PRIDE MONTH RETRO REVIEW: Pose, a contemporary LGBTQ+ representation

BY JOHN CARTER JR

Live. Work. Pose is a drama television series created and produced by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck, and Steven Canals with Janet Mock and Nina Jacobson. The series is set in the 1980s New York ballroom scene as well as the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Latino and Black LGBTQ+ characters take center stage with actresses Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Haillie Sahar, and Actor Billie Porter. The show not only educates its audience concerning the plights and experiences of LGBT people of color during this time period but reminds us of the humanity that is hardly seen on screens of populations that are constantly othered. Pose is an important contemporary piece of LGBT media and here’s why.

The show centers around the fictional House of Evangelista and its legendary impact ballroom scene. Ballroom is a place for Houses to come together, compete, and celebrate LGBT culture. Houses traditionally are homes for LGBT children with no place to turn and are run by House Parents who have life experience enough to guide their children. The story starts with our main heroine, Blanca soon to be Blanca Evangelista (MJ Rodriguez), a trans-Afro-Latina woman who has been diagnosed with HIV and decides to leave The House of Abundance run by her legendary Mother Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson). 

Blanca was raised along with her siblings Candy, Lulu, Angel, Lemar, and Cubby Abundance. However, after her diagnosis and a search around for an apartment, it is revealed that Blanca has decided to take life by the reins and go for her dream of creating a Legendary House. Her mother is completely against this and reads her for filth. Being fueled not only by her recent successful idea at the most recent ball, her Mother telling she can’t do it, and mostly out her desire to leave her mark before she is taken out by HIV Blanca sets out to start the House of Evangelista. With Emcee Pray Tell (Billie Porter), her sister Angel (Indya Moore), her smooth son Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel), and her dancing prodigy child Damien (Ryan Jamaal Swain) at her side Blanca takes on the world of ballroom and the HIV crisis in her community.

Pose shows queer people of color in a time when they were especially vulnerable, and while American queer people of color still experience extreme discrimination the series shows what it took for the queer community to get where it is today. It masterfully conveys the real-life struggles of violence against trans women of color, HIV/AIDS, racism within and outside of the gay community and more. It does this in style, characters like Elecktra Abundance and Pray Tell in particular are known for sporting their legendary fashions. 

The show puts on display the beautiful multicolor aesthetics of the ball culture and contrasts it against the cold clinical grays of the HIV hospital scenes, eventually going to blend both colorful ideas in the song performances. MJ Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Sandra Bernhard, Patti Lupone and yes even Dominique Jackson sing emotionally powerful tunes from different places on the spectrum (Well Maybe not Dominique). Renditions of Prince’s Sometimes it Snows in April, Stevie Wonder’s Love’s in Need of Love Today, Steven Sondheim’s I’m Still Here, and Home from the Wiz by Charlie Smalls.

Seasons 1-3 have a perfect pace and payoff by the end of the series. Showing the highs and lows of the ball scene throughout the 80s and after. Love, affairs, betrayals, rivalries, murder, social issues, gay fashions and more are perfectly executed. The way this show is handled is with respect and homage to the culture it represents and its people. Each of the characters is an instance of a first for the kinds of people they represent on a huge platform such as FX with accuracy and care. 

Surely we have seen black and brown LGBT characters but not like this and not from this culture, it is truly impressive in the impact it has had on its audiences. Garnering MJ Rodriguez the golden globe, the first for any trans person. Justly so, as Rodriguez’s performance is the heart and soul of this heroic epic. Her performance inspires and forces audiences to reflect on their own biases. She is powerful.

Finally Pose is a ceiling-shattering collection of performances that will hopefully lead to more work for not only this cast but as well as trans and gay people of color across the industry. Certainly, the other cast members, Dominique Jackson in particular, deserved awards for their performances and only time will tell if more will win. The series is about hope, perseverance, and being free to be yourself. It is about determination, the willingness to fight back, and the work we put in together to achieve success. At the end of it all however Pose, the story of the Legendary House of Evangelista, is about family and (most integrally) love.

“Houses are homes to all the little boys and girls who never had one, and they keep coming every day just as sure as the sun rises. So what you gotta do is work harder, reach higher and dream big until you triumph! It won’t happen today but when you do i’m going to be right in there cheering you on”- Pray Tell and Blanca Evangelista

One Reply to “PRIDE MONTH RETRO REVIEW: Pose, a contemporary LGBTQ+ representation”

  1. The part about Dominique Jackson deserving an award for her performance, yes!! She has so many powerful monologues throughout the series! This show and the actors are beautifulll. One of my absolute favorites.

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