The Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black isn’t just popular with UCF students. Now, it features a UCF alumna as well.
Amanda Stephen, a 2008 graduate of the UCF theatre program, played recurring character Alison Abdullah on the show’s fourth season and plans to return for its fifth.
“[Orange Is the New Black] is extremely unique in the sense that there’s a strong sense of community and everybody supports each other there,” said Stephen. “Everybody lifts each other up. There are strong women all around you that have been through what you’re going through.”
Stephen enjoyed working with the cast for the show’s fourth season and thinks the actresses have a lot in common, despite their diversity.
“Seeing that they’re all women and all women of beautiful color, you get a lot of unique perspectives,” Stephen said. “A majority of us have our beginnings in theatre and a love and understanding of the craft of acting.”
Stephen said she enjoyed working with Blair Brown, who played Judy King — a character loosely based on Martha Stewart — in Orange Is the New Black. Brown also played Nina Sharp in Fringe and won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Margrethe Bohr in Copenhagen on Broadway.
Some fans of the show see the Muslim identity of Stephen’s character as another part of the show’s commitment to diversity.
“Orange Is the New Black has almost always been known as being on the side of progress in society,” said Jordyn McCray, a senior majoring in social work. “By adding Alison in the show, it allows people to connect with a character on a somewhat emotional level, and then look into themselves and see how they feel about people in the real world who identify the same way.”
Tabitha Guinot, a senior studying criminal justice and minoring in legal studies, thinks Alison’s inclusion in Orange Is the New Black speaks to a rarely explored aspect of race.
“I think her character showed the complexity within races,” Guinot said. “Not just between white and black, but how you can still face backlash from your own people … this season handled so many controversial topics, and this was just one of them.”
Stephen said she appreciated that the UCF theatre department was flexible enough for her to achieve her goals in college and beyond.
“They allowed me to get into extra classes even though they weren’t on [my] track,” Stephen said. “The department was really great, helping motivated people. They were really crucial in how I was able to succeed and fight for the things I want.”
Stephen also professed appreciation for her professors, saying that “all of them were part of molding my perspective and how I work in theatre.”
Belinda Boyd, an associate professor in UCF’s theatre department, taught Stephen during her time at the university and described her as an “excellent student with a lovely sense of humor.”
“She was a stand-out talent when she was a student, so I am not surprised she has reached this level of success,” Boyd said. “I expect we will see her continue to be a successful presence in the business, but I also believe she will remain grounded and approachable.”
Alex Storer is the Entertainment Editor of the Central Florida Future. You can reach him at AlexanderS@centralfloridafuture.com.