#MondayMotivation: Our Woman of the Week is Danielle Brooks!


Every Monday, Culturess chooses one woman in pop culture to be our Woman of the Week.  These women inspire and empower us to kick ass, take names, fight the good fight, and live our best lives.  Today, our Woman of the Week is Danielle Brooks!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost four years since Danielle Brooks was introduced to the world at large. Orange is the New Black has become such a cultural cornerstone that I can hardly remember a time before the groundbreaking show. But I’m sure it’s even more surreal for Brooks herself. At the time that she was cast, she was two years out of Juilliard and had only a few TV movie credits to her name.

The job, at first, was only a two-episode arc. But, as we all know now, Brooks’s talent is too great to ignore. She was quickly promoted to series regular, and thus Taystee was born.

Brooks’s breakout role as one of the inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary is a perfect encapsulation of her brilliance. In the hands of a less capable actress, Taystee could have easily fallen into assumption and stereotype. But in the hands of Brooks, the character’s sunny disposition and grim circumstances are not mutually exclusive. In nearly every episode, Taystee’s joy and intelligence are on full display.

Danielle Brooks as Taystee in Orange is the New Black, Promotional Image via Netflix

And yet, Brooks portrayed an astonishingly sensitive and real portrait of a tragedy in the latest season of Orange is the New Black. When another inmate dies, Brooks’s Taystee is spot on in her trauma and grief. But her work is even more impressive when you know what her schedule was like. Because at the same time as Brooks was filming this season of Orange is the New Black, she was rehearsing and starring as Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway, which earned her a Tony nomination. Her commitment to the hard work it takes to follow her dreams is part of what makes Brooks so inspiring.

But we didn’t choose Brooks as Woman of the Week because she’s a great actress. There are many excellent actresses out there who work very hard. But there are few who are so committed to improving the state of the industry. Brooks frequently speaks out about her insistence to break stereotype, particularly of black women. As she told Vulture last year,

"“That’s why I love storytelling: You can bring people into the theater or have people sitting at home from all walks of life, watching Taystee or Sofia, and they get to see how they relate to these women. Or even have them be like, ‘Damn, I really do judge women who are like these characters. There’s so much more to them than I could’ve ever imagined.’”"

And on top of that, Brooks has thrown herself into promoting diversity of body type in media. As a plus-size woman, Brooks herself has found frustration with the ratio of representation in the media. So she teamed up with Refinery29 on the 67% Project. According to the project, 67% of women are plus-size, but they make up less than 2% of the images we see in the media. Brooks hopes to change that statistic and promote body-positivity. To that end, she’s become the new face of Lane Bryant. And millions of people see her every day, plus-size and beautiful, rocking lingerie on stories-high billboards.

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Danielle Brooks is an incredible actress; there’s no denying that. But more than anything, she’s a changemaker. Through her role in Orange is the New Black, she shatters stereotypes of black women and prisoners. She took the opportunity to tell the stories of strong women of color in The Color Purple. And she uses her platform to promote the realistic representation of plus-size women. By just being herself, Brooks inspires self-worth and self-love in each and every person who sees her work. And it’s because of this that she just had to be our Woman of the Week.

Thank you for inspiring us, Danielle Brooks!

This week, take care of you. Love your body, your work, and yourself a little more, just like Danielle Brooks would want for you!

Next: #MondayMotivation: Our Woman of the Week is Carrie Hope Fletcher!

You can find Danielle Brooks’s work here:

Orange is the New Black: All 4 seasons are available on Netflix.

The Color Purple: Brooks’s first Broadway show closed last month, but you can still hear Brooks sing the role of Sofia on the cast recording!

The 67% Project: Learn more about the project Brooks is a part of here!