'Orange Is the New Black' Cast on The Show's Final Season and Lasting Legacy
If you told the Orange Is the New Black cast six years ago that their show about incarcerated women would go on for seven successful seasons and help put Netflix — not yet the streaming giant it is today — on the map, they may not believe you. But they'd still be just as thrilled to be part of the ride anyway.
The prison drama recently released its final season to the world last Friday, July 26, to immediate trending success and few worries of being replaced as Netflix's most-watched original series. The cast, including Laura Prepon (Alex Vause), Laverne Cox (Sophia Burset), Uzo Aduba (Suzanne 'Crazy Eyes' Warren), Danielle Brooks (Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson), and Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz), as well as Piper Kerman (executive consultant and author of Orange Is the New Black), took part in a ceremonial lighting of the Empire State Building that same Friday morning in honor of the series' final season.
TV Insider was on hand to chat with the stars of the show at the event — one Cox couldn't help but call "an incredible way to close out the show" — about everything from emotional character endings to leaving a legacy behind.
Ending on a High—And Quite a Few Lows
Whether it’s the riot of Season 5 or cellblock wars during Season 6, Orange Is the New Black has always leaned toward larger plotlines to connect the varied experiences of the different women in the prison, and Season 7 is no different. “So many women are represented on the show and all of us are going through different things, which is why the show speaks to so many people,” says Laura Prepon. As for the final season? According to Dascha Polanco, it’s “more about closure.”
“Our show is a show that’s for the audiences — it’s for the people,” she says. And while fans can expect everything from heartbreaking to unexpected and, at times, frustrating endings for different characters, the actors are happy with the writers’ choices, which often served to reflect the harsh realities of the prison system. In Polanco’s opinion, each storyline ended “either true to it or realistic or [by] sending a message.”
The show certainly dove deeper into current events this season, including higher stakes for prisoners — specifically former undocumented inmates — at the hand of Litchfield’s unforgiving corporate benefactors. “I’m just grateful for the honesty that the writers have given all of our characters, and I appreciate that they didn’t tie everything in a neat bow,” adds Danielle Brooks.
In talking about the series ending, the actors can’t help but also reflect on the show’s influence. Laverne Cox says OITNB's impact is something she’s been thinking about a lot in the final episodes. “The conversation around mass incarceration has completely shifted during the run of this show. People have a totally different relationship to prisons and have a different understanding around the way prisons are privatized and funded than they did seven years ago, and I’d like to think we had some role in that, if not a big role,” she notes.
For others, one word that comes to mind is empowerment. Polanco explains that the show has "brought forth a lot of things that we were not educated on, that we did not have a voice on… I think that’s what the beauty of our show is: reaching to those that are not heard.” Adds Brooks, “I think it’s moving in a lot of ways too to be a part of something that’s not just about entertainment but is really doing something.”
That “something” comes in the form of telling the stories of people who were long ignored, as Piper Kerman, author of the bestselling novel on which the show is based, explains: “Women in the system were incredibly marginalized people before they were locked up — and during their time locked up, that’s also true. And the show places those women at the center and asks the viewer to enter into their stories and love them and care passionately about what happens to them. That is really groundbreaking and really transformative. That challenges everyone to think differently about who’s in jail and how we feel about them.”
Looking to the Future
As the cast moves on from the Netflix hit series, they’re also happy to see it live on with The Poussey Washington Fund. The fund, which supports eight non-profit organizations in an effort to help incarcerated women, is something Brooks notes is "a pretty incredible thing."
“We have all been beneficiaries, at the end of the day, of the system. Every single one of us on the show has seen our careers advance, we’ve seen our bank accounts advance, we’ve seen opportunities come to us by playing women who have been marginalized. I think it’s a powerful thing to come up with a foundation such as this to give back to the people who we are portraying and to not be a part of the cycle of exploitation and oppression that they have had to endure their entire life,” adds Uzo Aduba.
The cast seems to share a sense of honor and privilege to be part of the show and to use their role as actors to shine a light on issues within the prison system. And as OITNB takes its final bow, no one puts it better than Polanco: “[The show] might not be for everyone, but it definitely is part of history. It’s part of a revolution, and it’s not gonna stop. Orange is forever.”
Orange Is the New Black, Final Season, Now Streaming, Netflix