Dascha Polanco On The Story Line She Wishes ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Pursued

Photo By JoJo Whilden/Netflix.

And why the show is so important to marginalized groups

Dascha Polanco is only trying to be real. That's why she gives such refreshing, unfiltered responses to people about everything from her identity as an Afro-Latinx woman to the IRL activism she’s begun engaging with thanks to her role as Dayanara Diaz on Netflix’s hit show Orange Is the New Black. Thoroughly engaged and articulate to a fault, Polanco’s had six seasons to grow alongside her character, and learn more about the issues Daya faces as a woman of color, a mother, and a prison inmate. There's often a special bond between an actor and her character, but this is especially the case with Polanco and the rest of the OItNB ensemble, who have set an example with its promotion of diverse and representative storytelling—and it’s a responsibility Polanco doesn’t take lightly.

So in honor of Orange is the New Black’s sixth season and on the heels of Netflix’s announcement that Season 7 is indeed in the works, we spoke with Polanco about the importance of her role in contemporary pop culture, what she hopes her vocal stance on prison reform will achieve, and how things have changed for her, not only on the show but also in the real world. Read our Q&A with her, below.

There was a lot of talk this season about how the show's writing would change, following the loss of a lot of writers between seasons. How did the show feel different to you?
I feel like there was definitely a shift in writing, and, to me, it was noticeable. I'm sure that the audience noticed as well. [However,] I think that it was refreshing, and with the help of the actors, we were able to keep this open dialogue and say, “Well, you know, my character would do this,” and discuss their choices, which made it a brand-new show every time.

Knowing that the show also gave opportunity to different writers, so it could be diverse, was important also. It kept the authenticity of the show. 

In terms of engaging with current events, were you ever frustrated by potentially not being able to address some of the timely issues happening in the real world?
I think that that's not the goal of the show. I mean, we're not CNN. We're not MSNBC. We're basically telling you the stories of these women that are incarcerated, and we use moments to touch on certain topics that have happened or happening. As an actor though, my whole goal was not to address issues. That's what I use me, Dascha, for. 

I have to do justice to what the show is. [To focus on] what it meant for Piper Kerman's experience—respecting that and knowing her experience. And also to [honor creator Jenji Kohan] and the writers’ ability to give opportunities to such a diverse cast so that we were able to tell these stories. I’m not frustrated, though, that we don't talk about, like, Trump's immigration laws. You know, it's great to touch on, but I'm more so concerned with what's best for the character. What are we doing for this story? Where has she come from? Where are we going? 

Obviously, there were points I wish that they talked about. Like [Daya's] baby. And I wish that we would’ve talked about what the fuck happened with Bennett, you know? Like, she never discusses that, never speaks about it. Those are the types of things that I want to see more of. Like, what really happens when you give birth in the system?

Definitely. And a ton of shows have been trying to include story lines about contemporary politics, but oftentimes, it feels kind of jammed in. What do you think about this wave of shows trying to adopt more politicized stances—even though they may not be super-productive? 
To be quite frank, it gets annoying. I love that we're touching these topics, but when you make it all about that, it's like... we're wasting so much effort on the problem, not the solution.

And it's like, if I want to see MSNBC or CNN, I go there, and I watch it. Sometimes I need an escape, and it's okay. [At least with Orange Is the New Black], the way they do it makes sense, because [these issues] indirectly affects the people in there. But when you have a show about two best friends in high school and all they're talking about the whole day is politics, it’s like... I mean, when you're in high school, you don't even give a fuck about politics. It’s like, “Yeah, I got my period, I like this boy.” 

I think that everything needs to be as authentic as it can be. As long as it makes sense [to incorporate politics], it's great, but when you're trying to be something that you're really not, I think you're losing the whole sense of it.

And there are so many different ways to do this. Like, make shows about immigration, and make shows be as diverse as possible. Don't have a token Latina girl in everything who has to be the voice for this or for that… I think, if you want to do a show and you want to be with the times, then make it about the people. Not just about the problems.

Has the show impacted your real-world activism at all? 
Definitely. I mean, I was ignorant to what really goes on in these institutions. We all know someone that's incarcerated, but to know in detail, to go in there... I'm working with conflict and detention centers and learning what are the politics, what are the laws, what are the financials behind it... There's so much to fix. There's so much that I don't understand. There's so much that I've learned from documentaries, like [Jay Z’s] documentary on Kalief Browder.

These are the things we have to see our society work on. Not furthering the negative, but improving behavior and assisting. A lot of these things come from mental health issues and not being able to deal with [certain] situations. Or, feeling less than and inferior to others. 

