Color Force, 2018-21
📷 : Pixabay
Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects
Nonfamily dramas with strong socioeconomic themes
Pose, created by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), highlights the gay and trans community comprising the ballroom culture in 1980s New York. The series centers particularly around Blanca, a Trans woman who sets out to start her own house after being diagnosed with HIV. Blanca takes in several youngsters to mentor, including Damon, Lil Papi, Ricky, and Angel. Their performing arts skills are varied, but Blanca strives to instill them all with confidence, discipline and most importantly, self‑esteem.
The most striking aspect of Pose is how it highlights the multitude of angles from which the Black Trans community receives vitriol. In one particular episode, Blanca tries to get served at a predominantly White gay bar. She is not only asked to leave but on one occasion is physically removed and arrested. This and other storylines expose the glaring truth that many communities are simultaneously oppressed and oppressive.
In addition to shining a spotlight on institutional injustice, Pose provides a glimpse into the strife surrounding the characters’ personal relationships. Pray Tell, the regular emcee for the nightly ball competitions, struggles through hospital visits one after another in support of his boyfriend, who has contracted AIDS. Angel meets a married Wall Street exec (Evan Peters) and mulls over how she feels being his secret mistress. Candy debates getting genital reconstructive surgery and how her longtime partner will view her new anatomy. Though the particulars of their issues seem specific to the Trans community, their interpersonal relationships and the emotions involved remain universal.
As one might expect, a series about ballroom culture includes plenty of ballroom scenes. Normally the more joyous scenes in the show, the members of the various houses walk the floor in their outfits as music blares over the sound system. Pray Tell comments on their getup before turning it over to the five judges, who each put up a number from one to ten. At the end of the night, grand prize and runner-up trophies are awarded. While the vibes are celebratory, the commentary between competitors can be blunt and deep-cutting, with Pray Tell roasting ensembles that are not on point. The culture amongst the ball participants is one of no-holds-barred criticism, making the dialogue harsh and the insults frequent. The subtext of these biting exchanges is that the members must have thick skin due to the flagrant disrespect and threats they face when they leave the community. While the conflict is legitimate, there is an element of tough love to how the ball members speak to one another.
The lynchpin of the show is without a doubt Blanca, who exhibits leadership and strong decision-making. From the Bronx, she embodies toughness and displays the ability to be confrontational. The way she handles everything thrown her way is reminiscent of a high school principal, such as Principal Harper (Chi McBride) in Boston Public. Having been shunned by her family, who insists on calling her by her masculine birth name, Blanca strives to teach all her house members how to stand on their own two feet as she has learned to do. Her major character flaw of stubbornness drives much of the show’s conflict but makes her as relatable to the audience as her strengths.
Overall, Pose grants viewers the opportunity to see Trans characters as more than victims or fleeting storylines, but rather three-dimensional characters who have goals, strengths, weaknesses and most of all, gumption. Their struggles provide insight to those not frequently exposed to members of the trans community, and the ways they handle those struggles allows the audience to feel an emotion necessary for all to possess -- empathy.