Ryan Murphy Says 'Pose' Could Have Never Happened Without Trans Talent

Ryan Murphy -The Hollywood Reporter's Annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast2016 -Getty-H 2018
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Ryan Murphy and FX made history when they put together the team behind Pose, the cable network's new dance drama about ballroom culture. Not only did the show, under Murphy's guidance, cast five transgender women in series regular roles — an unprecedented number for a scripted series — but an exceptional amount of trans and LGBTQ talent were also employed behind the scenes.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at Pose's recent New York City premiere, the producer opened up about his decision to collaborate with trans actresses, writers and producers for his latest TV venture — and revealed why the project, which highlights the triumphs and struggles of the LGBTQ community in 1980s Manhattan, would have been impossible to make without them.

"I think the day and age where you put a wig on a straight white man and say he's trans is over. I'm the godfather of this project. They call me 'Papa Murphy,'" Murphy said, explaining that he felt a responsibility to put co-creator Steven Canals, who identifies as queer, and trans writer/producers Janet Mock and Our Lady J "in positions of power." Trans activist and director Silas Howard also serves as a co-executive producer.

"It could have never happened without our trans writers, producers and stars on the show," he said. "Steven, Janet and Our Lady J cast every role, and we worked for six months on the casting process. It's such a huge community of people who don't have opportunities and are desperate to be a part of Hollywood and a mainstream project like this." Added Murphy, "That's my favorite thing about it. I hope this opens more doors for them."

Actresses MJ Rodriguez (who plays Blanca Rodriguez), Indya Moore (Angel), Dominique Jackson (Elektra Abundance), Hailie Sahar (Lulu Abundance) and Angelica Ross (Candy Abundance) all portray authentic trans characters. Murphy told THR that he hopes his decision to champion LGBTQ talent will inspire more TV and film execs to do the same.

"I just want more trans stories and I want more LGBTQ stories to be told. What I say to everybody on the show is, 'It's wonderful that you're a part of our show, but now you can hopefully get out there and tell your own story,'" he said, adding that he anticipates his cast to flourish beyond Pose. "I want them to spread their wings and fly and take over Hollywood. That's what we're interested in doing here."

As part of Murphy's Half Foundation, the series will bring on emerging trans directors to be mentored through his Directing Mentorship Program. Aside from providing more opportunities for trans people in the entertainment industry, Murphy is looking to "humanize" the community — especially under the administration of President Donald Trump. Since being elected into office, the reality star turned politician has made several efforts to roll back gay and transgender protections, including his signed ban for transgender people to serve in the U.S. military.

"I really wanted to do a show about this community, particularly now because they're under attack," Murphy said. "So many of the rights that we have and have gotten, I feel like this president and this administration has taken us back 20 years."

Not coincidentally, Pose explores the juxtaposition between the LGBTQ ballroom scene of the 1980s and the rise of the luxury Trump-era universe. In the premiere episode, Moore's character, Angel, and Evan Peters' Stan — who recently landed a once-in-a-lifetime job working for the Trump Organization — jump into an unexpected relationship that starts out as sexual attraction but quickly turns into a more complex friendship.

"Television is such a powerful medium that now is the time to put these stories and these compassionate, wonderful characters out there to remind people that we're all the same and that we're all struggling for the same things — to have dreams and to be loved," Murphy explained. "I wanted to humanize the trans community, and I thought now was the time to do it."

Pose premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on FX.