Adrienne C. Moore is easily recognizable by her hair—both her IRL lush and voluminous afro and her signature afro-puffs that she wears as Cindy Hayes (aka Black Cindy) on Orange Is the New Black. So it's no surprise she gets noticed while we're standing in line for our lunch at Chop't. Wearing bright fuchsia lipstick, she handles the West Village fandom moment with the same cool, laid-back vibe of her character on the Netflix drama. Moore may not be as candid as Black Cindy, but she definitely speaks her mind, acknowledging her concern with my "Boycott Beyoncé" t-shirt and ragging on the ridiculous prices of New York City rent.
Black Cindy wears her natural hair proudly on OITNB. She jokes about pop culture one second and delivers a scathing critique of race and capitalism the next. She is the kind of woman who stans for Beyoncé, names her daughter after Monica from Love & Basketball, tells a white inmate "karma wise, your people had this coming," and flaunts her curvy figure in just a bra and panties. Cindy is always unapologetically herself, and it is that deep commitment to self-love that is something Moore practices in her own life.
"I've learned to be less judgmental of myself," she told me. "I realized the judgements that I had was what I thought people would be saying and thinking. I can't control what people may be thinking. That has made me be kinder to myself. I used to do this thing, I need to get back into it, but I would stand in the mirror and touch my body and I would squeeze my fat, you know all the areas that you wish you didn't have, and I would say, I love it, I love it, I love it. I think if you are kinder to yourself with where you are, then if there is a change then you're not hard on yourself when the change happens. You're like that's okay, because I still love it whether I'm a size 18, or a size 14, or a size 8. It's about loving yourself where you are."
Moore and the other black, Asian, and Latino characters on OITNB continue to pave the way for women of color on mainstream television. Before powerhouses like Shonda Rhimes and shows like Quantico, Jane The Virgin, and OITNB, the portrayal of these women was often rooted in stereotypes and tokenism. The three-time Emmy awarding winning show has become groundbreaking not only because of its portrayal of a diverse group of women in race, sexual orientation, cultural backgrounds, and age, but because of it's ability to humanize the inmates.
“That’s what’s so great about Orange," she said. "People watch the show and they see a multitude of ethnicities and sexual orientations and people are connecting to it because they can see themselves in the characters.”
Cindy is known for spitting quotable one-liners and entrepreneurial endeavors, from selling cigarettes to celebrity photos, finding every crafty way possible to make things work. "She’s smarter than people pin her to be," Moore said. "People see her as a flake, because she’s always looking out for number 1 and I think people underestimate her. They don’t really see her."
In season three, Cindy used Judaism as a scheme to get Kosher food in the Litchfield Penitentiary cafeteria. Eventually, she turns into a devout practicing Jew.
Moore grew up in a Christian household in Nashville and later Atlanta with her parents and twin sister. Church wasn't just for Sunday service, but where she went Monday through Saturday for Bible study and rehearsal for the praise and worship team. It wasn't until she started to study Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam as a religion minor at Northwestern University—and later her stint last year in the off-broadway play Ethel Sings where she played a God-like character who guides a woman to the afterlife—that Moore really saw the bigger picture.
"I began to see this common thread in every religion with compassion, putting others before one’s self and humbling ourselves and being at a place of calm," she said. "We try so much to segregate and define [religion] that I think we end up limiting our scope of what it is. I think that's why that moment when Black Cindy says 'you just got to do God' was very powerful for me."
While most of season four of OITNB focuses on the race wars between the Dominicans and Piper Chapman and her unsolicited gang of white supremacists, Cindy’s storyline is about her newfound religion. She introduces herself as Tova (meaning "good" in Hebrew) to her new roommate inmate Alison Abdullah, who immediately rolls her eyes. Alison is the show's first hijab-wearing Muslim. (We saw inmate Janae Watson’s upbringing in a strict Muslim household with a father who was a member of the Nation of Islam.)
OITNB used the religious tension between Cindy and Alison to mirror the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two do end up bonding over a shared curiosity and dislike of Scientology. Here is a Muslim character on television—aside from Community's Abed Nadir and American Crime's Aliyah Shadeed—who is black and funny and not a terrorist. When Cindy asks her how she even knows which direction East or West in prison, Alison says,"When you pray to Mecca five times a day, you figure that shit out."
When Black Cindy was first introduced to binge-watchers, some thought she was a caricature of the loud, sassy black woman trope and only used for laughs. Moore said that there is a risk that any role you play can be viewed as a stereotype, but the writing is what avoids such pitfalls. This week, OITNB took heat when a picture circulated on Twitter showing the mostly-white writers' room. Fusion reported that out of the 16 writers in four seasons there has only been one Latino and one Asian writer.
"The writers all have a sketch of what they want the season to look like, but while the shooting of the season goes along they are inspired by what we do on the camera and [our] input," Moore told me.
When the OITNB writers dig deeper into Cindy's backstory as an immature ex-TSA agent, we see that she uses humor to mask the fact that she's estranged from her mother and her daughter/sister Monica while in prison. And after the tragic death of inmate Poussey at the hands of the prison guards this season, Alison reveals her bright red hair under her hijab to Cindy and Janae—in a moment of despair, they crack a smile and laugh.
"Humor, the church, and gospel music. That's how black people cope with things," said Moore. "It's a way to move through difficult situations. Whether it’s like these women where you land yourself in jail, or you lose a dear loved one, or you break up with someone, I think if you can take a tragic moment and you can find the space at some point to look back at the moment and laugh at it then that to me says you’ve overcome it."
Right now, Moore is in Shakespeare in the Park's The Taming of Shrew, where like OITNB she is surrounded by a mostly all-women cast. Only this time her and the other cast members are playing men. It's enlightening.
"When we first started rehearsals and we were trying to get into what being a man was like, we found ourselves always apologizing like oh sorry sorry sorry, whereas men don't think that way," she said. "Women, we're trying to always take up as little space as possible and make sure we're getting out of the way of everyone else. Men just take up space. They sit with their legs open, so learning to understand what power is from a man's perspective and just taking up that space has been a really interesting discovery. I'm interested to see what season five has in store for Black Cindy and how taking up space may find its way into that."
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.