TV Drama Centering Trans Activists
Fiction Featuring Activists Fridays - April 8
In this award-winning 2018-2021 TV drama, queer and trans activists of color struggle for rights, respect, and recognition in the midst of an earlier pandemic which, like Covid, was also cruelly mishandled in the US: AIDS.
Pose shows this reality vividly as it follows characters, many of whom are HIV+, immersed in the ballroom counter culture of the 80s and 90s in New York City, a milieu created by Black, trans, and queer folk so they could express themselves freely.
Given the intense present-day onslaught against LGBTQ+ people, particularly the trans community, it is worthwhile to remember the AIDS public health crisis, when people, particularly the most vulnerable, were dying from a previously unknown disease, surrounded by ignorance and denial, their situation compounded exponentially by transphobia, homophobia, poverty, and racism.
Fabulous spectacle and interpersonal drama characterize this series, but the activism of the characters is a key facet of the story.
Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista forms the House of Evangelista to welcome LGBTQ youth rejected by their birth families. When she is evicted, Blanca's allies and family stage a protest in front of the transphobic, racist landlady's house—a small gathering that soon mobilizes the larger community to protest racism and gentrification, and demand a better AIDS policy.
Pray Tell, a leader in the ballroom community, introduces Blanca and her friends to ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and to the world of community organizing in response to the AIDS crisis.
One episode shows ACT UP's STOP THE CHURCH demonstration. The Pose characters reenact the actual “die-in” demonstration that took place in 1989, when activists interrupted mass at St. Patricks Church in New York. Over 100 activists blended in with the congregation, and then lay down on the floor to represent people dead from AIDS and to denounce the Catholic Church’s complicity.
Pose and Fiction Featuring Activists
Pose is unique in featuring many trans characters, writers, and producers of color, a fact that has been amply recognized, though not, as far as I know, emulated.
What is less recognized is the extent and depth to which the series folds activism into the story.
It conveys the intimate connection between activism and oppression, showing oppressed people deciding to take action together.
It portrays the characters carving out alternative spaces—the “houses” and the ballroom spaces—creating a community where they can aspire to live with the fairness, love, and acceptance not shown them in the wider society.
It realistically depicts people organizing and protesting publicly, first against injustice directly affecting them, and then more broadly, connecting with more people and organizations to demand justice on a societal level.
Further, Pose dramatizes an actual moment in the history of activism, the Stop the Church die-in. Other than showing certain famous moments in the US Civil Rights Movement like the historic march over the Edmund Pettys Bridge or the March on Washington, it is very rare to find TV fiction that brings to life real activist moments in an authentic way.
Fiction is great at bringing people in, enabling readers/viewers to identify with the protagonists as they go through challenges, and to partipate vicariously or cheer them on. Yet fiction—especially television—allowing people to experience up close the drama, pain, and excitement of activism is rare indeed.
We need more fiction featuring activists! But we can also recognize what already exists, including POSE.
Note: this article was written with the indispensable information, writing, and ideas of Sophie Barnet-Higgins, my source for all spotting of activists in TV fiction. She is also the person who first selected the photos.
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Created by Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, and Brad Falchuk, starring Michaela Jaé Rodríguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angel Bismark Curil, Evan Peter, Kate Mara, and the largest cast of transgender actors to date in a TV series (FX).
This is so great! I did not pay close attention to POSE--an error on my part! I remember participating in ACT UP protests.