I want to be part of the change, and freedom is so valuable to me. Now, I know more, and it's such a fragile thing that it could easily be taken away from you without you knowing.

What was really interesting to a lot of viewers was to see this narrative—that was originally about a wealthy white woman's experience—become an amazing ensemble piece that focuses on women of color. What was it like growing alongside your character within this larger narrative shift?
It's definitely unexpected. Growing up, I never said, “I'm Latina.” I used to say I'm Dominican, I'm Spanish. I consider myself Afro-Caribbean, so when I was given the opportunity [of this role as a Latina], I didn't feel like I deserved it. I felt like, “Oh my god, I need to like be on my best behavior. Oh my god, I need to not be out there too much.” I was like, "I can't feel like I'm embracing this [role as a Latina], because you just feel like you're there thanks to the luck of the draw." But it shouldn't be that. 

[However, knowing] that I was part of something that eventually gave so many more opportunities to diversity [television] was what really allowed me to own my role. It’s one of the first shows on Netflix that has reached Season 7, and it is one of the most-seen shows in the world, and it set a standard for many new shows. This is what we were wanting. To see difference, to see uniqueness. And that to me opens this huge gate—not only Netflix, but for other networks to know that diversity is important, and we need to keep on providing these stories. 

Orange is the New Black Season 6 is streaming on Netflix now.

Illustration by Vivie Behrens

Liberation can come from completion, but then, we are always becoming something new

They say the full moon is about completion. About looking back at the intentions you crowned the new moon with and seeing where those intentions led you. The new moon in Gemini was the pebble that began this cycle, and the full moon in Sagittarius is her echo, the ring getting larger in the water. The new moon in Gemini asked us what we wanted to change about our habits, what we wanted to do with our hands, and our hunger for newness. The new moon in Gemini was interested in the way shifting ideas can give us the freedom to think differently and, in thinking differently, become new people. The full moon in Sagittarius reminds us that we are never not becoming new.

Both Gemini and Sagittarius are mutable signs, they exist in relation to the other and they know how to speak each other's language. But, while Gemini relishes the endless capacity of air (of thought), Sagittarius uses the energy of fire to transform thought into action. Everything Sagittarius touches can't help but change. How can this be completion? The wheel is always spinning, reader. Sagittarius marks the completion of the fire trine. Here, fire is generous and social. It means to gather and teach, to illuminate. Sagittarius lives in the sector of the zodiac chart related to education, philosophy, and the awareness of others—their beliefs and their right to freedom. Because of this, our June Sagittarius full moon is both a completion moon and a moon that reminds us that all endings create space for beginning. The more you leave behind, the more you find. There is no dead end in the universe.

If you are a seeker like me (perhaps you have lots of planets in Sagittarius in your natal chart), you have already come across Jessica Dore's Twitter account. Every day, Dore posts a tarot card and her interpretation of it. It is a gift to many of her readers. Yesterday, she shared The World with us, reminding her readers: "the moments of beauty, belonging & elation that you've experienced up to this point in your life… would still only amount to the tiniest sliver of what this world has to offer in terms of sweetness & pleasure."

I thought about this card and her words all day. The World is, numerically, the last card in the Major Arcana journey—the last card if you don't think about the Fool, who is numbered at 0 and so is the beginning and the end. The World is, therefore, a completion card too, a big echo of a full moon.

This morning, holding the sweet and expansive nature of The World, thinking on Sagittarius people and their love of travel, of reckoning with the edge of an atlas and questioning the map-makers, I pulled the nine of swords from my own Tarot deck. The other side of knowledge is to overwhelm and shut down. Gemini, ruled by Mercury, holds information in her hands. She understands duality in all things. Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, yearns for the expansion of mind and the illumination of power. The philosopher and the moralist, a Sagittarius at her best can teach anyone to break open a prison. A Sagittarius at her worst can justify any cage. Don't forget that Jupiter was the king of the gods. His lightning bolt was a weapon. Sometimes, we are too exposed to each other. We imagine we know others through the stories we create about one another. We imagine we know the future because we refuse to be humble about how vulnerable we are to the universe's ever-shifting outcomes. We refuse abundance by convincing ourselves that the cage of identity we build for ourselves is our only possibility.

