Photo Credit: Nicholas Nichols
It looks like the role of Sophia was made for you.
I just auditioned! In August of 2012, I was at an event with my agent, who brought it my way. I was actually doing research on Cece McDonald, at the time. She’s a black trans-woman who’s in prison in Minnesota. I was trying to interview her for a show called In the Life, which lost its funding. Now I’m happy because I get to interview her. I think about her a lot during this journey. She was harassed walking down the street by people yelling anti-trans and racial slurs. A fight broke out and one of her tappers ended up dead, and she is in prison for it. I’m interviewing her for a documentary.
Oh, wow! What’s the documentary?
It’s going to be about violence against trans-women and Cici’s case is going to be a really big part of that. In a lot of ways, it’s a microcosm of what so many trans-women of color experience. We have the racist piece, the transphobic piece, and the criminal justice piece.
What do you think OITNB has done in terms of shedding light on the women’s prison system
It’s humanized a group of people who we are taught to think are disposable; people who don’t deserve basic human rights. In this show, we see these women are human beings with complicated stories. My hope is that the audience’s feelings for the characters on the show will translate to real women in prison.
Do you know if Sophia is based on an actual prison mate?
She is! Piper Kerman wrote a book where she mentioned a woman named Vanessa, who was Trans and a black woman. She was a showgirl before prison – she’s definitely a real person.