Mj Rodriguez (Blanca Evangelista) and Billy Porter (Pray Tell) in Pose season three. (FX)
Over the course of three seasons, Pose routinely broke new ground and proved that it had some of the best actors in the industry – but it still walked away without any awards at the 2021 Emmys.
Much has been made of the many “firsts” Pose achieved. With her 2021 Emmy nomination, Mj Rodriguez famously became the first trans woman ever nominated in a lead acting category. Back in 2019, Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to win in his category for his performance of Pray Tell in season one. Perhaps most notable of all, Pose had the biggest cast of trans and gender non-conforming actors ever seen in a television series.
To call Pose groundbreaking almost seems like an understatement. It was a series that didn’t just question the status quo – it dismantled it completely. That’s why there was such widespread frustration when it walked away without any Emmys for its final season on Sunday night (19 September).
In truth, the show’s general lack of success at TV’s biggest night didn’t come as that much of a surprise. Pose has regularly been overlooked by the Emmys and other major awards categories, which despite continued criticism, seem resistant to truly embracing inclusion and giving performers from marginalised communities their dues.
Every single major acting Emmy this year went to a white performer, despite the list of nominees being lauded as the most diverse yet. Queer talent was, for the large part, missing from the list of winners. The cast of Pose may have won consistent critical acclaim – particularly in the show’s final season – but the odds were always stacked against them. But Emmy or not, it will go down in history not just for its firsts, but for the way it brought its queer characters to life, presenting them in all their shimmering glory – flaws and all.
Pose breathed life into its queer characters
Those who stuck with those characters over the course of Pose‘s three-year run will know exactly why it deserves recognition. Above all else, it presented trans lives in all their complexity. Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) was a loving mother to her children, while Elektra (Dominique Jackson) served as the House of Evangelista’s fiercely loyal (and slightly terrifying) defender. Indya Moore stunned as Angel, a trans woman who wants creative fulfilment and love, and Candy (Angelica Ross) showed that trans characters needn’t always be morally virtuous.
At the heart of Pose’s success was its stellar writing team, which included the incredible trans talents, Janet Mock and Our Lady J. They brought a wealth of experience to the show and they confronted big issues seamlessly and with aplomb. Over the course of its three seasons, Pose tackled transphobia, the AIDS epidemic, religion, politics, capitalism and addiction. But it never once felt like Pose had a list of issues it wanted to address – instead, those topics were intricately woven into the lives of Pose’s loveable, towering characters – and its heartbreaking themes were always balance with colour, humour and the joy of queer and trans lives.
The final season of Pose flipped the script on trans stories
The show’s final outing sometimes felt like it was more grounded in fantasy than reality – and that was intentional. So often, queer stories – especially trans stories – end in tragedy. LGBT+ characters are killed off at an alarming rate, sometimes in grisly, violent circumstances. Many in the community know that much of this is based in reality – queer people continue to face widespread violence and discrimination because of who they are. But that isn’t the whole story.
Queer people also live joyful, happy, full lives – and Pose was always committed to celebrating that complexity. In its last season, Pose gave fans a fairytale wedding, an admittedly far-fetched HIV intervention, and a surprising Mafia partnership.
Essentially, Pose knew it had a job to do. It never shied away from representing heartbreak and systemic inequality – but it also knew it had a duty to show queer people thriving. It might not always have been totally grounded in reality, but Pose knew it had to revolutionise queer representation for the benefit of its largely LGBT+ audience watching at home.
It was for all of those reasons that there was a long sigh of disappointment when the Emmys closed out without Pose winning a single award. Anybody who watched Billy Porter’s Pray Tell staring into his mirror, wiping away his make-up, at the close of the show’s third season will surely agree that he deserved some recognition. That scene showed that Porter was a masterful actor who completely understood his character’s arc. Without uttering a single line, he managed to convey exactly what Pray Tell was feeling.
The same can be said for Mj Rodriguez, who played house mother Blanca with ease and grace. Somehow, she wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy for the show’s first two seasons – in fact, all of the show’s talented trans cast were shut out of awards ceremonies. Indya Moore has long been lauded by fans and critics for their tender portrayal of Angel, particularly in the third season, while Dominique Jackson made Elektra a bonafide pop culture phenomenon – but neither has been recognised by the industry.
Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross also stunned as indomitable double act Lulu and Candy – but neither has been recognised for their efforts. Ross, who bowed out of Pose in season two, represented what made the series so important. She was cutting, cruel, and prone to lashing out at the people who loved her most. She was also fiercely protective of the people she cared about. When her character was tragically killed, Pose showed just how complex grief can be while also offering a timely reflection on the ceaseless violence trans women often face.
There was widespread elation among Pose fans when Rodriguez finally won a nomination for her outstanding final outing as Blanca. She was long overdue that recognition, and the remarkable news cemented her place in history as the first trans actor nominated in a lead acting category.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. The Crown ultimately edged Pose out of the picture altogether. Josh O’Connor took home the award for Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his pitch-perfect portrayal of Prince Charles, while Olivia Colman beat Mj Rodriguez for her final outing as Queen Elizabeth II.
The writing was on the wall – The Crown was always bound to win big at the Emmys – but that won’t ease frustrations that the cast of Pose, as well as Black and LGBT+ performers, were largely shut out of what was ultimately another very predictable Emmy Awards.