Note: contains some spoilers.
Pose was a series created by Ryan Murphy that centered on New York City’s drag ball LGBT sub-culture that flourished in the African-American and Hispanic communities in the 1980s and 1990s. Members of this underground community supported one another and formed families which became known as “Houses”. Dancers and models competed for trophies and recognition in the ballrooms.
I had no clue about this important part of LGBT history. The show was so far removed from my Gay White Male life that I probably would have never tuned into it were it not from Ryan Murphy who had made me a fan of his with Glee and American Horror Story. And I would’ve missed out on one of the greatest,, most special and, yes, most fabulous shows in the history of television.
The first episode of Pose is set in 1987-88 and centers around Blanca Rodriguez Evangelista played by trans actress Michaela Jae (MJ) Rodriguez who becomes the heart of the show. Broadway actor Billy Porter plays Prayerful “Pray Tell” and embodies the soul of the series as the Ballroom Announcer and mentor of many of Pose‘s characters. It’s his voice heard in the opening title sequence saying “The category is…Live…Work…Pose!”
In the opening scene in the pilot episode we are introduced to The House Of Abundance and meet main characters Blanca Rodriquez, Angel Vasquez and the fiery tongued Elektra Abundance. After a health scare Blanca decides to become a House Mother and starts the House Of Evangelista.
Elsewhere, a talented 17 year old dancer Damon Richards returns home from dance class only to be confronted by his conservative religious father. In a scene that is all too hauntingly familiar with many, many LGBT kids, Damon tells his father that he is a dancer…and gay. His father begins to brutally beat him and grabs him and forcibly throws Damon out of the house. This scene resonates with millions of LGBT youth whose family disowns them rather than have a queer in the family. I mean, what would the neighbors think? Damon finds himself sleeping on a park bench and dancing at the dock for money. Blanca discovers him there and he later becomes the first child in The House Of Evangelista and is soon joined by Angel and Lil Papi and some other former children of the House Of Abundance. Damon meets another dancer named Ricky and is accepted into a prestigious dance academy. Ricky joins the House Of Evangelista.
The first season has Angel dating a white yuppie named Stan (Evan Peters) who works for Matt Bromley (James Van Der Beek) at Trump Tower. Stan sets Angel up in her own apartment. Blanca fights discrimination at a gay bar called “Boy Lounge”. Damon begins dating Ricky. Pray Tell visits his lover Costas in the hospital who later dies from AIDS. Elektra (Dominique Jackson) undergoes gender confirmation surgery which doesn’t sit well with her sugar daddy (Christopher Meloni). After Stan receives a hefty raise, Matt tells Stan’s wife he has a mistress. Stan goes to live with Angel but after she takes him to one of the Balls he decides this is not the life he wants and leaves Angel. Lil Papi and Angel become a couple. When Blanca learns Lil Papi is dealing drugs she evicts him from the House. Elektra joins the House Of Evangelista and a new Mother Of The Year is crowned at the Princess Ball.
The second season of 10 episodes opens in 1990. Voguing starts to go mainstream when Madonna releases her album “Vogue”. More characters are diagnosed with HIV. Elektra begins a career as a dominatrix. Blanca opens up a nail salon but when her landlord (Patti LuPone) finds out Blanca is transgender she tries to evict her. Several characters are arrested at an ACT UP demonstration for civil disobedience. Ricky leaves the House Of Evangelista after Damon suspects him of having sex with others and joins Elektra’s new House Of Wintour. Angel and Papi grow closer and Angel becomes the new face of Wet N Wild cosmetics. Blanca helps Elektra after she leaves a client who had snorted cocaine alone and finds him dead when she returned. Blanca’s landlord, Fredericka Norman, has her salon boarded up. The House Of Evangelista inflate a giant condom over Fredericka’s house. Damon graduates from the dance academy and leaves on a European tour. Lil Papi becomes Angel’s manager after she is fired for being trans. A shocking murder rocks the community.
Season 3 brings the show up to 1994. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) leaves the series after Ryan’s sister is murdered in his home town in Alabama. Damon is written out of the show saying he had relapsed into alcohol. Blanca begins dating a doctor named Christopher who she meets working as a nurse at the same hospital. Ricky, who is now with Pray Tell, leaves him due to Pray Tell’s descent into alcoholism. Papi’s career as a model agent flourishes while Angel’s career goes into a slump and she becomes addicted to crack. Elektra goes legit and opens her own phone sex company. Blanca helps Elektra get rid of the trunk with her client’s dead body’s remains in it after Elektra is arrested unjustly due to Rudy Giuliani’s crack down on sex work. Blanca stages an intervention for Pray Tell who later reluctantly agrees to go into rehab .We get a Pray Tell-centric episode where he returns to his hometown after 20 years away. Lil Papi proposes to Angel More characters die from AIDS and various characters take up the fight with ACT UP for more access to medications. The series ends in 1998 where Blanca is now a successful nurse with 4 years with Christopher. Several characters now have found careers in the same categories they used to walk in the Balls.
The first season of Pose was met with a largely positive response and was nominated for several awards. In 2019 Billy Porter made history becoming the first openly gay black man to be nominated and win the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. MJ Rodriguez (Blanca Evangelista) made Emmy history in 2019 by becoming the first Trans lead ever nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She did win the Hollywood Critics Association TV Award for Best Actress in a Broadcast Network or Cable Series Drama. Pose won several other awards from various other groups. I don’t usually talk much of awards but Pose is different because it was such a groundbreaking series and for it to be recognized as such is truly important for the Trans community.
I would be honored to have a person like Blanca Evangelista in my life. And that’s the beauty of series television–we invite these characters into our lives each week and in a very “real” way they become like friends in our minds. And that–not awards–is the mark of a truly great television series.
In its 26 episode run Pose managed to touch on so many topics from the Ballroom culture to AIDS, ACT UP, discrimination, addiction, safer sex, love, death and the right to be able to stand up and be who you are, love who you choose and carve a place in the world for yourself and your legacy. With the current threat in our country of losing rights we have gained, Pose teaches us to never give up the fight and the right to…Live…Work…Pose!
Thank you for being a part of Comic-Watch Media’s 2022 LGBT+ Pride month. This ends our coverage but we will be back next year and you know what? We will continue to celebrate LGBT+ people and heroes and villains in all the months till then.
Episodes of Pose can be seen on Hulu.
The Category Is…Live…Work…POSE!
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