TV powerhouse producer Ryan Murphy has long been an advocate for underserved communities within the entertainment industry, but with his latest FX show Pose — about the New York trans community in the ’80s —he’s pushed for further inclusivity, hiring five trans women of color as series regulars, and over 100 trans actors and crew members for this project that was “joyous and amazing” to create. Making the show has, he said, “without question been the highlight of my career”.
Murphy was speaking during a panel discussion that included Janet Mock, the first trans woman of color to ever direct a television show. Following the screening of the episode she directed, title Love is the Message, Mock described how Murphy had pushed to give her the opportunity.
“Directing was never on my list of things,” she said. “I didn’t think it was a possibility.” But having read her memoir, Redefining Realness, Murphy approached her and insisted she should direct the show.
“How I got here was through writing about myself, through telling the truth, through committing to telling my story–a story I hadn’t yet seen,” Mock said. “My book is the first book I’ve ever seen written by a trans person of color, in terms of trans memoir. So that’s how all started. And I think that book got to Ryan in some way, and he saw something there, and he said, ‘Leave the world of books and come to TV’.”
“I’d known of Janet’s writing and thought she was a wonderful writer and we were putting together this world,” Murphy said. “I always say ‘Janet Mock for president’ because she is that kind of person.”
While the audience cheered, Mock laughed and said, “No thank you.”
After explaining that he and co-EP Brad Falchuk pulled a Trump character they’d originally intended for the show, “because nobody wants to see that f**k every week”, Murphy said he related to the feelings of the characters of Pose for several reasons, including knowing what it’s like to have doors slammed in your face.
“Just when you think you’re safe, just when you think the world has changed,” he said, “and you have Obama as a president, and you have marriage legalization…just when you think you’re in the door, the door slams in your face. And gay people know that feeling, we’ve had it our whole lives.”
He said the Steven Canals-created Pose had also appealed to his favored themes of identity and community. “I like exploring those themes of, ‘I’m somebody, I matter, I want to belong to a community, I’m not going to hide even though sometimes I have to hide,'” he said.
For Mock, directing an episode with those themes also held a great deal of personal resonance. “I put a lot of that [her experience] back into this show,” she said. “A lot of the conversations that the women have about their desires, their dreams, their bodies, love, hope, romance, all of that stuff, is channeled through my experience. All the things I didn’t have, Angel (Indya Moore) has access to.”
Describing the process of making Pose as “very moving”, Murphy said it meant so much to him he’d decided to donate all his profits back into the community; to trans and LGBTQ non-profit organizations. In addition, Murphy has been running his Half Foundation, an equality initiative, for more than two years.
“For so long the business has been controlled by straight white men over 50,” he said, “who like to reward and mentor the vision that they see, which is themselves…The right thing is the word ‘half’. Half women, half men, that’s the way it should be. so I created this thing called the Half initiative, and the idea is that half of the directorial slots are women, minorities, gay people. And actually I think in our company now it’s 65%, and it’s been an amazing thing and it’s also not hard to do.”