Why you should be watching Pose
Katherine McLaughlin | On 03, Nov 2019
In a New York Times interview, Billy Porter (who took home the award for best actor in a TV drama at the Golden Globes) delivered a splendid truth bomb, saying: “Show business likes to masquerade as being inclusive and diverse.” After rejections from 150 executives, writer Steven Canals was eventually introduced to Ryan Murphy, who agreed to make a show about the NY ballroom scene starring a majority trans and queer cast with a LGBTQ creative team behind the scenes. Co-created by Murphy, Canals and Brad Fulchuk Pose also boasts the writing talents of Janet Mock and Our Lady J and has since garnered multiple nominations across many categories.
This year it won the Peabody Award. In her acceptance speech, Mock talked about how reaffirming it was to have characters that are usually at the margins take centre stage. She also quoted devastating statistics explaining that violence “stunts the life expectancy of trans women of colour to the age of 35”.
There are many reasons to watch Pose, but if you’re struggling with the current climate of hate, this revolutionary LGBTQ show offers hope and a depiction of the queer and trans community told with genuine affection for its players.
If you’re already familiar with Murphy’s previous output of American Horror Story, Glee and Feud, you’ll know what to expect when it comes to the show’s luxuriously theatrical and melodramatic tone. Aside from its important political message about visibility and challenging the status quo, Pose pays glorious tribute to the glamourous people integral to the ballroom scene with an irresistibly moreish narrative that keeps you invested in the nuanced characters and their thorny backstories. Each episode will either have you reaching for the tissues or jumping for joy – sometimes both – as breathtaking choreographed dance moves, voguing, lip-synching and brawls play out to power ballads, disco bangers and pop anthems.
Season 1 introduces two very different house mothers, who welcome homeless youngsters into their nests. They give them the chance to compete in ballroom competitions under their guidance. MJ Rodriguez plays the adorable and resilient Blanca Evangelista, whose rivalry with the hilariously snobby and self-aware Elektra Wintour (Dominque Jackson) makes for deliciously juicy viewing. Jackson delivers memorably vicious one-liners with cutting precision.
Blanca’s close-knit friendship with spicy ballroom emcee Pray Tell (Billy Porter) provides the big beating heart of a show that’s all about empathy and living your truth. As they pick apart the drama of the day and support one another through various crises, their love for each other and the people they have taken under their wing is brought to life through a zesty dynamic and cosy, involving chats.
The show closely follows the arcs of their children, including Angel (Indya Moore), Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) and Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), who are given room to carve out a safe space for themselves. The entire cast bring their respective roles to sparkling life.
The production designers have impressively recreated a world that was famously documented in Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning back in 1990. The bold fashion statements and extravagant competition couture are a beautiful sight to behold. The first two seasons run from 1987 to 1991, covering stories that range from coming out, sex work, gender reassignment surgery, trans allies, HIV, AIDs and the Act Up movement. Season 1 examines what the American dream means to each character, juxtaposing queer experiences with those of wealthy white men who are climbing the ladder at Trump Tower; James David Van Der Beek plays his role of a corporate bad boy boss like Patrick Bateman as he cruelly toys with his underlings. Season 2 delves deeper into the mechanics of ball culture, exploring the real-life impact that Madonna’s iconic song Vogue had on the community and their careers.
One of the biggest takeaways from Pose is the way it continually subverts the idea that you can’t choose your family. In nearly every episode you’ll see the House of Evangelista come together over homemade dishes – or, if it’s a celebration, Chinese cuisine – to mull over (or, indeed, squabble) about petty grievances or life-altering choices. In the words of trailblazer, creative consultant and the recently departed Hector Xtravaganza, “Blood does not a family make. Those are relatives. Family are those with whom you share your good, bad and ugly and shall love one another in the end. Those are the ones you select.” Quite simply put, Pose captures the highs and the lows with a clarity of vision that slays in every category.
Pose: Season 1 to 3 is available on BBC iPlayer. Season 1 and 2 is also available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.