[Warning: Spoilers for the fourth season of Orange is the New Black ahead].
Emmy-winning Netflix prison drama Orange is the New Black closed out its fourth season with a shocking death that paralleled and paid tribute to the real-life death of Staten Island man Eric Garner, whose 2014 passing fueled the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The final two episodes of the latest season of Orange center on inmate Poussey Washington (played by Samira Wiley), a fan favorite character who is accidentally killed when a prison guard suffocates her by placing his knee on her throat. As she gasps for air, she faintly whispers “I can’t breathe;” the same words spoken by Garner before his death that ultimately became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter.
In the final episode of the season, in another apparent nod to the movement, Washington’s body lies untouched on the floor of the prison for a day — mirroring the 2014 death of Michael Brown, who was killed after a confrontation with former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson and whose body was not moved for hours after his death.
“The executive producers … made sure I was okay throughout the whole process. They also let me know, even though I didn’t have a script, what story was trying to be told in terms of Black Lives Matter,” Wiley told Vulture in an interview this week.
Wiley’s character, a black woman from France serving a six-year drug sentence, had been on the show since the first season and had quickly become a fan favorite.
“At the end of the day, I honestly feel pretty honored to be able to be the person or the character or the actor they entrusted with the responsibility of bringing this story to light and bringing this story to a bunch of people in whatever parts of America or whatever parts of the world where this hasn’t really permeated their world yet,” Wiley added to Vulture.
“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 just like you said — you feel like you knew her.”
Wiley told the Hollywood Reporter that she knew even before the season began that her character’s death would be used to tell the Black Lives Matter story.
“I knew for a very long time, and I think that gave me a level of comfort and that knowing, like, ‘Alright.’ It helped me relax, honestly,” she told THR.
It is not unusual to find ripped-from-the-headlines anecdotes sprinkled into contemporary sitcoms. And Orange, of course, isn’t the first (and it won’t be the last) popular series to include Black Lives Matter news narratives in its storylines.
As Breitbart News has reported, shows like CBS’s Blue Bloods, ABC’s Blackish, and NBC’s The Carmichael Show have all used Black Lives Matter-inspired plot lines in their episodes. And the producers of the recent Roots remake have said the series was updated for the era of Black Lives Matter.
The fourth season of Orange is the New Black is now streaming on Netflix.