Pose’s Gay Sex Scene Almost Didn’t Happen, Says Creator Steven Canals

‘Pose’ co-creator Steven Canals on why intention matters for inclusive storytelling: ‘We aren’t just a trend’

Pose’s Gay Sex Scene Almost Didn’t Happen, Says Creator Steven Canals

Back in 2014, Steven Canals wrote a pilot script of what would eventually become FX’s Emmy-nominated drama Pose. As a screenwriting grad student at UCLA, Canals was instructed to write for himself—and as a queer Afro-Latinx, that meant a show centered on characters that looked and moved through the world him.

Drawing on the seminal documentary Paris Is Burning, Canals set his story in New York City’s ballroom scene in the 1980s, an underground culture where largely black and brown queer and trans women competed for trophies and recognition, but, most importantly, found sanctuary from a world keen on erasing their existence. What seemed a step in where TV should go was met with no after no—150 no’s to be exact.

“As a very type A, neurotic creative, when I hear no, my brain processes it as ‘work harder,'” Canals says. “I just didn’t ever feel what I was hearing from these executives was right. In my gut, I was , this story deserves to be told. There is an audience for it.”

Canals’s persistence eventually got his script in front of Ryan Murphy. The mega producer, his creative partner Brad Falchuk, and Canals (who serves as an executive producer on Pose) have together hands-down transformed the what and who of TV storytelling. There has never been a network show to live so boldly in the intersections of society’s most marginalized communities.

Over the course of two seasons, Pose has given voice to the underrepresented with storylines highlighting violence against black trans women; the HIV/AIDS epidemic; racism, transphobia, and discrimination outside and within the LGBTQ community; and more.

“It has been deeply healing to work on this show,” Canals says. “I grew up in the Bronx in the ’80s, when black and Latin people were not being centered in film and television.

The little bit of representations that we did have certainly wasn’t positive. And if you then are LGBTQ, on top of being a person of color, you definitely weren’t seeing yourself represented.

To have the privilege to create this show and to write, produce, and direct it, it’s just beyond words.”

As season two comes to a close with a green-lit season three somewhere on the horizon, Canals did manage to find a few words to explain why he was so tenacious to get Pose on the air, how he wanted the show to help shape the narrative around black trans women, and the “wildly problematic” issues embedded in Hollywood’s push for more inclusive storytelling.

For practically anyone in the entertainment business, especially nascent creators Canals, rejection is part and parcel of the job. No one would’ve blamed Canals for bending his project to the whims of someone else’s gaze to make it more palatable for a mainstream audience, or shelving it altogether—but he would’ve blamed himself.

“I grew up in a mixed family, both black and Puerto Rican. Persistence is just in the DNA,” Canals says.

“I come from a family and from a people that didn’t have the choice but to continue to move forward in the face of discrimination and violence, et cetera. My forebears, they sacrificed so much.

They walked thousands of miles, sometimes with no shoes, so that I wouldn’t have to do that. So for me, I didn’t ever feel I had the right to say, ‘I’m going to quit.'”

“I’m hardheaded,” Canals quips, “and as my grandmother would say, ‘You’re also a Virgo.'”

But race and ethnicity are only part of Canals’s drive. Existing at the intersection of both Afro-Latin and queer made him doubly aware of the gap that needed to be filled on TV.

“My greatest wish when I was embarking on this journey of bringing Pose to television was I didn’t want any young people to feel the way that I felt when I was coming up, which is that I have no value—that my story doesn’t matter, because I know that that’s not the truth,” Canals says. “There are too many people out in the world who are living with the identities that we center on our show. Too many young black and brown people who are also LGBTQ, who are still struggling with various forms of discrimination and prejudice.”

[Photo: Macall Polay/FX]

Dealing with the death of black trans women

One struggle that’s been alarmingly rampant is the violence toward black trans women.

Much of season two tackled the perils black trans women endure, most devastatingly with the heartbreaking death of one of the show’s main characters Candy (Angelica Ross). To make ends meet, Candy resorted to dancing in a club.

But in the most dire of financial straits, she, many trans women, resorted to sex work, which ultimately led to her motel murder in episode four.

“More often than not, a trans death happens at the start of an episode of television and that death is a catalyst for another character, more often than not, a cisgendered male detective, to go off and solve the case,” Canals says. “What we were wanting to do was show it from the other perspective.”

In one of the more surreal moments of Pose, Candy appears to her family and friends at her own wake one by one to say the goodbyes she was robbed of.

For a show that’s become a virtuoso on the heartstrings, this episode was particularly devastating not just as an ode to all the things left unsaid when someone dies, but as a reminder of the growing number of black trans women being murdered today who will never get that opportunity.

“One of the things that we had discussed in our writers’ room was trans women, specifically black trans women, are taken from us, and there is no closure. There isn’t an opportunity to say goodbye. Then the community is left with the aftermath of the death and having to mourn and pick up the pieces,” Canals says. “What we wanted to do was honor those lives.

