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Danielle Brooks Orange Is The New Black The Color Purple| Guideposts
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Danielle Brooks Is Coming Full Circle

The Broadway and Orange Is The New Black star shares how she overcame body image issues and how all of her dreams are lining up with God’s plan.

Danielle Brooks on OITNB, The Color Purple and body image
Credit: © Ira L. Black

If you don’t yet know the name Danielle Brooks, you soon will.

The 26-year-old actress and Julliard alum hit the mainstream as a breakout star of the popular Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. Now, she’s making her Broadway debut in a revival of the critically acclaimed musical, The Color Purple.

Though this week she’s juggling a chaotic schedule for both projects– a couple of eleven-hour filming days for OITNB, eight hours of musical rehearsal, and a photoshoot – Brooks is grateful to be a working actress.“It’s truly a dream come true to do both of these projects at the same time,” she affirms. “To be on Broadway, it’s a huge deal for me and where I wanted to be in my career.”

Brooks was just a teenager when she attended her first Broadway show with her father. That show turned out to be The Color Purple. Fast forward ten years later and she now finds herself playing Sophia — a character in a story that’s partly responsible for igniting her life’s passion.

“I never knew the path would be laid out like this,” Brooks admits. “It’s definitely a full circle moment for me. I’m just so glad that the things that I desire have aligned with what God wants me to do and what His plan was – that’s a huge deal for me.”

The South Carolina native got her start acting in church — her dad was a deacon, her mom a minister – before auditioning for Julliard after high school. Brooks fully expected many milestones would have to be crossed before she landed a hit TV show, with Broadway way off in her future. Instead, the young actress made her television debut on OITNB in 2013 as Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, an orphaned inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary. The show opened to critical acclaim, racking up Emmy Awards, Golden Globe nominations and a devoted fan base numbering in the millions. “We never imagined that the show would be as successful as it has been,” Brooks says. “We never came in with ego. We came in to work.”

Though completely unpredicted, Brooks thinks she knows why people latched on to the series.

“It’s very rare that you get a show that’s not trying to make this fantasy world,” the actress says. “I think people see their mothers and their aunts and their cousins in this story. I signed onto it for that reason.”

Brooks says to be on a show committed to diversity and honest storytelling is something she’s proud to be a part of.

“I feel like we’ve been trailblazers,” the actress says. “We don’t live in a world that’s all white or all black or all heterosexual or all homosexual – no world is like that. It’s cool to be in a show that does reflect what we look like and how we are. I think everyone should feel represented in who they are and to see that on television.”

Earlier this year, the actress penned a powerful essay for Glamour magazine where she recounted her struggles with self-esteem and body image issues when she was a young girl.

In the piece, titled “How I Learned to Love My Body,” Brooks hits on everything, from being self-conscious about stretch marks to her suicidal thoughts and the lack of role models for women like her.

“I dreamed of being an actor, but when I looked for reflections of myself on the screen, I found few,” Brooks writes.

When asked where she found the courage to come forward with her own story, the actress credits her cast mates for inspiring her to speak up.

“Watching the beautiful women of OITNB step into their own and find their own voices made me say ‘I know I have a voice too and this might help someone else get through their journey,’” Brooks says.

Still, there were some parts of her story she was hesitant to reveal.

“The only part I was a bit nervous about was writing about suicide,” Brooks admits. “I just didn’t want people to take that and run with it or think that, for a big chunk of my life, I was having that thought. That wasn’t the case.”

In the end, the response from fans reaffirmed the actress’ belief that using her voice was the right decision.

“I feel like, when you have a platform and a voice, you should consider using it,” Brooks says. “Even if it were to only help one person, I’m glad that I did it.”

Though Brooks anticipates her full circle moment as the night she hits the stage for the first time with The Color Purple, it could be said she’s already there. The young girl, yearning to see a woman that looked like her on TV has grown up to become the very thing she was always searching for. It’s a gift not lost on the talented star.

“I am in total shock of how God works,” Brooks says when asked about her newly-acquired role model status. “I’m in shock that He’s chosen me to be that for someone. The thing I wanted to see, I am that. That’s mind blowing to me.”

“I just hope and pray that my path continues to grow and that I can continuously be that person for someone else,” she says. “I pray that I can break molds and break stereotypes and break hearing those ‘Nos’ and turn them into “Yes’’ for the next generation of people that look like me.”

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