For the next two days, as the Sun lingers in Gemini and we feel the effects of the moon's fullness in Sagittarius, reflect on the ways you have used knowledge. When has your knowledge been a tool of empowerment for yourself and others? When have you shared the beauty of the world and the joy of radical ideas/ways of living? When have you used knowledge to understand and relieve your own suffering and the suffering of others? And, too, when have you used knowledge as permission for self-delusion? When you have expanded so far into your idea of the world and your own work in it that you forgot how to be accountable to your daily life, your body, your friends, and the people you love? You know when Janis Joplin sings "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose"? That's only one kind of freedom, and it's the kind that Sagittarius thinks it knows very well. Freedom can be about nothing, if nothing is what you want. Then welcome to the monastery, friend. Freedom can also be another word for everything you revel in not knowing. Freedom can be about having everything because you are part of everything, even if you can't see the relation, even if you can't imagine yet how what you want also wants you.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Kat is making me relive my fat-teen trauma

When people say that HBO's new Zendaya-led teen drama, Euphoria, is triggering, believe them. In the pilot alone we're introduced to Rue (Zendaya) and her drug addiction issues via a graphic depiction of the overdose that sent her to rehab. Then, there's the disturbing rough sex scene featuring Jules (Hunter Schafer), a teenage trans girl who has just moved into town, and a middle-aged man she met on Grindr. Oh, and don't forget the unchecked, toxic masculinity of uber-jock Nate (Jacob Elordi); or the body obsession of his sometimes-girlfriend, Maddy (Alexa Demie). For me though, the ultimate trigger came via Barbie Ferreira's character Kat's experience, as she dealt with and internalized a vicious form of fatphobia.

Kat—almost alone amongst her friends—seems self-assured and dismissive of the idea that any high school drama should be taken too seriously. "You just need to catch a dick and forget about your troubles," Kat tells Maddy, following the latter's recent breakup with Nate. But internally, Kate craves male attention, and resents the fact that she's the only virgin she knows; she hints at this when she tells Maddy that she'd "settle for, like, four Corona Lights and some non-rapey affection," from a guy—any guy.

Kat's bravado leads her into a compromising situation at a high school party; she winds up in a room alone with three boys, where she talks a big game about how she's a "savage" who watches porn and has slept with more people than any of them can count. None of this is true, but Kat is determined to become "a woman of questionable morals."

The scene shows the fine line between being an empowered young woman deciding what to do with her body, on her terms, and being a teenager who thinks she's in control but doesn't fully understand the power dynamics at play. Because, yes, Kat is trying to make an intentional decision about her sexuality and how to use it, but she's doing so with a group of boys who don't value or respect her. This reality is made clear when one of them says to her, "You know what they say, right? Fat girls give the best head."

At those familiar words, I melted into my couch and said a silent prayer of gratitude that I wasn't watching Euphoria in the company of anyone else. Onscreen, Kat, too, shrinks ever so slightly into herself, all while trying to keep a poker face about the whole thing. We don't see exactly what happens in the room, but, later, she seems happy when she shares the news with her friends that she's lost her virginity; even though she then lays down, awake, scrolling through the guy's Instagram, seeming altogether less than happy.

Kat's isn't the most violent or necessarily the saddest story line in the episode. But it showed the ways that issues like consent, toxic masculinity, substance abuse, and body image—all of which are difficult to deal with no matter what your size—are further magnified when experienced through the additional trauma of fatphobia. This is something with which I've personally dealt, and so I felt my past experiences rise up inside me when I watched how Kat couldn't build her own sexual identity without being constantly aware of the ways her body exists outside the parameters of acceptable desirability.

My childhood and adolescence are defined by my experiences as a fat girl; it was a time that often felt like a hazy battlefield, when I could hardly navigate which feelings and thoughts were my own, and which ones were the result of outside forces. My body hardly ever felt like mine, and it took years to develop the autonomy that Kat is grasping at as a teenager. Kat, like so many other fat women, has a total lack of support from her peers when it comes to body image and acceptance, and there's a devastating absence of affirmation about her own worth and the importance of her pleasure. Because of fatphobia, Kat is going to be swimming against a strong, but invisible current as she navigates the already fraught social politics of high school. It's one thing to grasp this truth on an intellectual level, but letting those principles guide your decision-making is truly difficult—even for an adult, let alone for a teenager.

Euphoria airs Sunday nights at 10pm, on HBO.

Courtesy of RLJE Films

White-knuckle your way through wedding season with Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid

Maya Erskine might have first come to our attention in PEN15, the hilarious show she co-created and stars in with Anna Konkle, in which they play 13-year-olds in the year 2000, but in the just-released Plus One, Erskine is all grown up and engaging in a very familiar adult activity: white-knuckling her way through wedding season.

Written and directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer—who just so happen to be Erskine's former NYU classmates—Plus One stars Erskine and Jack Quaid as Alice and Ben, two longtime friends who decide to attend a summer of weddings together, and avoid any of the awkwardness that can come with finding the right plus-one. This is especially important for Alice, who is coming off a bad breakup. Of course, as the laws of rom-coms dictate, nothing stays totally platonic. Beyond that, though, Plus One doesn't fall into predictable rom-com tropes, and instead hilariously explores what it's like to spiral into a quarter-life crisis, all while dressed in optional black-tie. Which, we've all been there, right?