Critics could obviously argue that we’re preaching to the choir. But I know the reality is that we have a pretty mixed audience and that there are going to be folks who are coming in to watch this show, and this is really the first time that they’re going to have to really wrestle with and engage in what it means for a trans life to be lost in such a tragic way.

Any concerns about preaching to the choir, i.e. what some LGBTQ people might feel as handholding through the issues Pose addresses, ceased to exist for Canals in season one after an episode depicting the main character Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), a trans Latina, being kicked a bar full of cisgender white gay men.

“When that episode aired, there were a number of cisgendered gay men of all colors who reached out to me to say, ‘That didn’t actually happen then, did it? And that’s not still happening now?’ Of course it is. That’s exactly the reason why we wrote the episode,” Canals says.

“LGBTQ people are often treated as a monolith and we seem to forget that there are periods between each one of those letters.

But to take that one step further, we also seem to forget when we’re talking about issues of salience to the LGBT community, that issues also have to be deconstructed intersectionally.”

[Photo: Macall Polay/FX]

What is your intention?

Part of that deconstruction for Canals is about intention. As advancements are made in having more inclusive storytelling across film and TV, what concerns Canals is color-blind casting or hiring for diversity’s sake.

“One of the things that I’ve been hearing quite a bit is that storytellers are being encouraged to cast color-blind, or to take a character that is white and make that character black.

Or take a character that’s male and make them female. That is wildly problematic,” Canals says. “To me, that’s in line with saying, ‘I don’t see color.

’ I want you to see my identities, and I need you to acknowledge them.”

“In the current second golden age of TV where we’re seeing this proliferation of more black and brown content,” Canals continues, “my fear is that we’ll just become a trend when the reality is this is our reality. We aren’t just a trend. We’re here, we’ve always been here, we aren’t going anywhere.”

Canals is also challenging the idea of casting through the lens of a post-racial/homophobic/transphobic society. While he acknowledges the merits of characters existing on screen who check one and/or all of those boxes, he doesn’t feel it does anyone any good for those characters not to confront, or be confronted about, their identities as a means to say that they’re not a big deal.

“There’s this myth that’s often perpetuated that it is helpful for historically marginalized communities not to acknowledge their lived realities. The truth is, no, you need to acknowledge who we are as a people,” Canals says.

“When I’m watching film or television, I don’t want to see a queer or trans person of color on screen who’s not having to wrestle with that identity and not dealing with the realities of what it means to navigate the world holding those identities.

Right now, I’m not seeing enough of that.”

Except, of course, for Pose.

“It’s not just about how our lives and our stories and our bodies are being utilized, but it’s also how are we brought in to aid in telling those stories,” Canals says.

“Who are the people who have a seat at the table and are aiding in telling that story? [With Pose], you have queer and trans people in the writers’ room, and producing and serving as consultants and choreographers. So we all are here.

Ryan Murphy fought to create a table that we all would have seats at, which is just such a rarity.”

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Источник: https://www.fastcompany.com/90391986/pose-co-creator-steven-canals-intention-matters-inclusive-storytelling

Pose co-creator Steven Canals reflects on the groundbreaking TV show as it comes to a close — ABC News

Pose’s Gay Sex Scene Almost Didn’t Happen, Says Creator Steven Canals

At the end of 2013, Steven Canals — at that time, a young American screenwriting student — decided to take a look at the TV landscape.

«At the time here in the [United] States, television was being dominated by straight white cisgendered male antiheroes,» Canals told RN's Stop Everything!

This was the era of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

«Black and brown and queer and trans people were nowhere to be seen. We were not occupying space on television,» says Canals.

«Pose really was born a need.»

Pose is set in New York City in the late 80s, a time of rapid gentrification and drug abuse, and the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

It follows the Black and Latinx trans, gay and non-binary models, dancers and drag queens from various 'houses' who vie for trophies in the city's underground ballroom scene, which was depicted in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning.

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«[Ballroom] was born our disinvitation to the rest of society … a space to celebrate ourselves in a way that isn't sexualised or demonised,» cast member Indya Moore told The Screen Show when Pose premiered in 2018.

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But selling this idea to TV executives wasn't easy.

Canals says: «A lot of the feedback that I was receiving about my original draft is, 'We love the writing, we really love the characters, we love the world, [but] what else have you got?'

«[The subtext was] I don't know who the audience is for a show Pose, I don't know what network a show Pose lives on … There's too many Black and brown characters.»

It took 166 meetings until Canals met Sherry Marsh, who would go on to become an executive producer on the show.

«Sherry really was the first person to say … 'I see value in the story and let's push to ensure that this gets made.'»

For more pop culture coverage.

Read more

After Canals teamed up with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the creators of Glee and American Horror Story, Pose found its way onto US pay-TV channel FX (Foxtel and Binge here).

The third and final season has now concluded, with Time Magazine declaring: «Pose was more than just a TV show. It changed the culture, onscreen and off.»

Note: This article contains spoilers for the final season of the show.

'We have the ability to tell these stories'

When Pose started filming in 2017, Canals and his collaborators had assembled the largest trans cast in scripted television history, including Indya Moore (Angel), MJ Rodriguez (Blanca) and ballroom veteran and model Dominique Jackson (Elektra).

