Selenis Leyva - Representing the Voiceless in "Orange Is the New Black"

June 13, 2017 - Selenis Leyva 06/13/2017 Views: 9,606

Selenis Leyva explains the importance of telling the story of imprisoned mothers in "Orange Is the New Black." (7:03)

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Please welcome Selenis Leyva!

-♪ -(cheering and applause)


Thank you! Thank you!

Welcome to the show.

Thank you! Wow, this is fancy.

-Oh, this is nice, yeah?-Yeah.

Well, you're used to beingin prison, so, I mean...

-I-I... Anything is betterthan prison. -This is...

-I feel like anything is betterthan where you work. -Anything.

I'm like, "Real cups."

-Um, I am such a big fanof the show. -Thank you.

I have been a fan of yoursfrom day one--

Orange Is the New Black.

Uh, you know, I guess it justbecame one of the biggest hits

out of the blue,and it's still going strong.

Let's talk about your character,though.

-This is an interesting seasonfor her, because... -Thanks.

I don't want to spoil anythingfor anyone,

but I know people binge,and this season is basically

-about the inmatestaking over the prison. -Yeah.

Your character is really oneof the more moderate people

-in the big house.-Yeah.

-She's always likethe voice of reason. -Right.

And she wants to keep the peace,and we see that.

And then, her life justcollapses and unfolds,

and it's about survival.

And it becomes, you know,literally life and death

for her, um, behind prison.

And we've...we haven't seen that.

We haven't seen her really bein... in it like this.

So I got to play,and you'll see.

I spent a lot of timeswet and muddy and...

It was good.

Although, you know,wet and muddy.

-I mean, you know...-(laughter)

-It... The. uh... the stories...-It's not that show, but...

-The stories that are...-(laughter)


The-the stories that are toldin Orange Is the New Black

are really interestingto see as they evolve.

You know, when the seriesfirst kicked off,

the story was told predominantlyfrom what seemed to a...

what seemed to be a whitewoman's point of view in prison.


And then,as-as the seasons moved on,

it became the black experiencefor a woman in prison.

And now what's really cometo the fore is the story

of a Latino woman in prison,

-and a different storyis being told now. -(clapping)

Yes, that's good, right?

(applause and cheering)

You know, and it's-it''s about time.

You know, the wonderful thingthat Jenji does with the writers

-is that everyone gets a timeto shine. -Yeah.

Groups get a time to shineand tell their stories.

And, you know, we're-we're justlucky that it was our turn,

and-and we gotto deliver the goods.

And it feels really goodto just be a representation,

-because growing up, I didn'tsee myself on TV. -Right.

I didn't see myselfin the big...

on the big screen, I didn't.

So, for me, it's morethan just me. It's bigger.

It's, like, there's a littlegirl out there in the Bronx,

you know, uh,just like me where I grew up,

and she's, like,"That's me. I could do it."

So it's bigger.

I always see itas a bigger picture,

you know,the stories that we're telling.

And they're alsobigger pictures.

We're representing people

-that usually are notthought of, you know. -Right.

People in prison--who thinks about them,

if you don't know anyonewho's behind bars?

So, this show has really, um,been a good, good voice

for thosethat usually remain voiceless.

It's also interestingbecause it's not just a story

about convicts, as oftentimes

we've been taughtto speak of them.

-It's a story of people...-Yes.

...who are in prison.

Your character's storyis one of those

where she is in prison

-because she was tryingto feed her family. -Yeah.

And it was what many peoplewould consider

a minor infractionthat led to her being locked up,

and that's,unfortunately, a story

that you hear all too often.In fact...

-Our prisons are filledwith people... -Yeah.

...with minor infractions.

Our prisons are literally filledwith people

who commit petty crimes,and they're doing hard time.

-Mm-hmm. -And our prisonsare filled with,

you know, people who I believewe've failed,

you know, um, as a society.

The poor, you know,

the people who haven't beenreally educated.

-And it cycles, you know.-Right.

It's, like, hardto break these cycles.

It's, like, people end up...

It's almost like, you know,a family who...

with young pregnancy.

Chances are you're goingto see that again.

-Right. -They're cyclesthat people kind of fall into.

And a lot of people behind bars,unfortunately, um,

that's what they have,

and that's what makes it home,almost.

You know, we have, an interesting episode.

I don't even remember when,

but, you know, where Taystee--Danielle Brooks... -Right.

...gets out and is like,

"Oh, I got to go back to prison.That's my home."

A lot of people feel that.

So, we have a responsibilityas a society

to make sure, you know,we do a better job.

And you're not speakingabout that just from the show.

You, because of the show,have now gotten involved.

You work withthe Women's Prison Association.

You work with women prisoners

who are experiencingthese things.

When you speak to them,

it must be an interestingconversation to have,

-because you are portraying...-Mm-hmm.

-...a piece of their lives.-Yes.

You are tryingto convey the human side

of what prisonersare going through.

What was the biggest thingthat you took from them

when you went backinto doing the show?

I thinkthere's definitely gratitude

-when you speak to them.-Right.

You know, they're grateful thatwe're telling these stories,

and we're telling themwith-with, you know,

with depth and heart and humor.

Um, it's important for me,playing Gloria, who is a mother,

when I talk to these womenwho have been incarcerated,

and they tell me the pain, beingseparated from their children,

-missing out on important yearsof their lives. -Right.

That has helped me bring it back

to the setof Orange Is the New Black

and-and tell the story,and that does-does help.

-And you've done sucha great job... -Thank you.

-(person whoops)-...that back home,

-they've honored you.-Thank you.

-I mean... you...-That's my cousin.

-(laughter, applause, whooping)-Well, I mean...

You have, have many cousins, then,

-because, in the Bronx...-Yes.

...they have now named a streetafter you.

-That's crazy. Yes.-That is insane, right?

-(cheers and applause)-Yeah.

NOAH: I would love to knowhow that feels,

especially considering the storyof your family

and where you came from.

You know,my parents are immigrants.

My father is from Cuba,

my mother'sfrom the Dominican Republic.

They came here,they worked hard,

they gave to this country,they paid their taxes.

Um, they have done...

(cheers and applause)


And-and, so, and now,you know, they were there.

They were there, you know,with me in the unveiling.

And I had my daughterby my side.

My-my brothers were there,my-my sisters.

-That was a huge moment.-Right.

Because I don't thinkthat my father

or my mother ever imaginedthat one of their children,

that their children would beas successful

-as we've become individually.-Right.

And they-they...they're so... they're so proud.

And that moment, for me, was--it was about them.

-It was them. -They haveeverything to be proud of.

-Thank you so much for beingon the show. -Thank you.

-(applause and cheering)-Season five

of Orange Is the New Black is available now on Netflix.

Selenis Leyva, everybody.

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