Created by Ryan Muphy, Brad Falchuk & Steven Canals
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
It’s 1990 in NYC. Madonna’s hit single “Vogue” is ruling the radio and MTV and the ballroom scene, so vibrantly portrayed in Season One of this vibrant series, continues to flourish. Ballroom culture is the uptown competition of New York’s black and Latino trans and gender nonconforming communities competing on the runway as “houses”—groups of young LGBT people of color living and surviving as chosen families when their biological families have rejected them for who they are. The second season, a visual and musical feast for the eyes and ears, picks up the rich narrative begun in Season One. Blanca Evangelista, played lovingly by Mj Rodriguez [A&U, May 2019], is energized by Madonna’s new single and the spotlight it’s shining on a community so often overlooked in LGBT culture. She pushes her adopted children, members of her House of Evangelista, to continue to excel and reach for theirs dreams—both in the ballroom and in the mainstream. In the first episode we witness the devastation that AIDS has wrought on this community when Blanca and ballroom emcee Pray Tell, played by the incredible Billy Porter, take a trip to Hart Island, where the bodies of those unclaimed by their families are buried in unmarked graves. They soon learn that even in death, those who have died of AIDS-related causes are seregated; however they are not completely abandoned—many mourners before them have left tribute in the form of heart-shaped stones inscribed with their loved ones’ names.
Blanca herself is living with HIV, and so is Pray Tell. Blanca receives disturbing health news in the premiere episode and Pray Tell is overwhelmed by the losses to his community that AIDS has wrought. Led by the irascible HIV nurse Judy, played with depth and wisecracking humor by Sandra Bernhard [A&U, October/November 1993] , Pray is pulled into the ranks of the ACT UP movement and finds an outlet for his pain and frustration. Judy is also key in convincing both Blanca and a very reluctant Pray to begin AZT treatment. Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) is discovered by Blanca, a ferocious mother to her children, back on the piers, turning tricks, and is encouraged by Blanca to enter a Ford Modeling Agency “Fresh Faces” competition, where she triumphs.This season has proved to deliver another season of love, music, and Inner city ballroom culture in a beautiful and heartfelt package that will please all past fans of the series as well as anyone watching for the first time. (And Pose has already been renewed for a third season.)
Too long have the voices of individuals of color in the cultural histories of HIV/AIDS been overlooked, and this vivid and complex piece of television makes great headway in remedying that tragic paucity. Pose is a celebration of love, life, music, and culture—but, like life, the sweet comes with the bitter. Watching it, we celebrate the life of a community, but are reminded of its losses.
For more information, log on to: https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/pose.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.