Neil Patrick Harris, 'Pose' Co-Creator Honor Stonewall Riots Anniversary at Tribeca Celebrates Pride Event

Tribeca Celebrates Pride Day Panel — Getty —H 2019
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

The all-day gathering, with stars Angelica Ross and Asia Kate Dillon also in attendance, featured conversations like "Activism Through the Ages" and "Who Gets to Tell Whose Story?"

Neil Patrick Harris, Raven-Symoné, John Cameron Mitchell, Angelica Ross and more stars, along with industry leaders and activists, on Saturday honored the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots as part of the Tribeca Celebrates Pride event.

The inaugural event, held at New York City's Spring Studios, featured panels, interviews and screenings.

"Today is about bringing us together to celebrate the visibility of the community and centering our voices," said Lucy Mukerjee, a Tribeca Film Festival senior programmer. "It’s also about letting you know that the festival is making space for us and will continue to do so." 

According to Tribeca Enterprises executive vp Paula Weinstein, the fest actually oversold tickets for the day’s events because of their importance and timeliness.

"We can never be too vigilant about civil rights, especially with the man in the White House right now," she said.

Many told their stories of breaking into the entertainment industry, something that many LGBTQ+ people — particularly those of color — still struggle with due to the disproportional amount of cisgender straight white men.

Even FX's Pose, which has been lauded as inclusive and groundbreaking, took years to get off the ground.

"How do you get an industry that is risk-averse, and one that primarily centers [on] cisgender heterosexual white men, to understand the journey, the existence, the plight of being apart of a marginalized community?" said Pose co-creator Steven Canals.

A lot of explaining, he said — like he was giving a "history lesson." And until he met Ryan Murphy, Canals said he was more often than not "met with a glazed-over look" after he stopped talking.

"But I knew that there was a core audience out there," he said. "I knew that LGBTQ+ people, I knew that people of color, would just get it."

Now that Pose has completed its first season and has been renewed for a second, Canals wants the audience to engage with the show on a deeper level.

"The show is more than just entertainment, it’s also education," he explained. "At the core of Pose, it was always about engaging the audience in a political discourse around identity. We’re talking about race. We’re talking about class. We’re talking about gender politics."

Asia Kate Dillon gave a heartfelt speech about those exact topics, at one point citing the fact that a mere 16 percent of people personally know someone who is transgender, "which means that for 84 percent of Americans, their only interaction with a trans person is through the media."

This is part of the reason why they believe transgender roles should only be played by transgender actors.

"When you cast cis actors in trans roles, not only are you telling trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people who want to be performers that there is no place for them in the performing world, you are also sending a wider message that trans women aren’t really women, trans men aren’t really men and non-binary people don’t exist," said Dillon, urging casting directors to "broaden" and "exhaust" their searches when filling roles for transgender characters.

"And if you’ve exhausted your search and you can’t find a trans woman of color talented enough to play the role, then you better find one — at least one — to help consult on the project, write the project, produce the project, direct the project," she continued. "Otherwise, by not including the voices of those whose stories you are attempting to tell, you are just an outsider guessing at a life experience. And then what you’re actually doing is playing with people’s lives by rendering their real lives and experiences invisible. Art has a greater responsibility. Art has the responsibility to teach us how to connect with one another through our shared humanity. When art continues to ignore an entire population of people by effectively rendering them invisible, it’s not doing its job.”

In conversation with Out magazine editor-in-chief Phillip Picardi, Harris gave his take on who can play transgender and gay characters, which was more complicated than Dillon's.

“I mean, I act and I produce and I direct as well, so I have differing opinions sort of based on the skill set. I think everybody should be allowed to play anything," he explained. "That said, I recognize that in the trans community, that that’s a very particular type of character and deserves an appreciation that likely only trans performers can accomplish. So in that regard, it’s probably better to have trans actors play trans performers because it’s more truthful."

As for the roles Harris takes on, the character's sexual orientation is "kind of a non-factor."

"I guess I’d be more interested to know if the role is valuable to watch in some way," said Harris, adding that he believes the job of an actor is "to be as chameleon-like as possible and to be able to take on different guises and not just be an overt representation of something."

He also discussed his approach to activism, which Harris said he doesn't really feel comfortable doing.

“I didn’t want to be too heavy-handed with my personal activism, and yet I say that with a hundred percent appreciation and deep gratitude for those people who are committed activists to the cause," Harris said. “I recognize that I’m part of the conversation. I've been able to continue working on a variety of acting styles and types of roles without seeming to have lost gigs because of who I am personally or without being super-typecast, but I’m not the first person to have done that and there were people before me who were the first people to have done that."

For example, Harris described being dubbed the "first out-man to host the Oscars," even though Ellen DeGeneres was the first out-person to host before him.

"Saying I’m uncomfortable being an activist might be met with, like, 'Fuck you. You have a responsibility to be an activist.' So I don’t want to be defending my position on how I feel about things," Harris added. "I guess all I can speak to is my own experiences. It starts with just an appreciation of where we are. And that without the Larry Kramers, and without the big heavy hitters, without the Angels in Americas, we wouldn’t be where we are. So I’m not at all implying that activism shouldn’t exist."

His role, he feels, is to "be an example of myself and not try to put too much importance on it."

Other speakers throughout the day included Vida's Ser Anzoategui and Tanya Saracho; Ponyboi's River Gallo and Sadé Clacken Joseph; Looking's Raúl Castillo; and more.