much love to a fictional character like Poussey, and I just want us to take a second and really care the same about people that are really losing people like that in this world.”
The actress spoke about the parallels between Litchfield and real life, which witnessed a spate of black Americans’ controversial deaths by police officers in 2016, inspiring continued activism around the Black Lives Matter movement around the time “Orange Is the New Black” crew were filming Season 5.
“It made the stakes that much greater,” Brooks said. “You feel responsibility to the people that have really gone through those things.”
In the aftermath of the Season 4 finale, Wiley explained how her character’s death was meant to provoke a strong response from fans who were charmed by her optimism and seemingly bright future.
“What I’ve been reading online from people is just this profound sadness, something that they can’t shake away,” Wiley told The Hollywood Reporter last June. “And that is exactly what Jenji is wanting people to feel, she wants people to not be able to shake this off.”
In Season 5, Poussey’s death leads to an all-out riot as prisoners rebel against brutalist tactics by guards.
The whole season is now streaming on Netflix.