This piece includes spoilers from the fourth season of Orange is the New Black
Poussey Washington (played by Samira Wiley) was a sweetheart. She was funny, adorable, endearing, and kind. These qualities made her stand out from the rest of the characters on Orange is the New Black (and there were a lot).
In previous seasons, Poussey had been single. At one point, she even had unrequited feelings for her best friend Taystee who was straight. In the latest season of the show however, she found love and companionship with a fellow inmate named Soso.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. They both had their doubts and a fight or two on the way, but they were able to work through their shit because they loved each other. They started planning out a future together. The life that they would have after they got out of prison. Poussey got a job offer from Judy King, a celebrity chef who was doing a short stint in prison over tax evasion charges. She was happy. She had a lot to look forward to.
So naturally, her death came next. A young corrections officer–who the writers had spent a good portion of the episode setting up as “one of the good ones”– was about to take Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (who was having a psychotic episode) to the Psych Unit when Poussey rushed over to help her friend. She was asking the officer to just let her talk to Suzanne when he pushed her to the ground. He held her down by putting his knee on her back and his hand on her neck. He seemed frozen in place as Suzanne hit him with her fists over and over again. Poussey–who only weighed ninety pounds–struggled to breathe with him on top of her. And then in the most frustrating and anticlimactic ending ever, she died.
I had tried and failed to avoid spoilers. I knew that a fan favorite was going to die. I hadn’t explicitly heard anyone say that it would be Poussey but somehow I knew. I saw it coming as soon as she started really looking forward to the future. Lesbians on TV are never allowed to stay happy for too long.
I won’t lie, I cried as I watched the last moments of her life unfold. I cried because I had grown to care for her. I cried because they just took away one of the few black lesbian characters on TV, I cried because it was just so unfair. Why did this happen? Why was a beloved character killed off? Why is Poussey Washington dead?
According to the interview Lauren Morelli (Samira Wiley’s girlfriend, and the writer of the episode in question) gave to The New York Times, Jenji Kohan (the series creator) felt that “telling not only a Black Lives Matter story but talking about the inherent violence of prison was really, really important.” Morelli went on to say that “It was important to everybody that we find a way to make [Poussey’s death] as gray as possible — like when two forces of good collide, a tragedy can result…”
Here’s the thing though. If they really wanted to tell a “Black Lives Matter” story, then they wouldn’t have spent so much time humanizing the white officer who killed Poussey. I find it frustrating that they set the whole thing up as if it were an accident and as if he is also just a poor victim of the system–an untrained officer who was in over his head.
Furthermore, black folk already know that police officers treat people like us as if we are expendable. Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Eric Garner… the list goes on and on. We know their names. We’ve heard their stories. We’re aware that we could have been them. We don’t need a white TV show writer to teach us that. What we need… what would be more groundbreaking are black characters and lesbian characters who actually get to be happy without subsequently getting killed off.
I am disappointed that Poussey’s life ended the way it did. Moving forward, I don’t know if I want to keep watching the show. What I do know is that Orange is the New Black will never be the same.
June 23, 2016 at 2:18 pm
In full agreement. Horrible plot line and not fair at all. Ugh.
June 26, 2016 at 5:05 pm
I agree with folks who call OITNB ‘trauma porn for white folks’.
I don’t watch.
June 27, 2016 at 7:47 am
“Lesbians on TV are never allowed to stay happy for too long.”
June 30, 2016 at 11:48 am
” what would be more groundbreaking are black characters and lesbian characters who actually get to be happy without subsequently getting killed off.” This, seriously. I can’t believe they killed the black lesbian character, and (afaik) the only character on the show portrayed by a black lesbian actress. Callous, shameful writing from OITNB. I won’t be watching anymore.
June 19, 2019 at 7:01 pm
Poussey deserved better her life was short and yes they did kill a african american who was a lesbian very unfair writing on the shows part but over all I will continue to watch the show and im very upset about the tragic death that was Poussey by a untrained mediocre guard.
June 22, 2019 at 10:53 am
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them, the first time.”.
Nope, not watching OITNB.
March 13, 2023 at 7:06 pm
I’m crying so much for her, I really loved her and identified with her as a lesbian and it was so unfair she was killed 😭😭😭😭