"There is a responsibility to a cold, hard truth": Ryan Murphy on the relevance and future of Pose

Murphy revealed that when the show returns for its second season it will pick up a year after its 1988 finale and the season will end in March of 1990, when Madonna releases Vogue


                            "There is a responsibility to a cold, hard truth": Ryan Murphy on the relevance and future of Pose

By Carita Rizzo

Producer Ryan Murphy has never shied away from difficult subject matter, but with 'Pose', the show that has broken ground with the largest cast of transgender actors in a primetime series, even he is feeling its emotional impact.

“It’s a very personal show for me,” he said as the cast and producers of 'Pose' took the stage on August 2 at the Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles to discuss where things go on the sophomore season of the series.

“It was a very emotional writers’ room where we talked a lot about our lives and our journeys and the people we’ve lost along the way,” said Murphy. “We tried to do something that was topical and timeless, and we wanted to tackle issues that are still, sadly, taxing to the community.”

Though a period piece, the message of the show exploring the 1980s ballroom culture in New York remains relevant today. “I think the show is a great homage to a lot of the issues that our community was grappling with back then: HIV/AIDS, poverty, over-policing, sex work, being pushed out of hostile homes and intolerant schools, and dealing with a lack of resources,” says producer, writer and director Janet Mock, who made history as the first trans black woman to direct an episode of television.

“I think today when we look at where LGBTQ people are, they’re still navigating hostile environments at home, in their places of worship, in their communities, and at school. I think that the reason why so many folks love [the show] is that it’s a love letter and affirmation. And it’s a celebration of our resilience.”

Murphy revealed that when the show returns for its second season it will pick up a year after its 1988 finale and the season will end in March of 1990, when Madonna releases Vogue, opening up the underground culture to a mainstream audience. Though he is fairly certain the Queen of Pop will give him access to her track, Murphy does not expect Madonna to make an on-screen appearance.

“We haven’t really tried to do too much of my typical stunt casting, and I don’t think that we will. That’s not what the show is about,” said Murphy. “[Besides,] I don’t know how she’d feel about playing 1990 Madonna.”

The new season will also tackle the HIV diagnoses of two of the main characters on the series. “I think the key is when you’re working on something like that, is that there is a responsibility to a cold, hard truth,” said Murphy. “We will see that in our show. How we are going to do it, I don’t know, but the second season will very much involve Blanca and Pray Tell’s HIV experience.”

What is important to Murphy, at this stage of his career, is empowering those who are normally underserved to tell their own story. “I am in a period of my life where I call it showrunning as an advocacy, where it’s my job now, to bring up a new generation of people who have not had opportunities or experiences that they should be allowed to have,” says Murphy.

He recalled how when they started the casting process, he was told it would be difficult to put this cast of characters together. “But it was, in many ways, the easiest cast I’ve ever put together,” he said. “Because the talent pool was so vast and untapped.” 

Asked about the controversy of the casting of cis actors in trans roles, as with Scarlett Johansson in trans film Rub & Tug (Johansson has since dropped out of the project), Mock said the issue is that those who are best able to tell their own story often do not have access to the rooms where decisions are being made. “I think our show is proof that trans people can play trans people on screen and you don’t need a star name to tell a story that is powerful and impactful and deeply affirming for a community that’s often never seen,” said Mock.

For Pose-star Indya Moore, whose character has a relationship with a cis male on the series, the impact of her character on the larger culture has been palpable. “When it comes to the way transwomen are seen in society, the way transwomen are treated in public, I think that [writers] Janet Mock, Steven Canals, and Our Lady J have changed forever the way trans people are seen and the way our bodies are seen to the world,” she said. “Seeing the way Angel’s appreciated and loved, I think, is something that so many transwomen – and so many people – needed to see.”