*It is a challenge not to fangirl out when speaking with actress Adrienne C. Moore about season four of Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s hit series renewed for three more seasons. After all, she plays the breakout character, Black Cindy, an inmate of Litchfield’s Women’s Prison in upstate New York, who electrifies each scene that she graces with her cleverness and signature afro-puffs.
Adrienne’s ability to draw in audiences and entrap them with her every emotion should not come as a surprise since she started developing her acting chops at a very young age.
“I was always in community theater or dance classes, and then I took a turn once college happened and [I] went more the academic route. When I moved to Atlanta, I worked with a small firm in advertising and marketing while doing community theater on the side. Then I had a career change, and decided to do it more full time, and that is what brought me to New York, and I got my Master’s in Theater at the New School University,” says Adrienne.
Eventually, she earned the role as “Keera” in her first regional and off-Broadway play, Milk Like Sugar, which led to her meeting her agent and manager. From there, her career blossomed as she appeared in television shows like Blue Bloods, 30 Rock, and most notably, OITNB.
Adrienne’s manifestation of Black Cindy’s persona is an outspoken hood savant, cultural humorist, and pragmatist, all of which are married to her many faults—a kleptomaniac former security officer and TSA agent, a ganja connoisseur, and an irresponsible mother to her nine-year-old daughter Monica. Beloved by the many fans of the show, Black Cindy, is a complex character who drops her quips and epic one-liners with a cadence reminiscent of a Brooklyn raptress and who uses her facetiousness to maintain a well-guarded fortress around her vulnerability, as well as, to cope with the grim reality of prison life.
“I think humor is a great way to mask a lot of feelings, to be honest with you. I often say that we use humor to soften the blow and cope with difficult situations and conversations. Comedy is a way to move past difficult situations,” says Adrienne.
In a rare moment, viewers are allowed to lay witness to Black Cindy’s openness when she seeks to convert to Judaism. Initially, Black Cindy’s interest in the religion stems from her desire to partake of the more pleasant kosher meals offered by the prison for its Jewish prisoners, as opposed to the dining on the Litchfield’s pre-packaged pseudo-sous vide slop.
But, as she delves more into her newfound belief, she experiences an epiphany that forces her to take accountability for her mishaps and seek God within herself. In her attempt to convince the Rabbi of her genuine conversion, she breaks from her usual fun-loving demeanor and gets real as she fights to explain her struggle with Christianity.
“I think a lot of things hit her in an unexpected moment, it certainly hit me in an unexpected way,” says Adrienne.
After shooting that particular scene several times, she primarily approached delivering Black Cindy’s dialogue with her requisite sarcastic wit and charm. However, Adrienne experienced a bit of revelation at the same time as her character. When she recalled her personal life and upbringing, “In that quick flashback, you see her Dad is very harsh on her, it wasn’t that harsh for me, but my life was very wrapped up in the church, I think that was very similar to Black Cindy. So as I was talking about the whole idea of what sin is, what salvation is, and what one must do to save their soul, it had an unexpected effect on me, and it became what it became. The writers liked that version much better, I certainly did because it showed an interesting layer to her,” she explains.
Season three concluded with the inmates escaping through a hole in prison yard fence and immersing themselves in the neighboring lake as if it were Spring Break. It was a touching scene to witness them being genuinely happy, open, and oddly free even if it was for a fleeting moment. For Black Cindy, this fortunate turn of events afforded her chance to conduct the mikvah to solidify her conversion to Judaism and to emerge within her new Jewish identity as Tova (טוֹבָה), which means good in Hebrew.
OITNB fans are no doubt curious on how Black Cindy, or rather, Tova, will grow with her new faith and whether or not she will lose her comedic edge, Adrienne assures that will not be the case. “With the new prisoners that are coming in and one of the new girls is Muslim, [and] in our culture, Jews and Muslims do not get along very well and you see how Cindy navigates that relationship. For the show you need that balance, of drama and comedy, which is what is so special about our show, the characters can make you laugh as much as they can make you cry. Comedy allows [us] to dismantle the ego, and if you can make a person laugh then they can sit back, relax, and take in the information that you are giving them a lot easier,” says Adrienne.
The need for comedic relief will be a welcomed outlet for viewers as OITNB confronts and explores difficult issues like race relations, focusing on the black lives matters movement, religion, rape, mental illness, privatization of prisons, and inmate overcrowding.
“She is tied up into all of that because obviously you know Black Cindy can never have her money affected,” says Adrienne with a hearty chuckle, “So there is a lot in store for Black Cindy this season as we tackle a lot of those themes.”
Adrienne points out that the most prevalent theme that will be heavily studied throughout this go round with the inmates from Litchfield will be the issue of how penitentiaries operate as private for-profit enterprises and as one character, Danny Pearson rightfully questions, “What happens when we monetize human beings?”
It is a topic that is particularly poignant to Adrienne especially when asked her opinion about our penal system. She takes a deep breath, unaware of where to begin stating her vast observations. As she sorts through her thoughts, she recalls her internship at the United States Attorney’s office while in high school and how she gained first-hand experience of our nation’s prison system.
“We visited a federal prison, and I got to see the inner workings of it, just a tour. Ironically after that, I started watching A &E’s Scared Straight and I remember in one episode a correctional officer saying the whole idea when we bring an inmate into prison is to subjugate them to the point that they have no other choice but to resign to authority,’’ she recalls. “Obviously, you have more inmates that correctional officers so they have to have a system in place to keep the inmates in control and to make them think ‘I cannot overpower this correctional officer.’ They run them through these rigorous exercises, run them down to the point they have no other choice but to fall in line and we see a lot of that in season four.”
Another leg of the prison reform debate the series will examine is the notion that for-profit prisons are not in the business of rehabilitation but to encourage recidivism.
“The whole purpose of [them] is more heads in beds [which] benefits the company. But when that person gets out of prison are they at a place where they [have been] rehabilitated? Often times not and part is because there is not enough in place within the jail or within the program to properly rehabilitate these inmates because it does not benefit the for-prisons,” states Adrienne.
Human chattel has proven to be a lucrative commodity, especially within our nation’s prison industrial complex. The Huffington Post exposed a private prison in Arizona, run by Management & Training Corp., that “threatened to sue the state [based] on a line in their contract [that] guaranteed the prison would remain 97 percent full. [MTC] argued they had lost nearly $10 million from the reduced inmate population.”
She astutely points out that the conversation that society needs to have is to analyze what happens to an inmate once they are released from prison and how to prevent them from relapsing back into the system, a subject matter that goes unnoticed, which is why OITNB has become so successful. The show not only entertains but highlights the very issues that are widely ignored and provides a platform for Black Cindy/Tova to engage viewers to pay attention and hopefully take action.
Orange Is The New Black season four is currently streaming on Netflix.