‘Pose’ will feature the largest cast of transgender actors ever for a series of its kind.
Early last year, Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy set himself a challenge. He wanted to redress Hollywood’s enormous diversity problem behind the camera, so he set up the Half Initiative, a foundation aimed at ensuring at least 50% of the directors on his production company’s shows fit specific gender and minority criteria. Since then, Half has exceeded its original targets: now, 60% of Ryan Murphy Productions’ directors are women, while 94% are minorities (specifically, LGBTQ+ community members and people of color).
Murphy and long-time collaborator Brad Falchuk’s next show, Pose, is set to extend these important efforts at better representation in front of the camera, too. In a history-making move, Deadline reports that Pose will set the record for the largest ever cast of transgender actors in regular roles for a show of its kind.
Here’s a snippet of the FX drama series’ synopsis to whet your appetite:
“Set in the 1980s, ‘Pose’ looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in New York: the rise of the luxury Trump-era universe, the downtown social and literary scene and the ball culture world.“
(Ball culture, which is also the focus of documentaries like Kiki and Paris is Burning, can broadly be described as an LGBTQ+ subculture in which participants, many of whom are drag queens, perform for trophies.)
Aside from opportunities presented by shows like Transparent (which has a strong record of championing transgender actors, writers and crewmembers), prospects for transgender people in TV and film remain starkly bleak. So often, positive transgender roles are given to cisgender actors, who lack the real-world experience required to deliver truly authentic performances. However well-meaning they are, these actors ultimately take up room in an industry that profits from transgender stories, but denies accurate representation and participation to the real communities they belong to. (For examples, see the well-documented controversies surrounding Jared Leto’s Dallas Buyers Club role and Matt Bomer’s performance as a transgender woman in Anything.)
In the past few years, public understanding of the importance of equal opportunity and authentic casting has improved, thanks to tireless activist efforts. Videos like the following, a collaboration between ScreenCrush and non-profit GLAAD, help to educate viewers on the link between inauthentic casting, careless storytelling and the actual harm experienced by real transgender people as a result:
Murphy’s active efforts to change the status quo stand out in an industry that has so often ignored calls to improve onscreen transgender representation. Rather than allow the usual miscasting to continue, Pose will feature transgender actors Angelica Ross (whose character is named Candy), Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Indya Moore (Angel), Hailie Sahar (Lulu) and MJ Rodriguez (Blanca) in transgender roles. It’s hoped that, along with other efforts, this record-breaking move will set off a tidal change in Hollywood casting practices.
Pose isn’t just championing authenticity in its cast, though; the show is reflecting its efforts at increasing minority representation behind the camera, too. Silas Howard, a transgender rights activist, is one of the show’s co-executive producers, while another transgender activist, Janet Mock, will join Transparent’s transgender screenwriter Our Lady J and self-identified queer writer of color Steven Canals, one of the show’s co-creators, in the writers’ room. Five ball culture experts have also been hired as consultants to ensure that the portion of the show dedicated to exploring the subculture will remain as authentic as possible. Leiomy Maldonado, a transgender dancer, will partner with choreographer Danielle Polanco to choreograph Pose’s ball scenes.
Part of Murphy’s Half Initiative’s strategy also includes the Directing Mentorship Program, which matches up-and-coming directors from under-represented backgrounds with mentors already well-established in the industry. With respect to Pose, Murphy’s foundation is committed to ensuring that “the series will be bringing on emerging transgender directors to be mentored through his Directing Mentorship Program”. (It’s unclear whether these mentees will actually be directing episodes of the show, which will begin pilot production in New York City next month.)
Aside from these efforts to improve on- and off-screen representation for transgender communities, further casting announcements point to some continuity between Murphy’s other shows. Pose will mark a reunion between two of Murphy’s long-time favorites, Evan Peters and Kate Mara, who have both starred in his hit anthology series American Horror Story. Working with Murphy for the first time are James Van Der Beek and Tatiana Maslany, who takes her first post-Orphan Black regular TV role here. It’s clear from the below synopsis that Van Der Beek’s character will be a fixture in the portion of the show that explores New York’s elite, while Maslany’s character has deep roots in the city’s art world:
“Peters and Mara will play New Jersey couple Stan and Patty, who get sucked into the glamour and intrigue of New York City in the 1980s. Van Der Beek plays Peters’s financial kingpin boss Matt. Maslany plays a modern dance teacher who takes a special interest in the talent of Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain).”
The addition of Tony winner Billy Porter (who will play a character named Pray Tell) and Peter Pan Live! actor Dyllon Burnside (Ricky) to Pose‘s cast enriches the line-up of a show that can already boast a wealth of diverse on- and off-screen talent.