Ahead of the 3rd and final season of the groundbreaking show POSE airing May 2nd on FX, I had the pleasure of attending a POSE press conference with Steven Canals, Co-Creator/Executive Producer/Writer/Director, Janet Mock, Executive Producer/Writer/Director, Mj Rodriguez, “Blanca Evangelista,” Billy Porter, “Pray Tell,” Dominique Jackson, “Elektra,” Indya Moore, “Angel,” Hailie Sahar, “Lulu,” Angel Bismark Curiel, “Lil Papi,” Dyllón Burnside, “Ricky,” Sandra Bernhard, “Nurse Judy,” and Jason Rodriguez, “Lemar.”
“Pose” premieres with its first two episodes on Sunday, May 2, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on FX. This last season will be a short run, with seven episodes over six weeks. The series finale will air on Sunday, June 6th.
In the third season, it is now 1994 and the ballroom feels like a distant memory for Blanca who struggles to balance being a mother with being a present partner to her new love, and her latest role as a nurse’s aide. Meanwhile, as AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44, Pray Tell contends with unexpected health burdens. Elsewhere, the emergence of a vicious new upstart house forces the House of Evangelista members to contend with their legacy.
As a fan of POSE, I was sad to see it ending after season 3, but when asked why, Co-creator, executive producer, writer, and director Steven Canals explained “From the very beginning, from the moment that Ryan Murphy and I first met to talk about what “Pose” could be, we had a very specific ending in mind and if you watch this season and, more specifically, the story that we tell in the finale, that was what it was always intended to be. I always knew what the beginning and I always knew what the end of the narrative would be.
While we certainly could have continued to create narrative around these characters and in this world, one of the things that has always frustrated me is when I am tuning into a season of television and I can tell that this season just feels like filler and that’s the last thing that I wanted to do to our audience was to create narrative simply for the sake of creating narrative with no real intention.
On what POSE means to him personally, Steven says, “There’s a lot on my heart, and I’ll simply say this, that “Pose” was created out of a selfish act. It came from a place of my wanting not only to be seen and heard and to affirmed, but also to center and honor Black people and Latinx and Afro-Latinx people and queer and trans people because those are my family, those are my friends, those are the identities that they hold and that I hold. I hope, if nothing else, that all of the folks out there who happen to be part of the LGBTQ+ community and all of those folks who also happen to be Black and brown, that they always know that I and all of my collaborators and this wildly talented and beautiful cast, that we will always have your back, that we will always see you, that we will always affirm you that, that the work will always to honor you.”
Steven and Executive producer, writer, and director Janet Mock speak about how the show was created to show these now beloved characters in everyday situations, so show the normalcy, if you will. “The ballroom is a representation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other and our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, what we were plotting these big, grand moments that everyone in the mainstream or everyone who is not as marginalized as these trans and queer Black and brown characters, we wanted to bring in traditions, wedding, matrimony, all this stuff that our characters get to engage in,” says Janet.
The cast of POSE is the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles, as well as being the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors in a scripted series. That being the case, we wondered how much input into the characters were the actors allowed. Could they give the writers direction into their storylines in any capacity and what these roles have meant to them going forward?
INDYA MOORE: Having Steven and Janet Mock particularly, as a Black trans woman in the writers’ room, was perfect. I think that there were so many different parts of this story we’re all telling and using our own lives to make a reality, details from our own experiences and lives and I think that Janet and Steven did that brilliantly and beautifully. We were all able to relate and see ourselves in the lives of these characters. Their lives and the parts of their experiences that they used came so closely and reflective to ours and is just a true reflection of what the experience is to be trans or queer, that I can’t remember a time where I ever felt like I needed to say, “Hey, this doesn’t feel right.” Janet and Steven frequently came to us and checked in with us about the content and made sure that things felt right and were congruent and felt natural for us.
When you have trans and queer characters on a show and you want to tell the story truthfully and you don’t have writers who are a reflection of those experiences can be really difficult to nail right. Having the writers checking in and asking the actors is something that feels so necessary for productions where the writers and the creators aren’t trans or queer.
DYLLÓN BURNSIDE: I distinctly remember on my first day of filming not having an idea about who Ricky was, where he came from, and what was, sort of, the idea around who he would become on the show. I asked Steven “who do you think he is? Is there any insight you can give me as to how to play him?” and Steven looked at me point-blank and said, who do you think he is? Where do you think he comes from? Where do you think he should go? That kind of collaboration and open line of communication was there from day one and has existed throughout filming all three seasons. We were a reflection of each other, and we allowed each other to speak to each other in a way that breathed life into these characters authentically.
