September 7, 2018

FX Series ‘Pose’ Brings to Life HIV History Through Black and Latinx Characters

Written by George Kevin Jordan

It didn’t take long for Pose, the Sunday night FX series created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, to achieve critical acclaim and become a cultural hit among black and Latinx LGBT communities (although overall ratings have been modest). Set in 1987 New York City, the show is rich with music, shoulder pads, and ’80s nostalgia. But to truly understand the show’s significance, you need only see a pivotal scene from the pilot episode.

In it, Blanca Rodriguez (played by Mj Rodriguez) sits and asks for her medical results. She is stoic and reserved as the doctor says, “Blanca the test confirms that you have HIV.” After a long silence, Blanca thanks the woman and tries to dash for the exit. The doctor manages to slow her down. She offers pamphlets, talks about AZT (Retrovir, zidovudine) treatment, and offers what she probably thinks are consoling words.

“This doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” the doctor says.

Blanca glares back, not a tear in sight, and says, “Isn’t it though.”

What is remarkable about this scene is not just the acting, which is powerful and subdued, but also that the protagonist is working with something you don’t see much on TV: She is a character living with HIV. Pose, for all the accolades about its set and clothes, pulled a media coup by having an HIV-positive transgender Latinx character on the screen when representation of LGBTQ people is burgeoning at best. And for people living with HIV, it’s almost nonexistent. In episode 4, it is revealed that Pray Tell, played by Billy Porter, is HIV positive, as well.

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