Pose is a fictional television series depicting the New York ball community in late 80s (season 1) and early 90s (season 2). The show has real life trans and gender non-conforming actors and several of the behind the scenes crew – directors, writers, consultants, choreographers etc are from within the lgbtq community. Several of stories lines were inspired by the documentary Paris Is Burning. In fact, on IMDB the director of Paris is Burning, Jennie Livingston, is listed as a consulting producer on the show.
It felt like the first season was for the community. To give people a chance to see black/brown gay and trans people on screen as fully formed three dimensional characters with dreams, hopes and desires. The characters experienced pain, disappointment and drama but the harsher possibilities – physical violence and death – weren’t weaved into the story lines. As a viewer, I got nervous whenever one of the girls went to work on the piers or had an argument with a boyfriend.
Season two felt a little grittier. Madonna’s Vogue hit the charts and suddenly middle class white women – who had no idea this world existed – want to learning how to dance like the ball kids. Scouts are now showing up to balls looking to snag dancers for auditions. Community-wise the feeling is “finally the world will see us and give us the respect (and $$) we are worth.” Opportunity is in the air, but so is violence and death this time around.
I guess the writers felt it would be unrealistic if another season went by without showing violence and its impact on the community.
What I found interesting about the second season was the emphasis on Vogue as the sole reason that members of the community thought they would finally be embraced by the mainstream. In reality, many members of the ballroom community thought they were on the verge of stardom because a filmmaker – Jenny Livingston – was making a documentary about them. Many people featured in Paris Is Burning thought that they were going to receive money from the film. The film, which was released a year after Vogue, was a success that received plenty of acclaim and criticism. Unfortunately, the financial success did not trickle down, leaving many disappointed.
Imagine if in season one of Pose a character or two had mentioned an outsider to the community coming in to record their stories and film the balls…
One of the performers in Paris Is Burning, Pepper Labeija, offered this criticism of the film: “I do think that Jennie missed the point that there is life after the ball. She didn’t let people know that this is a hobby, not a whole life. We don’t all stand on the pier and vogue all night.”
Though it is fiction, Pose does what Paris Is Burning does not: shows there is life outside of the ball. This is what happens when people from within the community have some input and control over the media depicting it.
I wonder what direction the third season of Pose is going to take. Secretly, I hope that they pull a Bobby Ewing with Candy – but that’s unlikely.