‘Pose’ Producer Janet Mock Talks Groundbreaking FX Drama, Looks Ahead to Season 2

Activist and writer made her foray into TV with Ryan Murphy series, becoming the first trans woman of color to write and direct an episode of television

Last Updated: July 24, 2018 @ 10:43 AM

“Pose,” FX’s groundbreaking drama, wraps its first season on Sunday night, capping off an all too-brief run as not only a landmark achievement in trans representation on television, but also as one of the most widely praised dramas on the air.

A period drama set against backdrop of the legendary ballroom scene of 1980s New York City, “Pose” follows a cast predominantly of trans women of color — a first for mainstream TV — as they navigate life on the fringes of society, carving out a space for themselves where they can celebrate each other and build a community.

The first season of the Ryan Murphy-produced series largely focused on the rise of the House of Evangelista, founded by upstart house mother Blanca Evangelista (MJ Rodriguez), an HIV-positive trans woman trying to leave her mark on the world by uplifting others. Heading into the finale, Blanca and House of Evangelista will face one final obstacle — a make-or-break showdown at the annual Princess Ball where the coveted “Mother of the Year” prize will be decided.

Season 2, though, will be an opportunity to explore storylines outside of Evangelista’s rise and dig even deeper into the show’s central characters, says producer Janet Mock.

“We have a lot of worlds we haven’t even gotten into yet. We haven’t seen so many of their workplaces, for example,” Mock said in an interview with TheWrap. “So the second season will be largely about expanding them beyond the ballroom and the safe space of the House of Evangelista.”

Mock, a longtime writer and trans activist, made her first foray into television with the project, initially signing on to join the writers room, only to find her involvement grow even deeper throughout the season.

After the pilot, she was upped to producer, credited as a writer on nearly half the season’s episodes, and was asked by Murphy to direct the show’s sixth episode, becoming the first trans woman of color to write and direct an episode of television.

“On ‘Pose,’ we almost take for granted that we go to set everyday and there are trans people in front of the camera and behind the camera, creating a world in which trans women of color are centered in this way,” she said. “That’s a rare gift. I’ve never been part of a project like that. Professionally, it’s been really, really rewarding, but personally it’s been so much more of a gift.”

Read TheWrap’s full interview with Mock below.

Pose Dominique Jackson

JoJo Whilden/FX

TheWrap: Now that “Pose” has been renewed for a second season, do you have an idea of what you might want it look like?

Mock: I think we’re just going to go deeper into the characters’ stories and their connections. Broadening the world will be a bigger part of our focus next season. The first season really was about Blanca’s journey, to be honest. Her journey to break out of the House of Abundance to create a home and a house and a legacy for herself that will last, as she’s facing her death — that sense of terror, that sense of vitality, that urgency. I don’t think we’ll concentrate as much next season on her wanting to establish herself as a mother. I think next season will focus more on her as a woman in the world, trying to grapple with being an HIV-positive trans woman in the world.

Are there any characters or storylines you saw in the first season that you’d really want to explore more?

Yeah, we have a big cast so there’s a lot we can go into, and we have a lot of worlds we haven’t even gotten into yet. We haven’t seen so many of their workplaces, for example. We haven’t really seen Lulu, who works in a strip club. What does that look like for her as a young trans woman? We haven’t even gone as deep as we could on Lil Papi’s journey. What does that look like when you’re young and you’ve been pushed out of homes and intolerant schools that don’t serve you? What does it mean to try to re-engage in that world? So the second season will be largely about expanding them beyond the ballroom and the safe space of the House of Evangelista.

Pose MJ Rodriguez

JoJo Whilden/FX

What was it like making the transition into writing, producing and directing for TV for the first time?

Well, I haven’t had to go to an office in, what, six years? So that alone was a big shift for me [Laughs]. But having to have coworkers and work as part of a team was something I haven’t had to do in such a long time. So that alone was such a big change. And I was surprised by how much the series really took over my life. I came on as just a writer in the room, I wasn’t planning on becoming a producer or a director or writing three of the episodes. So for me, I was just surprised by the depth of my involvement in the end and how impactful it would be in terms of my own life.