"We kind of use the script as its own therapy," Chan told me recently, when I spoke with him, Rhymer, Erskine, and Quaid, about the film. "We were watching friends who have been broken up for a long time get back together at weddings; we were watching people get really sad and get drunk and start crying... they were breeding grounds for lots of emotions coming to the surface."

Courtesy of RLJE Films

And those emotions have the perfect outlet at weddings in the form of toasts and other assorted speeches. Plus One makes good use of that platform by making the wedding speech the hilarious eye of the storm at each of its weddings. These toasts were delivered in the form of scene-stealing cameos—also friends from NYU, of course.

"Almost all of those speeches are based on a real speech Andrew and I have seen," Chan said. "We'd go to a wedding and [we'd think], Yep, that's going in there."

Rhymer adds that they used these speeches as metonyms for the weddings, which made sense time- and budget-wise: "Being an indie film, we obviously produced 12 weddings, but did so kind of cleverly, showing you the rooms or the side rooms where they're rehearsing. We weren't seeing 12 full-blown receptions in all their glory... that would have been, like, millions of dollars."

But perhaps what's most refreshing about Plus One is that it destroys the image of weddings—and, by extension, relationships, and women, in general—as having to be fantasies, as having to be perfect. Because nothing is perfect, and that's what makes life interesting. Erskine, for one, likes being able to show the weirder sides of life, whether as a 13-year-old girl washing a thong with hand soap or a millennial woman who doesn't know what comes next. "There's something really liberating and freeing to show and bear the ugliest parts of yourself—or what society may deem as the ugliest, weirdest parts of yourself—that no one wants to see," she said. "I'm also an over-sharer. So I am drawn to roles that expose more than is typical, and everyone is weird in one way or another."

"I think," Erskine laughed, "it's because I myself am a wacky trash goblin." As it turns out, that's exactly what rom-coms have been missing, until now.

Plus One is in select theaters and available to stream via Amazon now.

PLUS ONE Official Trailer

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Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

That's one way to solve a wardrobe malfunction

Cardi B twerked so hard during a performance that she ripped her outfit and had to rock a bathrobe for the majority of her set.

At Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennesee, as Cardi got a little too down and into it, a seam split on her bedazzled body-con jumpsuit only moments into her set. Not one to be set back by a wardrobe malfunction, Cardi B rocked a nude strapless bra with a bathrobe on top, making for a Serious Fashion Moment.

"This wasn't just part of the show," Twitter user Lena Blietz pointed out. "No one performs in a nude, strapless bra by choice." I have to agree there. A strapless bra is the bane of my existence on a slow day, I can't imagine what it's like to have to dance in one on stage.

Honestly, watching Cardi perform in this getup made me a stan for life. Despite it not being as flashy as her jumpsuit, Cardi made the bathrobe work, throwing the shoulders down for drama as she paced the stage during each song.

Bonnaroo attendees couldn't help but agree that a bathrobe and nothing else is a mood we all felt in the very, very hot and sweaty crowd. If she had one in my size to share, I would have gladly changed in a heartbeat.

But, despite loving this comfy solution to a big problem, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the beauty that was the original jumpsuit. RIP.

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

And launched an inclusive summer campaign showcasing 30 different models

Just in time for swim season, sustainable swimwear brand Summersalt launched an inclusive summer campaign, called Every Body is a Beach Body, and significantly expanded its size range.

The brand's sizes now go up to 24 and 2X—quite a jump from its previous availability, which went up to a size 14. Co-founders Reshma Chamberlin and Lori Coulter told NYLON that the size expansion was a must because "we know that there are countless women out there who are missing out on the joy of summer because they don't have the right suit." They noted that they have plans to expand the brand's sizing even more: "We're excited to continue to add more sizes and be even more inclusive."

For the summer campaign, each suit was fitted on 30 professional and non-professional models ranging in body type to ensure it would look great on as many bodies as possible. "We wanted the models for this campaign to be just as diverse and unique as our customers, and we're proud to show models of different sizes, races, gender identities, and physical abilities," said Chamberlin and Coulter. "We want our customers to see themselves in our models, and know that their body is a beach body, exactly as it is right now."

The new collection includes bright new colorways and styles to rock at the beach or the pool. There are bikinis, one-pieces, and even a swim tunic and leggings for modest fashion wearers.

Check out the campaign and some of the new styles, below, and shop the new collection now at Summersalt.

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt