One of the most shocking and unforgettable moments in television over the past year was the brutal death of the character Poussey on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” Actress Samira Wiley, who played the iconic character, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. by parents who were both pastors of the LGBT friendly Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ. The Juilliard trained actress connected with audiences on a profound level through the character of Poussey while her natural beauty, earthy charisma, and openness also garnered a sizable fan base whose adoration goes beyond the TV characters she plays.
Wiley was no longer on “Orange is the New Black” and wondering what her next move would be when “The Handmaid’s Tale” came to her attention. “I read the script and was immediately intrigued. I actually was not familiar with “The Handmaid’s Tale” and with Margaret Atwood before coming to the pilot script. That may be unfortunate in some people’s eyes but I honestly count myself lucky that happened in that way. I was able to, in the audition itself, come to the character fresh with my own take on who this person was and that’s how I first got involved,” she tells the AFRO.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is another program that promises to deeply resonate with audiences. Incredibly well-acted and directed, the Hulu series, which debuted on April 26th, is based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. Eerily relevant in light of socio-political changes, it is a dystopian examination of an American society where the government has been overthrown and replaced with a totalitarian regime that has stripped women of all their rights as human beings.
Women’s only value comes from their ability to produce children and producing children is a huge preoccupation in this world where, due to a compromised environment, few women are still fertile. Wiley plays Moira, the outspoken, opinionated best friend of the main character Offred, played by Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”). Moira’s presence makes loss of female liberty all the more poignant because the character is lesbian. In this world, homophobia toward lesbians is taken to a new, wholly terrifying level.
Wiley says that besides her wedding a few months ago to television writer Lauren Morelli, landing the role on “Orange is the New Blac”k was the most awesome thing to happen to her in the past five years. She gushes, “It gave me a platform and enabled me to share my talents with the world. It introduced me to my wife and it has been one of the most amazing blessings that have happened to me.”
She describes the character Moira as “Someone who is gonna be at the front of the line. She’s going to be speaking up for whatever causes she believes in whether that’s for her own benefit or for the collective benefit of people who are less than or who cannot speak for themselves. She’s gonna be the one that’s on the front lines and that was really inspiring to me.”
The actress shares some of Moira’s willingness to stand up and be a voice for others. With regard to the question of if she considers herself an LGBT role model, Wiley explains that, “Even if I’m not now, it’s something I definitely aspire to be. I don’t ever want to shy away from that. I think LGBT visibility can do a lot. I think that the way that people choose to have their voice be heard is such a personal, individual choice to make. And I think that in talking about possible [government] extremism when it comes to that you never really know how it’s going to affect people. I don’t know if I have any real particular examples of what could be or what could not be but I don’t want to shy away from anything.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is currently airing on Hulu.