Then having it go out to my community was a whole other level of it. Having it be so well received was great affirmation for taking that risk and letting it sideline all other projects. It was a great gamble for me. I just saw how impactful visual media can be, when people sit and watch parts of themselves, or a reflection of themselves. On “Pose” we almost take for granted that we go to set everyday and there are trans people in front of the camera and behind the camera, creating a world in which trans women of color are centered in this way. And that’s a rare gift. I’ve never been part of a project like that. Professionally, it’s been really, really rewarding, but personally it’s been so much more of a gift.

Pose Billy Porter

JoJo Whilden/FX

Are there any specific instances you can think of where having trans people so heavily involved at every step in the process really made a difference in the final product?

Every part of our process was like that. We can’t forget that Dominique Jackson, who plays Elektra on our series, is such an icon in the ballroom scene, and she’s been a mother forever. There were so many times where she’d see something, whether it was in a ballroom scene or outside of the ballroom, where things weren’t quite right. For example, in the writers’ room we framed Show World as a place where women out of the prime were engaged in this space. But she said no, this is a glamorous place were only the cream of the crop were able to make money. We wouldn’t have had that if she didn’t know Octavia St. Laurent, who worked in Show World for many years. So it was great to have those insights — and not just about the trans stuff, but about the world of late-1980s New York City, and what that was like for the women navigating those spaces.

There were also little technicalities within the ballroom scenes where our consultants would come in and let us know we had it wrong. I was really adamant about making sure we featured trans men in one of the categories in my episode, but some of the period language would not have jived with how we see transmasculinity today. So I made the decision to not name the category, and just have trans men in the world. So we had it included without having to name it with the problematic language of the time. There were little moments like that where we had to lean on our consultants and have them help us tell the story more accurately while trying to balance that with the way times have changed and language has changed.

Did you run into that problem a lot, having to walk the line between faithful to the period and appropriate for modern-day sensibilities? How do you find that balance?

Well, language shifts and changes. For example, STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries [an LGBT advocacy group founded by activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson]. If anyone called a trans person a “transvestite” today, that would be deeply offensive. Trans men walked at balls but they were called “male impersonators.” So we would never use that word today, call them impersonators, but they were there. They were part of the scene, it’s just the language that was used back then was deeply, deeply problematic. So we have to be respectful of the period, but we don’t want to put out dated language that would make people in our community feel as though they aren’t being seen or represented in the proper light.

Pose Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross

JoJo Whilden/FX

What is your experience with the ballroom scene?

Like many people, my first experience with it was largely through “Paris Is Burning,” Jennie Livingston’s documentary about the ball scene in the same time period where we placed “Pose.” I watched that on a loop, and just felt so many different mixed emotions. It probably was one of the many reasons I chose to move to New York City. It made it seem as if it was a space in which you can go and create yourself and find family and a home. Those were the great parts of it, but there were also great sadness and traumas within it. One part that really bothered me was the lack of exploration around Venus Xtravaganza’s death and how it was used as an ender without really discussing what’s next. And where did she come from? What did her family think? Did they even know she died? There were so many unanswered questions.

So for me, coming for grad school, I was able to link up in people in the ballroom scene. I was going to latex ball and seeing a room full of low-income people of color gathering and living out their fantasies and their dreams. To say that if we were given our opportunities, this would be possible for us. To be seen as an executive or as a beautiful woman in the world. To be accepted. From there, as I was able to share my story and become part of the community in a more outward way, I was able to meet people like Twiggy Pucci Garcon, who is one of the consultants on our series, and Jonovia Chase, Dominique Jackson, and all these people who became part of my life and invited me to those spaces.

Now that you have one season under your belt, is directing and producing something you hope to do more in the future?

Yeah, I already have a couple directing jobs lined up, and I’ll be doing the same in season 2. It’s just another way that I get to tell stories. You know, I didn’t know that I was TV writer until I did it, and the same thing with directing. And so, it’s just another point in which I’m doing that. I think I’ll also continue to work on my own stories. I have another couple projects in development right now, and I’m just glad that I can continue to be a director and help bring them even closer to my own vision.

Pose Indya Moore

Sarah Shatz/FX

The season finale of “Pose” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on FX.