'Pose' Renewal Is Proof That Transgender People Can Play Trans Characters and Succeed, Producer Says

POSE S01E08 Still - Publicity - H 2018
JoJo Whilden/FX

Pose writer-producer-director Janet Mock addressed the controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson's casting — and subsequent backlash — in the trans film Rub & Tug during her time at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour on Friday.

"I haven't read the script for that film, but I do think that there are certain people who are able to tell all kinds of stories and others who don't have access even getting into those rooms. What I love so much about the existence of our show and our show getting a second season … we have new life to be able to show that a series can cast five trans women playing trans women and there's hundreds of other actors who come on for other smaller and background roles," Mock told reporters. "It proves our show is just one possibility of how that trans people can play trans people onscreen and that it's completely possible and that you don't need a star name in order to make a series and to tell a story that's powerful and impactful and reaffirming."

Rub & Tug tells the story of Jean Marie Gill, who was assigned female at birth but who assumed the identity of a man, Dante "Tex" Gill. While it is unclear how Gill, who died in 2003, identified, an obituary noted that he ran his massage parlors while "insisting that she was a man and telling everyone she wanted to be known as 'Mr. Gill.'" 

After Johansson's casting was announced, there was an immediate backlash online, with many arguing that the role should halve gone to a trans performer. (Johansson subsequently dropped out of the project.)

FX's Pose, on which Mock made history as the first trans black woman to direct an episode of television, also set marks for primetime's largest cast of transgender series regulars portraying transgender characters as well as the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ characters ever for a scripted series.

Friday's panel came a few weeks after the first eight-episode season of Pose wrapped its run on FX — and after the series earned a second-season renewal. The session was a victory lap of sorts for co-creators Ryan Murphy and Steven Canals as well as Mock, writer-producer Our Lady J and stars including Mj Rodriguez (who plays Blanca), Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Indya Moore (Angel) and Billy Porter (Pray Tell).

For his part, Canals noted he was proud to have been able to empower the trans community with Pose's exploration of the 1980s ballroom culture. "What's important with what we've done with Pose … is empower this community to be at the center of its own narrative," he said.

Season two will feature a time jump as the story shifts from 1988 to 1989 and will end in March 1990, when Madonna's "Vogue" was released. Murphy, who reminded critics he has a good relationship with the pop star after doing a Glee tribute episode to her, among other things, hopes to be able to feature the track in season two. (Season one also featured a few Madonna songs as well.) Season two will also lean harder into Blanca and Prey Tell's HIV diagnosis and feature Sandra Bernhard's return as the nurse at the hospital where the latter's boyfriend passed away.

Co-star Moore was among those to praise the impact that Pose is having on the larger culture. "We're moving closer to a time when seeing a trans person onscreen … it's becoming more normalized to see people acting who also happen to be trans," she said after declaring that The CW's decision to cast a trans actress as a trans superhero on Supergirl was effectively a sigh of relief for the community. 

The writers room for season two of Pose is set to open in September. A return date for the second season has not been determined.