THE END IS NEAR
Orange Is the New Black‘s seventh and final season premieres on Netflix July 26. Dascha Polanco and Selenis Leyva talked to People CHICA about the popular show’s final chapter and how their beloved characters impacted their lives. “It’s bittersweet,” says Polanco. “We are a family, and the show opened doors for a lot of young, up-and-coming [actors] and a lot of ‘us’ women that would have never gotten this opportunity with anything else. It taught me so much about the industry and how Latinos need to be more supportive of one another across the board.”
“We wrapped in February, and I don’t think I fully understood that this is it,” Leyva said about the show’s final season. “The fact that there is the anticipation of it airing makes me feel like I’m still in it. Once July 26 comes and goes, I think that’s when I really will feel the end. It’s changed my life. It’s changed how Hollywood tells stories.”
The stunning Diane Guerrero plays inmate Maritza Ramos. She told People CHICA about the show, “I was blessed to have a great opportunity with a show like Orange Is the New Black that aligned me with other Latinx voices and other African American voices and other feminist voices, to have that community that empowered me.”
Jackie Cruz plays inmate Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales and has been on the show since its premiere in 2013.
“I feel very fortunate to be part of history. This is definitely a show that will be talked about for a long time,” Leyva says. About her character, inmate Gloria Mendoza, she adds, “I gave her the orgullo of being Latina. This is a woman who is proud to be a Latina, who is very motherly, who is very caring. That’s who we are as a culture. This is what Gloria is and it was easy for me to tap into that and make that grow because that’s what I grew up around.”
IN ANOTHER WOMAN'S SHOES
“We need to be more involved in prison reform and what happens in detention centers,” Polanco says. “We are very involved as activists. That’s the beauty of a show like this.” Her character, inmate Dayanara Diaz, rocked her world and made her even more open-minded. Reflecting on the challengers her character faces, she says, “How many times watching the show have you asked yourself, ‘Would I have done that?'”
VISIBILITY FOR WOMEN BEHIND BARS
“You have to use your platform, your voice,” Leyva says. “Playing incarcerated women, we were given the opportunity to work with the Women’s Prison Association, and we had a day when we delivered backpacks for the kids of these women for back to school. We spent time with them and had conversations with them. That helps you realize how important it is to tell these stories. This is life — there are people behind bars that are women that are mothers and have children on the outside that deserve their stories to be told. Not all of these women are in prison for horrible acts of crime, a lot of women are in prison for petty crimes. It says something about the prison system.”
“There are a lot of topics that Orange Is the New Black has brought to light. It was great to see a broad range of women reflected,” Polanco says.
SPREADING TOLERANCE AND COMPASSION
“I only thought I was going to record one or two episodes and it just grew!” Leyva says of the show’s success. “For the first time we saw a collection of women that we have not seen on TV. This is a show about women who are incarcerated and we are telling these stories. They gave each character rich past lives so you could understand why they did what they did and not be so judgmental about it. Everyone deserves a moment to tell their story, and why can’t women who are incarcerated tell their stories?”
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
“That was emotional. I was on set with all my Latinas. Jackie Cruz was there, Dascha Polanco, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jessica Pimentel and Laura Gomez, we were all on set together,” Levya says about filming her last scene on the show. “It was one of those moments when we all looked at each other and hugged and cried. There was gratitude and a bond that no matter where we are in live we will always somehow connect. This show has created a bond that will last forever.”