Journalist and advocate Janet Mock added more roles to her résumé when she joined the crew of FX series “Pose” as a writer, director and producer. The series follows two concurrent developments in late-’80s Manhattan: the ball culture, primarily developed and celebrated by LGBTQ people of color, and new forms of ostentatious wealth, as epitomized by now-President Donald Trump.
Mock, who identifies as a Black and Native Hawaiian transgender woman, wrote about the significance of the series in a guest column for Variety on Wednesday (May 16).
“When girls like us flitted onto my screen, we were seen through the narrowest lens—either as points of trauma, treated as freaks, or mere punchlines,” writes Mock, who says she is the first trans woman of color hired as a writer on any TV series of this profile. “Rarely were we given a chance to be the center of the story, to be the protagonists, the antagonists and the damn villains.
And I knew with ‘Pose,’ I would hold the pen, writing narratives that would show the totality of what it meant to be Brown and Black, to be trans and poor and femme in an era in New York City dictated by a series of ills, from HIV and gentrification to crack and greed.”
Mock said that she joined the project at the invitation of its prolific co-creator, Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” the “American Horror Story” series). Murphy, a gay White man, centers Black and Brown LGBTQ people both on- and off-camera for “Pose”:
This issue of whose gaze, whose stories, and whose bodies were in focus and in leadership behind the camera presented me with much caution as I considered the offer to write on “Pose.” I would soon learn that Murphy was aware of this issue. That’s why he assembled a team of culturally specific collaborators from the ball community, including Dominique Jackson, who plays one of “Pose’s” leading ladies, as well as Leiomy Maldonado and Danielle Polanco, who serve as choreographers; and our braintrust of consultants: Freddie Pendavis, Hector Xtravaganza, Jack Mizrahi, Michael Roberson, Skylar King, Sol Williams and Twiggy Pucci Garçon.
Murphy co-developed “Pose” from a script by Steven Canals, whom Mock describes as ”a queer Afro-Latinx from the Bronx.” The show centers Black and Brown LGBTQ people in other ways as well, including several “firsts” for TV:
Though the series lives under Murphy’s production banner, he has taken a back seat with “Pose,” using the series as an opportunity to champion the communities our show represents. Not only is he donating all of his profits from “Pose” to organizations that directly serve trans and gender-nonconforming people (including the Audre Lorde Project, Fierce, House Lives Matter and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project), he’s empowered Canals and me, giving us unprecedented control of the narrative and direction of the show, urging us to cast nearly every part to ensure the show truly represents the characters onscreen. We’ve casted and employed more than 100 trans people. This is extraordinary, especially when trans people are an overwhelmingly underemployed demographic and have watched with gritted teeth as non-trans actors have embodied our realities onscreen.
“Pose” has also made history for hiring five trans actresses—all of color—as series regulars. But our leading ladies cannot be defined solely by their trans-ness. They are, like all of us, whole beings. Their trans-ness may not [be] the sole focus of our story, but it’s also not sidelined. They grapple with their gender, just as they grapple with their bodies, their loves, their families and their dreams. Their narratives are not limited by their transitions and rarely do we meditate on their origin stories. Instead we center on what it is like living, struggling and striving in a world not built for them to thrive.
“My hope is that my work on ‘Pose’ does more than merely make history,” Mock continued. “I want it to make people feel their way through our characters, whose experiences have for so long been othered, invisibilized and sidelined. Though my writing, producing and directing in this space may be deemed the first, I hope it won’t be the only—or the last.”
“Pose” premieres on June 3. Learn more about Mock’s journey with the series at Variety.com.
By Sameer Rao
From Colorlines: News for Action.