HAILIE SAHAR: Steven and I first season had a conversation. I would meet him during lunch break and say, “Hey, Steven. Can I talk to you?” I would say, “You know, Lulu has obtained all this information. She’s second in command to Elektra, ambitious and intellectual. I don’t think she would just want to be in this house forever.” That’s when that conversation happened and I guess they went into the writers’ room and something came out of that because then Ferocity was also born. But I remember speaking to Steven and him allowing me to have that space to tell him how I felt about Lulu. Then, Janet, the brilliant, iconic Janet being of trans experience and a woman of color just effortlessly creating these characters and really, truly being authentic was just the icing on the cake.
MJ RODRIGUEZ: I had been a part of the industry at a very young age, and what came with that was me feeling like I had to be limited in what I had to say and how I had to speak or if I had even the opportunity to speak up. So, I was always this closed-off person. I was naturally just afraid to ask questions. I was just the person, the girl to show up and just do the job. I never was able to speak up like how I was able to speak up in this show. It’s taught me a lot from the first season until the third season. I feel like not only did Blanca have an evolution, but I, Mj Rodriguez had an evolution too. She’s learned a lot. I mean, she’s always been able to learn, but with these two, and also with Ryan Murphy, there was a great space to just quickly learn and really appreciate it while being able to be free in what you do naturally, which is the craft. So, I thank them tremendously for opening that space for me. Because now, moving forward, I feel like I’ll be able to do that in any other project I go into.
BILLY PORTER: I got into this business in the ’80s. I just turned 51 last year. There was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what “Pose” is, what Pray Tell is. I spent the first 25-plus years of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat. “Pose”, and Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible. The idea that the little Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before. You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out.
I thought I had confidence before this and what I realized was that I had a particular kind of confidence, but now it’s a whole new day. It’s a whole new game. That’s the gift of being in this space, is that we’ve all now been empowered to go out and continue. I’m going to steal from — recently from Vice President Harris…. We may be the first, but we’re definitely not going to be the last.
DOMINIQUE JACKSON: For me personally, I will never, ever, ever walk into a space thinking that I need to impress them. I need to be a professional. I need to know my worth. I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything. Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I’m an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value. So, when I walk into spaces now, they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you’re not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of “Pose,” because of Mr. Murphy, because of Ryan, because of Steven, because of Janet and Brad, because of Our Lady J, because of my cast members. Each and every one of you, and especially Indya. I will never walk into spaces looking for anyone or live a life or an existence thinking that I need to impress anyone. I’ll be cordial. I’ll be professional. But they need to impress me. They need to let me know that my existence has value, acknowledge me, validate me. And that is something that this has taught me. I will not be that fearful woman anymore. I will not be afraid to lose. I will not be afraid to fight.
ANGEL BISMARK CURIEL: I just want to say that for me, the thing that I want to continue to take with me as I move forward and indulge in other projects after “Pose” is the concept of accountability, and using your voice. I will never forget the first moment being in a project after “Pose” and hearing a driver say something extremely trans-phobic. I was in this van, and it was so quick. I was like, all right, bro. it’s do or die. You’ve got to use your voice right now, because that right there is so harmful and that right there is going to cause so much violence, and if I allow this young man or this individual to continue to think that that is okay, I’m just as accountable. So, I want to make sure that as I, you know, cross over to different projects, that I use my voice and I say, “Yo, that’s not cool man.” It’s not just okay to be cool with my castmates and with the writers and the producers and the directors. That’s just bare minimum. That’s where it should start. I’ve got to also use my voice and think of my castmates and the producers and all the stories that we’re telling and all the visibility that we’re demonstrating and say, you know what. I got to take this with me. I’ve got to take this with me because whoever hasn’t seen the show, guess what. I’m going to put you onto the lessons I learned from acting on this show, from spending endless hours with these people day in and day out, and I’m going to let you know that what you said is not cool. It’s harmful. And I’m going to explain to you why. So, I think that’s the big thing that I’m taking.
What do you hope that young people take away from this series and these final episodes?
JANET MOCK: I have a quick one. It’s just something that I’ve viewed in Blanca and Elektra. They say it often, “You are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.” It’s a line that I’ve written over and over again into the scenes when either Blanca forgets it and Elektra has to remind her or Angel doesn’t know and Blanca has to remind her. It’s that matriarchal power and lineage that I think the ballroom is and what trans women are to one another that, I think, then feeds everyone else and enables them to shine and have all the things that they want in the world. And so, on this show, I think that is essential that we uplift the women on this show, that we know and make it very clear that Mj Rodriguez, without that blueprint that she helped us pave in that first season, all of the other story lines would fall through. And for me, it is that celebration that’s centering and loving and appreciation of Black trans women, that they’ve created this space, that they brought everyone else in with them, and that, at the end of the day, they are often the ones most often forgotten. I think that, with this season, I want everyone across the industry, the audience, to realize that. I think it’s essential, and it’s important, and. So, it’s that you are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.
