New York City, the late 1980s. Yuppiedom is on the rise, and AIDS is starting to hit a large part of the country’s population. At its core, FX‘s drama Pose features a group of queer Black and Latino youth rejected by their families, thus representing one of the most ostracized segments of society. They were mocked, ghettoized, and often assaulted, and as a result, many of them turned to prostitution or drug dealing to barely make a living. Pose tells the story of how this group finds salvation in the ballroom scene, where they find a home within so-called ‘houses,’ family-like structures usually led by a “mother” or a “father”. Among them is the homeless dancer Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), and the trans woman and sex worker Angel (Indya Moore). They join the House of Evangelista, founded by the trans woman with AIDS, Blanca (Mj Rodriguez).
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, Pose’s aim is to narrate and highlight New York City’s ballroom scene in the 1980s and early 1990s. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck have teamed up again after co-creating the hit TV shows Glee (2009), American Horror Story (2011), and Scream Queens (2015).
Ball culture and Vogue
The term ball culture describes an underground LGBTQ subculture that emerged in New York City among African Americans and Latinos, and although its roots dated back to the 1920s, ball culture gained popularity in the late 1960s in Harlem, after the Stonewall riots. Ballrooms were a safe space for the Black and Latino LGBTQ community to express themselves freely. Specifically, ball culture focuses on a wide range of competitions split into categories, where ball participants walk and pose on a runway, and show off their talents and outfits to a panel of judges. Performances often include dance and modeling. It was in these spaces that a specific language of this underground culture took shape. One term was the style of dance known as vogueing, named after the famous fashion magazine and then brought to worldwide fame thanks to Madonna‘s song Vogue (1990).
Pose was inspired by Jennie Livingston‘s groundbreaking documentary on NYC drag ball culture Paris Is Burning (1990). Some of the characters are actually based on real people featured in the 1990 documentary, and some of them even play a small role in the show, such as Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza. Lastly, ball culture, vogueing, and drag culture are both at the heart of the modern reality competitions Legendary (2020) and RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009).
Trans representation and the evolution of family
Pose is just one of a number of productions that have recently spotlighted trans culture and identity: the show differs from previous portrayals of this world – such as those of The Danish Girl (2015) and 3 Generations (2015) – precisely by casting trans actors as trans characters, and Pose features the largest cast of transgender actors in television history.
Pose shows a subtext that explores the evolving movement of the concept of family, which from a sociological perspective, shows how “houses” operate as surrogate families, providing guidance and support to their children. They are a social system that shows the evolutionary journey of the nuclear family to a diverse form of family. In “houses”, blood ties are replaced by more complex relational dynamics in which the theme of identity is dominant. To sum up, Pose succeeds in both educating and thrilling the audience with a perfect balance of fiction and historical accuracy. According to FX, Pose will end with season three, set to premiere on May 2, 2021, on Netflix.