The Importance of Pose

Sophie Hamilton describes how Pose has been a historical breakthrough for the LGBTQ+ community

Sophie Hamilton
15th March 2021
Credit: IMDb, 2018, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved. JoJo Whilden
I’ll never forget watching the pilot episode of Pose.

I’ve historically held a precarious relationship with productions deigning Ryan Murphy’s name, a show creator with a tendency to produce infallible initial seasons that descend in future seasons into a bricolage of high Camp spectacle over substance and nefarious plot holes and continuity issues. But Pose was immediately distinguishable from the moment the House of Abundance pull off a museum heist of European royal garments to wear to the Ball’s Royalty category. And when the House is given Tens! Tens! Tens across the board, to thus be immediately taken away in handcuffs, the illusion of opulence becomes evident.

Pose underpins performance at the heart of the American Dream

Based on the content of the documentary Paris is BurningPose offers a look into NYC’s ball culture, AIDS activism with ACT UP demonstrations and the transverse culture of a businessman named Stan working in the Trump Tower who begins an illicit affair with Angel, a frequenter of the Ballroom. 

Stan and Angel show the true colours of the American Dream. Credit: Chanel Morton on YouTube.

In conflating the two worlds, the show simultaneously undermines and upholds the American Dream: In the words of MC Junior LaBeija, ‘Opulence: You Own Everything’ is only a ball category for Angel, a simulacrum of the wealth that Stan outright possesses. As Contrapoints puts it, “Opulence is the aesthetic of abundance.”

But through the vehicle of Stan, Pose underpins performance at the heart of the American Dream, as he tells Angel, “I'm a brand, a middle-class white guy. But you're who you are even though the price you pay for it is being disinvited from the rest of the world. I'm the one playing dress-up.” Through the antithesis of Angel and Stan, consolidated through the song they pen as theirs, Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, we see that two sides can understand each other absolutely but also never really at all.

Mock and the trans women of the cast have failed to garner even a single nomination for any accolade

None of the other cast members have received any nominations for the show. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images - © 2019 Getty Images

One thing that Pose does crucially is focusing its’ narrative at the heart of the LGBT community, centring black and Latinx trans women with the powerhouse performances of Dominique Jackson, MJ Rodriguez, Angelica Ross and Indya Moore, as well as Janet Mock’s writing, directorial and production role in the series making her the first trans woman of colour writing for a TV series in history.

Despite the historical precedents set by the show, Mock and the trans women of the cast have failed to garner even a single nomination for any accolade, while Billy Porter received a Primetime Emmy win for his portrayal of Pray Tell. Porter became the first openly gay man to win Best Actor for drama, yet his co-stars have failed to garner a single Emmy nomination. 

While the show has broken boundaries and glass ceilings, it has in the same breath illuminated systemic issues rooted within the Academy which are far from resolved. But if one thing is certain with its’ third and final season looming, Pose will go down as a historical breakthrough for trans women and the LGBT community in television.

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