MJ RODRIGUEZ: This is specifically to the youth, young youth — now you know that it is extremely possible. Now you know that it is reachable and it is obtainable to not only be a part of an amazing show that encompasses not just the G, but the L, the B, and the T, but also knowing your worth, not just through the work that you see on television, but in actual real life, knowing how much you are worth to keep going and that each and every last one of our stories through these characters is a testament to how possible it is to really obtain and achieve your dream. It’s possible, it’s obtainable, and you can achieve it simply by all of our stories right here, watching us right now and I just hope that it carries through. So, know your worth.
HAILIE SAHAR: I can’t top what Janet said. She spoke the words out of my heart. I would simply say one of the most powerful things that we always say and is so simple is the love. I would hope that our audience feels seen and validated in our stories, which Janet has said oftentimes go unnoticed or pushed to the background. And I hope that this body of work, people can go back and replay and view a scene and to be encouraged to go after everything they’ve ever wanted.
BILLY PORTER: To be empowered and to dream the impossible. To be empowered inside of yourself. Even when everything and everybody around you says the opposite, do it anyway, and dream the impossible.
INDYA MOORE: To love yourself unapologetically and be inspired to grow and don’t let anyone take family away from you and that you are capable of creating anything that you need for yourself even if they tried.
DOMINIQUE JACKSON: I would tell them that you are more than enough. You are more than enough from the beginning. And those struggles, those hardships, the stuff that you think are the things that are supposed to stop you, the stuff that you think are barriers is what is telling you that you have the power and the strength to overcome. So never, ever give up. Never, ever look at a barrier as something that’s debilitating or stopping you. Look at it as a challenge that you can overcome.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Having been in the business for a very, very long time and seeing so much evolve from being involved with Paul Mooney in “The Richard Pryor Show” and being really aligned with not only people of color but, obviously, the whole gay movement and having been in, sort of, the trenches during the AIDS experience, to see everybody on this show just explode and blossom not only as actors, but as people, has been such an inspiration to me. No matter how long you are in this business, to still be affected and to grow as an artist, being inspired by new, fresh, dedicated, hard-working people has just been such an incredible journey for me, and I’ve seen a lot over the years.
ANGEL BISMARK CURIEL: For me, before I even stepped foot on set, I didn’t know what “trans” meant. I didn’t even know the vocabulary definition of it and let alone the complexities and the traumas that follow very soon after that word. So, what I hope to see and to indulge in is, you know, a young man sitting on a couch, flipping through, you know, his TV, looking for something to watch, and he stumbles upon this show, starts watching the show, sees himself reflected in Papi, That they can further develop their own knowledge through watching the show, picking up some books, reading some articles, and then that just spreads like wildfire. That’s what I hope they will take from this or that some folks can.
DYLLÓN BURNSIDE: There was a time when folks thought that no one could break the four-minute-mile barrier. I think Roger Bannister was the first man to break the four-minute barrier for the mile, and I think that was in 1950-something. Since then, tens of thousands of people have run a mile in under four minutes (sic). My hope is that folks who see this show, young people, older people, will recognize what is possible and will recognize their own superpowers and recognize that they can do the things that the world believes are impossible, like breaking a four-minute barrier. I believe that when people get to see folks achieve the impossible, that they recognize the power that they have within themselves. So, my hope is for young, Black, queer men, queer folks all over the world, that they will recognize that they have the ability to stand in their truth and to take up space and to celebrate who they are and achieve anything and everything that they can imagine and find love in the process, love for self and love for community, love for one another.
JASON RODRIGUEZ: I feel my message definitely goes to the queer youth, the trans youth because they are our future, especially us on this show, writers, directors, the actors. If it is safe to do so, speak out loud. Speak it. After you’ve spoken loud, cultivate it, articulate it, strengthen it, grind it into a diamond that everyone can see, and then let everybody love on that, see you. But then let that reflect. Let that light reflect unto others because I feel like power and strength mean nothing if you can’t pass it on. It becomes limited. I feel we all want to
push to be limitless and to do so is to let that shine. So, I definitely say that to the youth because we’ve all accomplished and have so much more and have platforms that we’ve reached and so many other platforms to jump on top of and change narratives and create but then, for the youth to see us and see that strength, to just know that if we can do it, so can they.
ABOUT POSE: Pose is a drama spotlighting the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture, a movement that first gained notice in the late 1980s. Making television history, Pose features the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles, including Michaela Jaé (fka Mj Rodriguez), Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross, who co-star alongside Tony Award® winner and Golden Globe® nominee Billy Porter, Angel Bismark Curiel, Dyllón Burnside, Sandra Bernhard and Jason Rodriguez. The Golden Globe-nominated drama also features the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series.