Pose is, by any measure, a rarity in today’s television landscape. Set in the 1980s in New York City, it’s set in the world of ball culture. In those fabulous gatherings where queer people of color, already on the margins, found the magic and resilience to thrive. If you’ve ever danced to Madonna’s “Vogue,” gagged over Paris is Burning — or, more recently, seen Kiki or Saturday Church — you know what this world looks like. But the FX show, which is produced by Ryan Murphy, is a rarity in that it’s given trans people of color the reins of their own stories. Starring, among others, MJ Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Indya Moore, as trans women making a life for themselves in an increasingly Reagan-leaning New York, the drama series boasts the most trans performers of any network show. Ever.
Its creator, Steven Canals, always knew there was worth in this story. As he shared in the “Breaking Identities” panel at this year’s National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) conference, he sat down in 2014 to write the pilot for what became Pose because he knew such a show wasn’t on screen.
“Pose came out of the need to see myself,” he said. “And to recognize that there are a lot of other people who don’t see themselves. The very first lesson I was taught in grad school was, as a practitioner, you need to first assess the landscape, identify where there are gaps, and then use your power and your knowledge to then create programs, policies, etc. that will then aid in bettering the landscape.” That’s what guided him. He saw a rather egregious gap and hoped to fill it.
Not that it was easy. The strength of the script got him plenty of meetings (and an agent and a manager!) but little beyond that. “Pose opened doors for me but wouldn’t keep me in the room.” He kept hearing precisely what you’d expect: “I don’t know where a show like this lives.” Or “I don’t know where the audience for this is.” And, of course: “It’s a little too urban, too black, too queer.”
Thankfully, it got into the right hands and landed at FX with the backing of Ryan Murphy, who steered Bronx-born Canals to lighten up what was arguably a very dark treatment. The ’80s, after all, saw not only the crack epidemic and the AIDS crisis, but an all-out war on poverty (read: the poor) in the shape of Reagan’s policies. But Murphy encouraged Canals to try and find joy in the show. “What you need to do,” the American Horror Story creator told him, “is if you want to see joy in your community, you have to infuse that energy into the work.” Suddenly it clicked. And so this glittering take on 1980s ball culture was born. And we’re all the better for it.
Pose airs Sundays on FX.
The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) seeks to inspire, promote, and advocate for Latino content creators in media. As a non-profit organization, NALIP advances the development of Latino content creation through its programs focusing on narrative, documentary, TV, and digital formats. For more information, visit NALIP.org