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‘Pose’ Co-Creator Steven Canals Says Show’s Legacy Is ‘Not Just a Moment,’ It Is ‘a Movement’

The category is: the end of an era

The series finale of “Pose” Sunday night has evoked some bittersweet feelings from the iconic show’s co-creator, writer and director, Steven Canals. Reflecting on its significance in breaking barriers for LGBTQ and people of color in representation on-screen and paving the way ahead for others, he tells TheWrap, “‘Pose’ was not just a moment; ‘Pose’ is a movement.”

“The reality is ‘Pose’ was created (and) born out of a need. Now with ‘Pose’ ending, I would hope that all the content creators of the world would say, ‘OK, you know, this show is ending, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get to have our stories anymore,'” Canals said. “There are so many narratives within our community that need to be told. And now is the time to start telling them.”

The show’s final season ends with a roar during this year’s LGBTQ Pride Month, and there couldn’t be a more apt time considering that the queer community didn’t get to publicly celebrate last year because of the coronavirus pandemic — which also shut down the “Pose” set. After going dark for six months in 2020, the show was able to wrap this year.

Canals — co-created the FX show with Janet Mock, Our Lady J, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck — told TheWrap that while he’s sad it has to end (and noted it definitely could have gone on another season), he’s also extraordinarily proud of how “Pose” comes to a close.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Warning: Season 3 and finale spoilers ahead!

How did it feel wrapping the finale of “Pose”?

It feels… interesting. It’s bittersweet. On one end, I’m really sad to let the characters go, but on the other side, I am so excited for people to see it. I’m so proud of the work not just this season, but the entire series. I’m really, really, really proud of my work and especially proud of the finale. With the cast and crew and everybody it really was a communal effort. We all, for six months, brought our A-game to every episode. The season finale for me, it just feels like a culmination of all of that work.

What do you hope the show’s legacy will be?

The reality is “Pose” was created (and) born out of a need. Now with “Pose” ending, I would hope that all the content creators of the world would say, ‘OK, you know, this show is ending, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get to have our stories anymore.’

I think the easiest way for me to articulate it is “Pose” was not just a moment; “Pose” is a movement. I hope that coming out of this we’ll just continue to see more “Pose”s — and that doesn’t mean more shows specifically about ballroom; it doesn’t even mean specifically more shows about people living with HIV/AIDS. There are so many narratives within our community that need to be told. And now is the time to start telling them, absolutely.

“Pose” broke barriers for LGBTQ, Black and Latinx representation on-screen. Do you think it’ll leave a void in queer TV once Season 3 ends?

I agree that, you know, there definitely will be a void. Obviously, it will be a lot less queer (and) trans people of color on television, and there will be a significantly less number of trans people on television across race and ethnicity. I hope that all of the people out there, especially LGBTQIA+ individuals who are content creators who are aspiring to be in Hollywood or already have broken in, that they will identify that gap and then use their voices to create narratives that fill it.

When I wrote the first draft of “Pose” at the tail end of 2013 going into 2014, I did an assessment of the television landscape, you know, and what I was able to glean was that television at that time was being dominated by straight, white, cisgender male anti-heroes. It was “Mad Men,” it was “Breaking Bad.” All those shows are great. But the reality is that we as queer (or) trans people, we weren’t really on television, we’re not taking up space. And if you happen to also be Black or Latin, you really weren’t going to see you anywhere.

Would having “Pose” (or a show like it) to watch when you were younger have changed your life?

For us, what was so critically important was just to be a beacon of possibility for our audience who’s often never seen (this). My own experience as a queer person growing up in the Bronx — as a young, queer Afro-Latin person growing up in the Bronx, in the ’80 and ’90s — I really didn’t see myself reflected back in film and television. And so I never knew, it didn’t even occur to me that I’d aspire to be in the position that I am in now as a storyteller. There was no one in my community who was working in Hollywood. I grew up in housing projects in the Bronx, right? So how powerful would it have been for me as a kid to have watched content where I could see myself reflected back, doing things that I’m often told by the greater culture aren’t possibilities for me? That would have changed everything. So I carry that with me.

What was the importance of introducing ACT UP in Season 3?

