Poussey Washington’s death is as raw as ever for “Orange Is the New Black” fans as the fifth season premiere approaches. That’s why Netflix challenged street artists to bring the beloved character back to life, commissioning the construction of eight murals in cities across the country this month. New York City resident Mast (aka Anthony Mast) was chosen to display his portrait in Brooklyn.
The character, played by Samira Wiley, was a friendly face to many at Litchfield. Poussey, often found with her girlfriend SoSo, or concocting her own prison-brewed wine in the library, died when a protest went wrong in a heartbreaking end to the series’ fourth season.
Her inadvertent suffocation at the hands of a prison guard spread a message about equality far outside the fictional prison’s walls. The scene sparked a social media discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality and discrimination in New York City and beyond. Viewers’ heartbreak magnified when it was revealed Poussey was a nonviolent offender who ended up in jail after she was found on private property with “not even half an ounce” of weed in her possession.
“It’s incredible how fictional characters from a TV show can inspire change and empower people in the real world,” said Mast, a graffiti artist who has been painting murals across the five boroughs since the early ’90s. A fan of the show, which films at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, Mast added that he was “shocked” by Poussey’s “unexpected” scene.
Mast’s mural, which was unveiled at Franklin Street and Meserole Avenue in Greenpoint on April 28, breathes life and power back into the character whose voice was silenced too soon.
The mural paints Poussey in a bright and saturated color palette, with her fist holding the scales of justice, a symbol of her fight for equality.
“As a character that stood for justice, among the other inmates, I wanted her to look bold and unwavering in the face of adversity,” he said. “The contrasting colors and her stance with her fist raised symbolize black power and resistance.”
According to the artist, the mural is meant to elicit a question: What justice will be served after her death? The fifth season will hopefully aim to answer that question when it hits Netflix on June 9.
Mast and a team of artists at Brooklyn-based Overall Murals began working on the portrait on Monday, and it wasn’t long before Brooklyn residents recognized Poussey.
“In the early stages, people were already recognizing the character,” Mast said. “It’s in a really busy area of Brooklyn … it was amazing to witness the positive response people had to the artwork.”
Poussey-focused murals will also pop up in Los Angeles, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco ahead of the spring premiere.