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Meeting The Stars Of Orange Is The New Black

Photo: Netflix
Five incredible, powerful women in one room. When I met with the cast of our favourite prison series Orange Is The New Black, there was not a single dry eye left: from moving speeches on feminism to outrageously funny stories, Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz), Yael Stone (Loma Morello), Uzo Aduba (Suzanne Warren), Selenis Leyva (Gloria Mendoza) and Lea DeLaria (Carrie "Big Boo" Black) really did their fourth season's June 17th take-off on Netflix a service.

Below, I put my questions to them about what's coming up this season, what it's like working on the show, and what girl power means to them.

A whole new bunch of Orange Is The New Black episodes are coming up. What were this season's challenges?
Lea DeLaria: I had a big challenge to face this year. But I can't tell you because it'd be a big spoiler!
Yael Stone: I had to do a lot of cleaning. I hope that's not a big spoiler.
Dascha: My character will have her moments. She'll distance herself from some people. It'll be interesting to watch.
In the series, we mostly see inmates gathering in groups, backing each other up. How important is it to you, personally, that women support each other?
Lea: I'm a feminist, darling. It's very important to me.
Dascha: We were just talking about this last night. I’ve caught myself focusing on other women’s flaws at times, instead of complimenting them. But the same thing goes for myself. Whenever you look at yourself in the mirror, you should try to see the positive things, the things you’re proud of about yourself. It’s very important that we, as women, support each other these days. We need to build up an alliance. Of course, nothing will ever be perfect – but there needs to be somewhat of a balance.

Interesting – what else did you talk about last night?
Selenis Leyva: When we talked about it over dinner, we talked about how important it is that women come together as a unit and look after each other. It’s just really important. Society keeps telling us that we should compete with one another. But on this show, alongside these actresses, I don’t feel any of that.

Uzo Aduba: Women are not the enemy! You can tell other women how beautiful they are and that you admire their work. You can support and empower each other – with words and actions, with energy, friendship and loyalty. I truly believe that. And I wonder why it is that I should feel threatened by you simply because we share the same sex. It’s just not true. I want to give a shout-out to my girlfriends at this point. I am blessed to have all these amazing women around me. If we decide to form an army of women, who are all headed in the same direction, we can be so much stronger than any one of us individually. It’s the only way this show works, too.
Lea: I also believe that women should support each other a lot more. We live in a world where society teaches us not to be appreciative of one another. They force us into thinking one is better than the other. That’s a problem. But as long as we stick together and fight these ridiculous power plays, we can achieve amazing things. I have faith in humanity. And yes, when it comes to women, we have to be there for each other because, after all, no one else will.

Lea, you have been actively fighting for the rights of the LGBT community for years now…
Lea: I have achieved more than I ever imagined I would. As an activist I’ve been working and fighting for this for the past 35 years. I always thought I was doing this for the next generation. We still have to move past those power plays within the community though. And we need to stop assuming we’re all the same because we’re not. Listen to each other, talk to each other and learn from each other. And then take action against those who oppress us, together.
Have you ever felt you’re being oppressed?
Lea: As an activist, I’ve been arrested a couple of times. When I first came out, it was still illegal to be homosexual. Which is why I also got arrested once for kissing a girl by a lake in Missouri. It was against the law. A police officer took us in and put us in jail. We were released on bail, put on trial and ultimately had to pay a fine. All that for nothing but a kiss.

What about the other ladies? Would you call yourselves feminists too?
Yael: Absolutely.
Uzo: Yes, absolutely.
Selenis: Yes. Period.
Dascha: Yes! The way I see it, when a man opens the door for me, that doesn’t affect my basic human rights. I enjoy it. ‘Cause there are men who’ll say: Okay, you wanted equal rights – I don’t need to do this for you anymore.' But there should be a balance for everything. When we talk about equal rights, we mean job opportunities and equal pay. It’s also quite unsettling that the entertainment industry dictates this specific ideal of beauty, and I’m supposed to change in order to look beautiful, and be accepted. And you need a lot of money to be able to afford this extreme ideal, too. But it’s not about that. I try to tell people all the time that, above all, they have to love themselves.

Speaking of love – do you believe in the one true love?
Yael: I believe that you can love different people. It’s not always about romance. I have a partner. But there can always be a friend or a colleague who inspires me. Closing doors just to focus all your attention on this one person is not my thing.
Dascha: Yael’s right. I also believe that we’re able to just love. There are so many restraints to every little thing we do. Whether it’s about the way we love, eat, work, which restroom we use or how we make love. There’s a category and a label for everything.

What does 'girl power' mean to you?
Lea: To me, it’s having faith in yourself and the strength to know that you’re beautiful the way you are, and that you have the power to change things. It’s important to learn this – especially for young girls. Because no one out there teaches them.
Yael: We execute women’s power – just the fact that we are here today, as a group of women. We were out last night, as a group. The strength to love and look after each other, be vulnerable and make mistakes sometimes, and to not have to justify femininity all the time, that’s true women’s power.
Dascha: Well, you remember how that whole girl power thing ended for the Spice Girls, right?
Yael: Yes. With David Beckham. [All laughing]
Dascha: I know, honey. I love Victoria and David. I love them together, they’re so sexy. If I could marry a couple, it would have to be them.
Yael: What about Brad and Angelina?
Dascha: Oh, those too!
Yael: You can’t have everything, you know. [Laughs] Okay, you can love all of them.
Dascha: See, that’s power!

Your characters on the show don’t wear makeup. Is that weird for you?
Dascha: I like it. We need to have pimples and look dirty. I like how easy it is to render the person I play this way. I love to express myself through acting, so this really doesn’t bother me.
Uzo: It’s actually liberating. Orange Is The New Black is the first serial I’m in. I had only worked on smaller projects before, so this was the first big thing I did. I had no idea what it was going to be like, but I remember thinking that it would all be so great. Then, the first thing they told me on set was that they would change my hair, I’d be wearing no makeup and they would make my pores look bigger than usual. They really put black eyeshadow all around my eyes to make the shadows look darker.
Selenis: It really is liberating though.
Uzo: Totally. It really makes it about work. Why should the story of a woman have to be changed and polished like this? Why can’t women just tell their story and be accepted? I wouldn’t be this confident if we were portraying some Hollywood version of a Beverly Hills prison, drinking Cosmos all the time.
Selenis: I absolutely agree. We were given the opportunity to be nothing other than actresses. No single one competes with any of the others. None of us wonder why the other one’s skirt is tighter than their own. It’s about work, and work alone, and that really is refreshing. We’re not being judged based on appearance. I would like to see that in the industry more often. Thank God we’re not that Hollywood version.
Uzo: Sitting here listening to you talking, I’m just so thankful for these women who work so hard and really dig deep to tell new stories. It’s about femininity and mutual support again. It’s about finding your own strength and sharing it with the world.