That organization is working to end the AIDS pandemic. What I love is that their focus was around the lives of people with AIDS, to create intervention to aid people who are living with HIV. They continue to do that work, which is so important. Obviously, the beginning of our series is Blanca finding out that she is HIV-positive. It was really important to end the series on a story that is focused on that journey and on that fight that we are still in to find the cure.

I always knew that the end of the show would be the release of the (HIV/AIDS) cocktail. That was something I talked to Ryan Murphy about. Our very first conversation, we always knew that would be the end. We always left it open to how long it would take for us to get to that endpoint and it just so happens we’ve reached it in three seasons. It wasn’t until the second season that I landed on Pray Tell’s death — that would be the loss, you know, that loss would come from a sacrifice.

Did global events make you rethink the direction of “Pose” Season 3?

I think it was really important for us to tell that story. It would have been important regardless, but it became all the more important after our third season was shut down because of another global pandemic. You know, it just made the story, that fight for support as a community all the more important because, once again, you know, we are dealing with a global pandemic, and we are seeing our community being disproportionately affected and impacted by it.

To see so many working-class, specifically Black and Latin people, dealing with COVID-19 (and) all of the loss of life affect everyone globally, you know, in the same way that HIV AIDS has for 40 years now. So it was really critically important for all of us to tell that story. And it’s really timely because we have made those decisions to do the series and then to tell that narrative prior to COVID-19…We’d already written about half the season — I think we were four episodes of the season (in) — when COVID-19 hit and we were shut down. We were only in production a week, and we had to shut everything down for six months.

But the reality is, we were already on that trajectory. I know a lot of people will assume that we changed the narrative, and we made certain choices because of what was happening in the world. But the truth is, no. We had already made those choices. Seeing what happened over the past year with COVID-19, with all of the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I think, for us it just confirmed the urgency of the story we were telling.

Billy Porter (Pray Tell) recently disclosed he’s HIV-positive. Were you aware of this during filming?

I believe that this was something that I was aware of. He disclosed that to me at the very beginning of filming the pilot, before we were ever picked up to series, and it was one of the only times that we’ve ever talked about it. I never told anyone because, obviously, that’s his personal information. It wasn’t something that I talk about publicly. I just kind of compartmentalized it; that’s private information. And he’s going to share that with whomever he wants to share it with. I had no idea that I was one of only a handful of people he ever told.

We didn’t talk about his status again until we were just about to embark on filming the finale. Obviously, Billy was working through a lot while playing Pray Tell throughout the three seasons, but especially this last season, where we leaned very heavily into Pray Tell’s being HIV-positive. So (he and) I had a really great conversation just before we went into the finale, where we talked about healing, and he knew I was going to be directing the finale. It was important for me to just offer support, not just as his director as a colleague, but also as a friend.

The last thing I wanted was any of our cast — Billy or with our ladies who happen to be having a trans experience — I don’t want them to be traumatized. I know that we’re asking them to go through really scary places. And, you know, they’re having to make choices as actors based on the story that we’re creating. And some of those narratives overlap with their personal experiences. Working with Billy this season, and more specifically on the finale, it was really important for him to know, ‘I’ve got your back on here, if you ever need support, if something ever feels like it’s too much, you just need to let me know.’

As a writer, where did you envision the characters ending up after “Pose” ends, especially Blanca Evangelista?

I’d love to think that Blanca and Christopher got married. I would assume they probably have a couple of kids. I think Blanca’s someone who will just always have kids around. She might be, 10 or 15 years down the line, like, ‘You know, I’ve done this nursing thing for a bit and maybe now I want to go back to school and become a doctor.’ Blanca’s journey — if you go back to the pilot when she said, ‘I always knew I wouldn’t be on this earth long’ — her whole journey throughout the series was always about leaving a lasting legacy. In that last scene when she’s talking to Swan and giving her advice mother-to-mother, we know, just like Pray Tell voiced that earlier in the episode, that she has had a lasting impact on this community. So I think that Blanca is one of those people who is just always going to continue to reinvent, continue to dream and accomplish new goals.

The “Pose” series finale airs June 6 at 10 p.m. PT/EST on FX.