Netflix and Activate: Pose

By: Camilla Rubis

The category is…activism.

Set in a gritty 1987 New York, Pose depicts the LGBTQ world of balls, the competitive pageantry scene that allowed a marginalized group to shine, be seen, and garner credibility within the community. The show’s characters are all a part of houses, a family system formed because often trans and gay teens were kicked out of their biological family unit and left to fend for themselves. Having been through this experience herself, when Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) later finds out she is HIV positive, she decides to pay it forward by forming her own house. The House of Evangelista is a refuge for lost souls. Drama ensues as Blana’s house members become a family, competing with other houses for ultimate recognition in the ballroom world.

Needless to say, the series gives a much-needed history to a community whose stories often get buried amidst the Reagan-era, Trump age-of-opulence, Wall Street woes. Apart from the 1991 documentary, Paris is Burning, this community has barely been chronicled. In this way, the show itself is a form of activism. As the general public pushed LGBTQ members to the fringe of society, and the medical community struggled with how to treat the AIDS epidemic, these gay, trans, Black, Latino protagonists are showcased in all their glory. In Pose, it is the wealthy, white, male, bankers and real estate developers who are relegated to the periphery.

Who Are the Characters?

Each character in Pose finds their own way to gracefully fight the system and give back to their community. They do this even though they have little to spare. (Slight spoilers ahead) Blanca offers her children shelter, protection, and support to uplift the community. Her fiercest competitor, Elektra (Dominique Jackson), considers undergoing gender-reassignment surgery even though it may mean losing everything she has. At one point, emcee extraordinaire, Pray Tell (Billy Porter), uses his limited resources to put together a cabaret show to cheer up patients in the AIDS ward. Season two will delve deeper into AIDS activism and dealing with the decimation of a community. Pose’s characters risk everything they have because they don’t have a choice, the other alternatives are homelessness, loneliness… death.

Pose is an exploration of what it means to be a woman. The show unapologetically births characters to us as they are. Characters who are glamorous, confident, females, friends, sisters, daughters, and mothers. Viewers never see the internal struggle around transforming into the women they are because they already embody womanhood in spades. (This show has taught me more about femininity than anything I have ever experienced). The struggles each character faces are all external: the world and how it receives them. Thus further defining womanhood: an elegant battle painstakingly fought in the shadows that no one knows was fought.

Who Are the Minds Behind Pose?

The show’s palpable authenticity comes from the creators (Steven Canals, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk) collaborating with transgender writers/producers (Janet Mock, Our Lady J), directors, and actors. In fact, never in the history of television has the silver screen shown five transgendered, women of color, who are series regulars.  The commitment to accurate storytelling by using the artists best suited to tell those stories has resulted in a living, breathing statement of what it means to be trans.

To someone in the community, the show offers aspirational figures to look up to, who can help navigate tough situations. To people outside of the community, Pose gives an inside look into the hardships, pain, family, and love. Half-way through the series, you seem to forget the characters are transgendered and their experiences are normalized. It simply becomes a show about a family you want to be a part of, one of unconditional love and acceptance.

Why is This So Important Right Now?

The show rises at a time when trans rights are on the chopping block in this current administration. Trump Tower is even highlighted in Season 1. We are left to wonder, more than thirty years after this show takes place, how far have we really come? Perhaps the answers lie in digging for the stories untold. Perhaps the answer is in choosing to see the unseen and remembering that the loss of one person’s rights, is a loss for everyone’s rights. In the words of Indya Moore who plays Angel, “We need to stop treating respect like it’s a privilege. Respect is a responsibility.”

Pose season 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Season 2 debuts on 6/11 on FX.

If you are passionate about LGBTQ rights or any other progressive issues and you want to learn to be more active on those causes, check out YEA Camp this summer. For the past 10 years, we have been training people to make a bigger difference in the world. We also have a great time doing it. This summer, we have two sessions for teens and one session of YEA Camp for Adults, with folks coming from all over the country to attend. We hope you’ll join us there.


About the Author: Camilla Rubis is a TV Writer in Los Angeles and a volunteer for YEA Camp. She’s currently pursuing the spread of financial literacy to empower and support future generations.

About this Post: Netflix and Activate is a column profiling shows and films that activate us and awaken our inner activist.