TV’s ‘Orange Is the New Black’ honors slain character

Mark Kennedy
Associated Press

Fans of “Orange Is the New Black” could do a double take this week in several large cities around the world — Detroit included — a familiar face may be looking back at them.

Netflix has commissioned artists in the Motor City, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne to paint murals of character Poussey Washington as a tribute to her and a tease for the fifth season of the prison series, which starts June 9.

Washington, an inmate portrayed by actress Samira Wiley, was a fan favorite whose death at the hands of corrections officers at the end of the fourth season stunned many. Netflix wanted to honor her with a portrait and the slogan “Stand Up.”

“I want to do the character justice and do the show justice because I think they have so many strong messages that are really relevant today,” said Detroit-based artist Michelle Tanguay, who said she cried when she watched Washington die. “I’m a huge, huge fan of the show. I actually watch it while I paint.”

Her hand-painted portrait is decorated with black, blue and white lines. It stands 24-by-25 feet and was painted on a brick wall at the corner of Broadway and Grand River. Netflix gave her the freedom to do whatever she wanted as long as she showed the character and used the show’s hashtag and slogan.

“I viewed this project as paying tribute to the character,” Tanguay said. “I wanted to make it very positive and that’s why I chose the bright colors, the bright blues, to just do her justice.” She added: “I just wanted to be able to see her again.”

Netflix joins other companies in embracing old-school, hand-painted mural billboards in this digital age to get their messages out, including McDonald’s, Adidas, Ubisoft and Jack Daniels. Hand-painted murals in the past have often honored civil rights leaders or young victims of street violence, a history Nexfix has tapped this time by commissioning portraits of Washington.

“To see an African-American woman on the wall in Detroit, blown up huge, with the words ‘Stand Up’ — it’s just so empowering and that’s what I wanted everyone to feel when they see the mural,” Tanguay said.

Wiley, who has gone on to star in Hulu’s series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” said she was deeply honored to have her character immortalized and also proud that it makes a nod to the recent cases of African-Americans killed in police custody.

“I think it’s our responsibility as artists to be able to reflect the time that we’re living in,” Wiley said from Los Angeles. “She’s a fictional character that can elicit real change in thought and action from people.”