When an iconic television show ends — think A Different World, Scandal, or The Wire — a small hole is often left in the television landscape. But as the third and final season of the Steven Canals-created, Ryan Murphy-produced Pose takes its final bow, it’ll leave behind a crater-sized cavity that will be felt for years to come.
Simply put, no show to date has done for Black and brown queer and trans visibility and opportunity what Pose has done since its 2018 debut. Picking up a mantle largely abandoned on television since Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc, the series changed a game that often minimized the stories of the sassy gay best friend or nameless sex worker on the margins of white, cis, and straight narratives. When the glitter settles and tears have dried, countless words will be used to describe the impact of a scripted show that centered the experiences of the Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ people who made up and make up New York’s ballroom scene.
For example, “industry-defining.” Even before the first episode aired, with the casting of Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar, and Angelica Ross (the largest cast of trans series regulars ever), Pose proved that trans actors could and should be hired to play trans characters.
Or “authentic,” to describe the necessary utility of writers Our Lady J and Janet Mock, along with ballroom experts Jack Gucci, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, Hector Xtravaganza, Leiomy Maldonado, and more who served as consultants, collaborators, and extras, in ensuring that what made it to screen accurately reflected the real world the show was based on.
Or “historic,” to highlight the show’s award-laden run, which included an Emmy Award for Billy Porter, making him the first out Black gay man to win Best Actor; an Emmy nomination for Best Drama that made Mock, Our Lady J, and Silas Howard the first transgender producers nominated for the Television Academy’s top prize; and a 2018 Peabody Award. The show also led to Mock being the first out trans woman with a major studio deal with Netflix, Ross the first trans actress to have two series regular roles (with Pose and American Horror Story: 1984), and Moore the first trans person to cover Elle magazine.
Still, no matter the terms we’ll use to try and give such a legendary show and its creators the flowers they’re due, it is those closest to the production that will serve as proof of its impact. In honor of the series’ end, we highlight three of them — Canals, Ross, and Moore — who, in their own words, discuss how Pose changed their lives...
Steven Canals — Creator, Writer, and Director
The character of Damon came to me in 2004 after watching Paris Is Burning for the first time as a college student.
I didn’t write the first draft of Pose until 2014, after a full career as a college administrator. But at the time that I wrote that first draft, the two things that were at the forefront for me were, one, my writing professor who’d always say, “Write the show you want to watch,” and, two, something I brought with me from my time as a student affairs practitioner, which had everything to do with assessing the college landscape and filling in gaps where necessary. The thing that kept coming up for me was: I don’t see Black and brown queer and trans people anywhere in scripted television. I certainly was not thinking about being groundbreaking, changing the television landscape, and accolades.
When the first season began airing and we were being showered with all these accolades, folks were asking, “What does that mean to you?” I remember saying, “Success to me will be something that I can reflect on,” because it’s hard to be in it and see the forest through the trees. But I know Pose will be a success when all of the incredible actors that we hired who happened to be having a trans experience or are queer get to go off and play other characters who aren’t necessarily queer or trans, when they just get to be actors and are considered for all the roles that their white contemporaries are. I also think Pose would be considered a success when we see more content creators who happen to be trans and nonbinary pitching their shows and seeing those shows be made. Yes, Pose has absolutely been successful in many ways and we’ve done what we needed to do, and there’s still more road to walk down.
When I think about the show, I think about every person who’s ever taken the time to tune in and has been impacted by that narrative. To have created a show that people love and feel affirmed and seen by, to create a show that has educated some folks, one that has opened up the possibility for queer and trans Black and brown people to say, “I absolutely have a right to stand in my truth unapologetically and to dream regardless of what the outside world is saying.” That to me is beyond words. It’s such a gift. @stevencanals
Indya Moore as Angel Evangelista
Before Pose, I was a sex worker. I wanted to be in the entertainment industry, but I wasn’t really sure how possible that would be for me. I worked as much as I could to be a model and actor, to meet with people who were in those spaces and looking to create.
Pose was something different for me because it told a story about family and love and humanity through the lens of queer and trans people, during a time when queer and trans people were struggling to find ground in this world. Pose captured that during a time when we were all moving into self-actualization, where we realized we get to be visible and dream and build careers too. With this show, Hollywood opened up and can now see us less as the identities we hold and more as the talent that we bring. I hope that it continues in a direction where the only people who are benefiting from this shift aren’t just trans people who are cis-assumed and that we’re also uplifting people who come in trans bodies that aren’t only thin or light-skinned. We need to hear and see more darker Black trans women, and also trans folks who are bigger and fat-identifying. There’s so much work to do, and I have a lot of hope in the ways that people of privilege are revisiting how they contribute to these systems by ignoring us and not including us and breaking up the pattern of how they choose to see us.
With this show, I am proud of deconstructing the shame around sex work within myself. I projected a lot of that and was reluctant to play Angel because she was a sex worker. I had just finished playing one in [Damon Cardasis’s] Saturday Church and was worried about the dominance of sex work in our narratives of trans people in the public space. It was something that I was trying to turn my back on and be as far away from as possible. Taking on Angel helped me to feel more confident about my path and also to speak up about it with more pride. I hope that it translated outward and was able to do the same for a lot of other trans people who may be struggling with feeling their identity and value and futures are reduced to sex work and the desires of cis men and women. I see it in my DMs every day, the way that people’s lives are changed by Pose. I feel full and happy and complete knowing that anybody was able to benefit from something I offered through my role. @indyamoore
Angelica Ross as Candy Ferocity
Even before Pose, I felt that I was on the rise. I was getting auditions and opportunities based on my performance in the web series Her Story. I felt that I was on track to make a difference. Then came Pose, which hit a lot of marks. Not only was it trying to tell an authentic story with trans people in the writing room and in the director’s chair, but it had trans actors playing trans characters — not cis men playing us. So not only were we bringing across an authentic story, but we wanted to also say, “These aren’t just niche actors.”
While I had experience on my résumé as far as being an actress, I had not experienced being a series regular or really having a thoughtful story arc and having to show up the way that I had to show up. What the show unlocked for me was what happens when I rise to the occasion. It unlocked this thing where I don’t have any fear anymore when I go to audition because I know that I’m where I need to be. I’m going to stay booked, and I’m not going to give you a niche.
Pose takes your whole soul and holds it tight and caresses it, and also makes you feel a little bit of the pain that we’ve been feeling. My character Candy resonates with what’s real. What I’ve realized by everyone sharing all of those memes from Candy, this Black trans woman, is that we’re coming full circle where my reality doesn’t have to be so different than yours. Because the reality is that Black trans people are brilliant and valuable and funny and honest and trustworthy and beautiful and attractive and worth loving and all of those things.
I’m most proud of creating a vision of Blackness that is better and more expansive than what we’ve been offered. The soundtrack with Stephanie Mills and Whitney Houston and Anita Baker and all the songs that you grew up listening to in the house when your mom was cleaning, that’s what we share with our cis-het counterparts in the Black community. For too long, we’ve allowed them to dominate the narrative that being Black and being LGBTQ+ are mutually exclusive. But with Pose we’re, again, coming full circle to a place where my reality is more similar to theirs than it is different.
I know that the show is going to live well beyond its finale. I know that lives have been and will continue to be changed because we can’t help but be changed by this story. We can’t help but be enlightened and informed in ways that make you behave differently, that make you think differently, that make you move and talk differently. Those are the actions that will truly change the world. @angelicaross
This story is part of Out's 2021 Pride Issue. The issue is out on newsstands on June 1, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.