Orange Is The New Black returns to Netflix this Friday. After the last series – where all 13 episodes spanned the course of a three-day riot – culminated with the inmates of Litchfield hunkered down as officers swarmed their bunker in a haze of tear gas, season six sees the characters relocated to a maximum security (max) facility and facing a whole host of new challenges and foes. In particular, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson – whose quest for justice for her friend Poussey, who was killed at the hands of a prison guard, sparked the tension that led to the uprising – is put through the emotional wringer this year, with a story arc that provides the emotional heart to the show. In a hotel room in Berlin, Brooks warns NME: “You’re not necessarily going to see the light at the end of the tunnel here.”
Orange Is The New Black Season five ended on a cliffhanger. Where do we go from there?
Danielle Brooks: “Season five leaves off with all of the girls – 10 of them – holding hands and preparing for the SWAT team coming in to bust this operation up, and that only leads to us going to max. You know, there’s no other way around it. When you’re women in prison, you’re not necessarily going to see the light at the end of the tunnel here. I think they have kind of dug themselves a bigger grave here so they’re just trying to find a way to crawl out of it.”
How does Taystee adapt to life in maximum security?
“I think she adapts pretty well. It’s good for Taystee to have some isolation, to be in a place that’s sort of taking her out of what just happened. Litchfield was the place that her best friend Poussey died in, so to get out of that place is good for her, but at the same time you’re dealing with new inmates, new guards and they all know the situation that happened over at Litchfield, so how does that also affect her and how do people approach and deal with her?”
OITNB has always commented upon current events – in an age of Black Lives Matter and #Me Too, how important do you think the show is?
“It’s incredible to be part of a show that’s trailblazing Hollywood and how we view television, from literally the inside out, from having a more diverse cast but also having a more diverse crew too – [that] has been really cool. You know, and really showing Hollywood that you can make a dollar and put women that are of all shapes, sizes, ages, and different sexual backgrounds on television and people will enjoy it. They will love it and eat it up and I think it’s really changing the face of Hollywood, and I think our show has definitely spoken about things – like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, the list really can go on and on, the topics that are ringing true to America but also the world, clearly. And I think we really are influencing people to change their views a lot.”
Do you feel like Orange Is The New Black is changing minds then?
“Definitely. Speaking personally, I’ve got shout-outs from women who’ve been incarcerated – or even men who’ve been incarcerated – and feel like they just want to say thank you for giving voice to the voiceless, you know. Even with people that are personal and close to me, who have had their judgements about people who are different to them, I’ve definitely seen them change and open up their point of view and be less judgemental. And that to me is really what it’s all about.”
If Trump was watching the show, what would you like him to take away from it?
(Laughs dryly) Humanity. Like, really truly, where is your humanity? And when you have the power to change things and use it for good. I think that’s what I would want him to know.”
Orange Is The New Black has been commissioned for seven seasons. Would you like to see the show continue beyond that?
“I would. Whether it’ll be something like Law & Order and run for 50 years, I don’t know. I don’t know if any of us want to play an inmate for that long. Unless the cheque is nice, please! (Laughs). But I definitely don’t want it to go. I’m one of those sentimental people that really loved this experience and cherished the moments I got to be on this show and get to learn and grow as an artist and a person. So I’d miss that.”
Orange Is The New Black Season 6 is on Netflix from Friday July 27