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The Problem With Poussey’s Fictional Death

*Spoiler alerts are throughout this article.

In June, the highly anticipated Season 4 of hit show Orange is the New Black aired on Netflix and ever since, many people have been busy catching up on it.

It is becoming exceedingly popular and more people are beginning to watch it and enjoy the comedy and suspenseful drama prevalent in the show. But the show is rare in the sense that it reveals many hidden aspects of today’s society by taking place in a women’s prison, and also sheds light on the daily injustices faced by people of color and people of the LGBTQIAP+ community. It is one of the only shows in today’s world that has an extremely diverse cast, and showcases people of all different backgrounds. Women of all races, nationalities, sexualities, gender identities, social classes, and sizes are all realistically portrayed in this one-of-a-kind show. It’s no surprise that the cast has won Emmy awards and been nominated for the Golden Globes. But for a show as diverse and inclusive as this one, it’s surprising that the entire writing team is made up of all white staff, and that every tragic demise in the show has been towards a character of color, and many times also a person on the LGBT spectrum. At the end of Season 4 of Orange is the New Black, Poussey, a well-loved African American lesbian character was obliviously murdered by one of the prison guards.

The guard was distracted by another inmate and ended up accidentally choking her. The death sparked a #SayHerName like movement by the rest of the inmates as the warden of the correctional facility stated the guard as a victim, and didn’t even specify Poussey’s name, or reach out to her family to tell them that their daughter had died. Mirroring the outburst that had resulted in the prison on the show, on twitter, another revolutionary movement blossomed on twitter, with the hashtag #BlackLGBTDeserveToBe. People all across the world have used the hashtag to portray how black LGBT really deserve to be treated, which is opposite of how Poussey was treated. The fact that the show killed off Poussey specifically- one of only two characters on the show who were both black and lesbian- angered and triggered many viewers to raise their voices on the issue on social media. Killing off black lgbt purely for plot value is unjustifiable and just plain opposite of everything that the show stands for. Of course, the murder of Poussey with her being a minority within a minority does serve to expose scary realities in America today, as many situations similar to Poussey’s are happening right now. But in a world where black LGBT already face enough persecution in real life, it only does more harm to see the same minorities treated as horribly on TV as they are in reality.

We know that the writers may not have realized what they did by specifically choosing Poussey to kill off, but they subconsciously imposed the same racist, homophobic paradigm prevalent in real life society and that is not okay. Deaths of people like Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and hundreds more are important to be aware of in order to expose the injustices and police brutalities committed towards people of color. But if we see the same things happening on the news and in our favorite shows, it will only make them more common and accepted in society, as if killing innocent blacks are just another part of life now.

If the writers were as diverse as the cast is, this wouldn’t have happened. By killing off Poussey in a way in which you can sympathize with the guard who killed her, Poussey’s storyline has basically become police brutality apologism. The events of police brutality that have been occurring in real life have not been accidents, and by portraying Poussey’s death as one, they only further impose the same racist ideals onto society. People are wondering how all these tragic things have been happening in America, and little things like the fictional death of Poussey are a part of the contribution. Philando Castle, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and 704 more victims of police brutality did not die so that the all white writing team of Orange is the New Black could use their deaths as leverage to show that the cops were not the ones to blame. Poussey’s death is a fictional one out of 710 real deaths, all of which were not accidental. By stating that the guard who killed Poussey was also a victim in the accident, this takes a huge step backwards in everything that such a diverse, representational cast stands for. Black LGBT don’t deserve to be given representation only so they can serve as a lesson for white people. Black LGBT don’t deserve to be used as a scapegoat for white supremacist cops. Black LGBT don’t deserve to be killed off purely for plot value. Black LGBT don’t deserve to be used as tools in television to promote sympathy for racist murderers.

It is simple. Black LGBT deserve to be treated with respect.

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Yagmur Akyurek
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Yagmur Akyurek is an aspiring writer from central Massachusetts! She is a lover of modern art, poetry, and 90s alternative rock. She enjoys napping, binge watching The Office, and skiing throughout New England.

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