LAVERNE Cox has opened up about her harrowing season four storyline in Netflix’s prison drama Orange is the New Black that tapped into quite real and personal issues near and dear to the trans actress.
Despite having a whole lot less screen time, Cox’s Sophia Burset was very much part of the “Black Lives Matter” theme that ran throughout the show’s fourth season – which explored injustices to people of colour. Burset found herself in forced solitude for her own protection, despite the fact she hadn’t done anything wrong – paralleling the real life experiences of trans inmates in the American prison system.
“This is something that should not ever happen to a human being.”
Cox researched the effects of isolation on a person to ensure her performance read true. Her research revealed the deteriorating mental state of those in solitude and the delusions that come with it.
“You start having visions of things that aren’t there, you’re paranoid. You lose all sense of time, and you also lose the sense to want to live,” Cox said.
Isolation took its toll on Burset and the character made a suicide attempt, a terrifying head space that was close to home for Cox – who had struggled with suicidal thoughts and an attempt in the past.
In 2014, Cox opened up about her suicide attempt on the US ABC’s This Week program.
“The suicide attempt happened in the sixth grade,” Cox said.
“I was having all these feelings about other boys and I didn’t want to live.”
Cox tapped into her past experiences to bring authenticity to the turmoil Burset was suffering through.
Though Cox and Burset survived their suicide attempts, it’s something that leaves its scars.
“Memories and trauma exist in specific places in our bodies.”
The actress was heartened by the allies who fought for Burset in the show, just like the allies in real life who are fighting for people facing injustices behind bars – including CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman Cox investigated in the documentary Free CeCe.
“That all these people going to bat for a black transgender woman who’s incarcerated reminded me of CeCe, and all the people who did that for her,” Cox said.
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