The 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning left an array of effervescent embers in the air, and throughout the years, its glow was kept aflame. One of its most celebrated attributes had to do with unapologetically emphasizing a world oft-kept in the shadows. Of course, it was a safe and sacred space, but every light deserves to shine. Paris Is Burning ignited a fire in a community that yearned to snatch their narratives in its purest form — a fire, in which, never really went out even if mainstream cishet society couldn’t see it.
Cue the year 2018, and FX’s Pose is born. As Teen Vogue noted, Ryan Murphy accomplished quite a feat, producing the largest group of transgender actors cast as series regulars on a scripted television show. Set in New York City in 1987, Pose follows a blossoming seed within the sprawling city: ball culture. In an industry (and by large, a society) where pilfering from people of color is as routine as sunrise and sunset, Murphy could’ve easily dominated through his cis gay, white male lens. Instead, he used his privilege to present a platform toward authenticity with Afro-Latino Steven Canals as a co-creator and Janet Mock as producer.
And then, we have the faces. The show displays a rich diversity of actors, some of which have real-life experience in the very same world they portray. In an undoubted display of sheer openness, the same black actors shifted to the sideshow or relegated to a nondescript role are now steering the broadcast boat. They are characters with full and three-dimensional arcs, emotions, significant choices, conflict and flaws.
As such, we want to give each black actor in this beautiful show the dramatically theatrical introduction they deserve.
1. MJ Rodriguez
Adding the perfect balance of hardened vulnerability and maternal persistence in her portrayal of Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, Rodriguez’s past performances have garnered her critical acclaim. She earned a Clive Barnes Award for portraying Angel in an off-Broadway production of Rent and a Best Actress nomination at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival for her roles as Ebony in the indie film Saturday Church. She also has several television credits for shows including Nurse Jackie, The Carrie Diaries and Luke Cage.
2. Indya Moore
Angel stole our hearts in her very first frame — gliding in her royal regalia and enrapturing her onlookers. Perfectly capturing Angel’s hopeless romantic nature with just a quick yet hypnotizing lip out, Moore is proving herself to be the series breakout star. Moore has appeared in J. Views’ music video for “Don’t Pull Away” and also acted alongside Rodriguez in Saturday Church as Dijon.
3. Dominique Jackson
Jackson effortlessly captures the aura of the ostentatiously fabulous Elektra Abundance. Strutting down the street like a long-legged legend, you can’t miss Elektra. Because she won’t let you. And neither will Jackson’s perfect diction and cutting wit. Hailing from Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago, Jackson has contributed to the efforts of the trans community reclaiming their narratives by sharing her journey. This has included appearing in the 2016 reality series Strut, the documentary Visible: The LGBTQ Caribbean Diaspora and My Truth, My Story and penning her memoir The Transsexual from Tobago.
4. Angelica Ross
Candy Abundance lusts for body-ody-ody, but it’s Ross’ brusque portrayal that has tongues wagging. Candy knows she’s that b***h and will hear no debates about it. Ross started off strong with her first acting gig in Emmy-nominated web series Her Story and has also appeared in Transparent and Claws. In addition to her acting talent, Ross should be noted for her trans activism, having founded TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator supporting the LGBTQ community via technology and other career-prep training.
5. Billy Porter
The voice. Pray Tell’s voice rumbles through your spirit from the show’s opening credits all the way to Porter’s unmatched commentary delivery and back. A snappy queen with a seemingly uncrackable shell, Porter portrays Pray Tell’s rollercoaster ride with a deft brilliance. Porter is a thespian extraordinaire, boasting the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots. He’s also a singer with a discography spanning 1997-2017. Other credits include The Get Down, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order and The Big C.
6. Ryan Jamaal Swain
The doe-eyed and green family member of House of Evangelista, Swain captures Damon with such youthful elegance with every twitch of his eager baby face. This deft portrayal comes to a head when Damon Richards twirls into his truth in a triumphant climax set to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and pirouettes right into our sympathies. Pose marks Swain’s first IMDb credit, and it’s no question this will be the first of many more.
7. Dyllon Burnside
One of the notable things about Burnside’s character, Ricky, is that he represents one-half of an exclusively black male couple, which is something not seen enough in mainstream media. Burnside captures Ricky’s street-smart vigor, sly-grinned charisma and slowly peeled-back layers all in one. It’s no wonder Damon falls for him. Burnside’s other credits include Peter Pan Live!, Misunderstood and High Maintenance.
8. Charlayne Woodard
With a firm look and a tap of her foot, Helena St. Rogers adds a disciplinarian and additional maternal source for Damon. Woodard’s portrayal is steadfast yet sympathetic as we learn Helena’s previous affinity for a former male dance student. Woodard has an extensive film and television resume including Chicago Hope, Unbreakable, ER, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fans will remember her as Aunt Janice. Additionally, Woodard is a playwright, having penned several plays such as Pretty Fire, Neat, Flight and In Real Life, the latter of which she also starred. She’ll be reprising her role as Elijah’s (Samuel L. Jackson) mother in the upcoming 2019 Unbreakable / Split follow-up, Glass.
Pose deserves a ton of statuesque trophies, but grand prize goes to its authenticity, indeed.