«Us as trans actors, we know our history, we know who we are. And we have the ability to tell these stories,» Jackson also told The Screen Show in 2018.

Canals says that while they never explicitly asked the cast for story ideas, on set the writers would hear trans actors sharing stories about their lives.

«Occasionally, the cast would share things that would find its way on[to] the page,» Canals recalls.

Rodriguez's next project is an Apple TV+ comedy series with Maya Rudolph.(Supplied: Binge/FX)

The Pose creative team also included trans writers, producers and directors, such as Janet Mock (Redefining Realness) and Our Lady J (Transparent).

Jackson says: «He's [Ryan Murphy] taken his power and he says, 'I know these people can act, I know they can work. And I'm going to give them the opportunity to work.'»

Yet part of the show's first season revolved around two white cisgendered characters: Trump organisation employee Stan (Evan Peters) and his wife Patty (Kate Mara).

Canals explains: «Part of the reason for populating our show with … the white characters had everything to do with having recognisable figures.»

He says he was hesitant when Murphy first suggested introducing the white couple to Pose.

«The conversations that we were having ad nauseum … was what are the ways in which this narrative is going to impact the journey of our Black and brown characters?

«That, for me, was always the core because I went into this knowing exactly who I wanted my audience to be and, for me, it was queer and trans folks of colour,» says Canals.

Stan and Patty become entangled in the world of Pose after Stan becomes romantically involved with sex worker and ballroom competitor Angel.

«I'm really proud of that Angel/Stan storyline in the first season,» says Canals. «That is one storyline that whenever I'm talking to our audience out in the world, it always inevitably comes up.»

But he says that narrative came to a natural conclusion at the end of season one. Peters and Mara did not appear in the series again.

Parallels and pandemics

Pose begins in 1987, with Blanca learning that she is HIV-positive, spurring her on to leave Elektra's House of Abundance and start her own, kinder, House of Evangelista.

Canals says that in his first pitch meeting with Murphy, they agreed that the series would conclude in 1998 around the time that medical developments meant that HIV/AIDs was no longer a death sentence.

But those developments are too late for ball emcee Pray Tell (Billy Porter), who dies from AIDS-related illnesses in the final season.

Broadway star and red carpet icon Billy Porter won an Emmy in 2019 for his portrayal of Pray Tell.(Supplied: Binge/FX)

In May, ahead of the season finale, Porter broke a 14-year silence to reveal his own HIV-positive status in The Hollywood Reporter.

He wrote: «The brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.»

Porter had disclosed his status to Canals while shooting the show's pilot, but only told the rest of the Pose cast and crew in his goodbye speech on his final day of shooting.

«Everyone was so emotional, everyone was so moved,» says Canals.

«It really reframed for our crew the importance of the work that we were all doing, and especially the work that Billy has been doing for the past three seasons.»

Later, emboldened by Porter's revelation, another crew member shared his HIV-positive status with Canals.

Canals says there are strong parallels between the HIV/AIDs crisis and the current pandemic, with both disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx communities in America.

«It created a sense of urgency for me while directing our series finale,» he says.

In the final season, House of Evangelista's Angel (pictured here) and Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) get to have a dream wedding.(Supplied: Binge/FX)

Despite the pandemic impacting production on the final season, Canals and his collaborators were able to conclude the series in the way they wanted: giving almost all their characters happy endings.

«Historically in film and television, and I would say that this is the case globally, we folks of colour … our narratives are so often rooted in our traumas,» he says.

«From the beginning, we were really attempting to be subversive and tell a story that was rooted in our joys and in our triumphs.»

'The legacy of Pose'

Pose comes to a close in a different media landscape than the one in which it began.

There's now a ballroom reality TV show, and recent ballroom documentaries Kiki and My House; the series' trans stars have gone on to appear in many other screen projects.

Other trans actors, including Hunter Schafer (Euphoria) and Patti Harrison (Shrill), are taking on increasingly nuanced roles.

«My hope for the legacy of Pose, if you will, is that we'll continue to see more narratives this be told — because the reality is that there's so many more stories to tell,» says Canals.

“We absolutely spent quite a bit of time mapping out what the journey would be for all of these characters,» says Canals who is an executive producer, writer and director on the show.(Supplied: Binge/FX)

Canals is an Afro Puerto Rican queer man who grew up in the Bronx's housing projects in the late 80s, and he's hoping his successes are a message to others historically excluded from the screen industry — including queer, trans, people of colour and women creators.

«If I can persist and if I can manage to make this show, if I can manage to make this career happen, then you absolutely can as well,» he says.

Now that Pose is over, Canals is again assessing the TV landscape, as he did in 2013.

«I'm really keeping my eyes open to whose story isn't being told, who isn't being centred, whose narrative needs to be elevated.

«And once I'm done with that assessment, I'm going to allow that to inform what the next project is.»

The final season of Pose is now available on Binge and Foxtel.

Источник: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-01/pose-queer-trans-ballroom-steven-canals/100254382

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