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#RoleModelMonday: Danielle Brooks On Stereotypes, Diversity, and Body Positivity


#RoleModelMonday: Danielle Brooks On Stereotypes, Diversity, and Body Positivity

Danielle Brooks is all the Monday Motivation we need.

by Danielle Sinay

Danielle Brooks doesn’t do stereotypes. And for that, we are so grateful.

The incredible actress, who rose to stardom for her portrayal of Taystee on Orange is the New Black, revealed to The Guardian that she almost never took the part – even if she hadn’t hit the “big time” yet. Why? She didn’t want to end up type-casted, playing the archetypal “angry black woman.”

Her mind was eventually changed when the series’ casting director explained that Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson wasn’t “angry,” in fact, “more like the light of the prison.” And thank goodness for that! Where would we be without Taystee or Danielle?!

 “I will never play a stereotype,” she told the Guardian. “I will always make sure I make choices that are rich and colorful and try to show more of a person than meets the eye.”

And she has done just that — since her initial appearance in OINTB, Danielle has gone on to star in the The Color Purple on Broadway, known for its powerful portrayals of sexism, racism, and Civil Rights issues. She also worked alongside Aziz Ansari on Master of None, whose recent Emmy-win was a groundbreaking accomplishment for Asian-Americans everywhere. Danielle “only wants to work with people who are pushing the needle.”

Danielle has been an advocate for social justice for years. YEARS. In the fourth grade, Danielle wrote a letter to the mayor of Greenville, South Carolina, expressing her disappointment in the city’s flying of the Confederate Flag. While she never received an appropriate response from the mayor, her act of bravery came full circle later in life, when she met Bree Newsome – who did take the Confederate Flag down in South Carolina. Bree told Danielle “that she understands that what she does is part of that activism,” and for Danielle, “that means the world to me.”

It’s true — Danielle’s selectivity when it comes to her roles is a form of activism. Because when you actively choose to portray diverse characters, pushing the boundaries of what’s considered the norm, you support and bring attention to issues that do matter, and are so often ignored.

“When it comes to TV it’s a slow burn right now, but I think we’re doing it and we have to just stick with it,” she said. “Right now I feel excited by the material I am seeing. From Queen Sugar on OWN to Atlanta on FX to Master of None on Netflix, there are a plethora of new shows that are coming out that have diverse groups of people in front of the camera and behind the scenes.”

We’re impressed with recent changes in television, too. Just last week, Modern Family featured the first ever transgender child actor on the show, and Speechless featured the first ever casting of a disabled person in a disabled role.

And it’s individuals like Danielle who make these changes possible. Because her actions and choices force people to address what they don’t want to, influencing the rest of the industry to follow suit.

“That’s the power of art – it really does imitate life if you are conscious enough about it,” she said.

But Danielle’s advocacy isn’t exclusive to the stage. She appears as herself in Lane Bryant’s body positive #ThisBodyIsMadeToShin Campaign, which aims to inspire women to embrace who they are naturally. “Instead of thinking that ‘maybe she should change,’ the reality is that 67 percent of women are in this plus-size world,” she tells her fans, proving that they don’t need to change – the industry does.

Most recently, Danielle has teamed up with Stock Images and Refinery29 on The 67% Project, which, yes, is a reference to the 67% of women who are plus-size in the world. The campaign calls for more diversity in photos of women on stock images, rather than what it is now: exclusively images of skinny white women laughing alone eating salads. 

The campaign hopes to “more accurately reflect the women who make up the majority of our country,” and this includes celebrities. Because Danielle is the woman who needs to be represented.

“I am this girl,” she expressed to Today. “This is my mom, my aunt, my cousin, my best friend, my colleagues. So it means something to me because it is me.”

It’s Danielle, it’s me, it’s you, it’s all of us. And that’s why Danielle’s work is so important – we are all the same, and it’s time to stand up for ourselves and our peers – because our choices and voices matter. 

Thank you for taking a stand and speaking up on behalf of the under-represented, Danielle! You’re our shero.

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