With yesterday’s Emmy nominations announcement, Mj Rodriguez made history as the first out trans woman to be nominated for a major acting honour for her role as Blanca, on FX’s ballroom culture period drama Pose. It’s progress from the often-stagnant Television Academy, seven years after Laverne Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated in Primetime Emmy history for her supporting role on Orange is the New Black. Gone are the days of giving Jeffrey Tambor, a cisgender man, three back-to-back nominations (and two wins) for portraying a trans woman. We’re telling stories the way they’re supposed to be told and it’s finally catching Ms. Emmy’s eye.
Reacting to her first nomination, Mj tells Deadline she finally feels seen: “I’m grateful that people can really see my human existence and they can see what I have to offer the world through art. I love what I do and that I represent every intersectionality of my being a trans artist who identifies as a woman and being Black and Latina… I hope through my win they see that they can do it too.”
This isn’t the first time Pose has made history. Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy in the lead actor category following the show’s first season. He scored his third nomination yesterday, along with a Best Drama nod for the series. But Billy actually faced backlash from the LGBTQ+ community after his win in 2019. Pose tells the story of the Black and Latinx queer and gender-nonconforming communities of New York City’s underground ballroom scene of the 80s and 90s and Porter is one member of an ensemble cast. The show has been lifted to the level of Emmy recognition by a talented group of trans women, but they’ve been overlooked by the Academy while he was honoured. And he made matters worse after winning the Emmy, when asked how he felt about his co-stars being ignored.
Billy basically told them to wait their turn, because at the time the show was renewed for a second season and “they’ll get their shot”, fumbling a moment where he could have shown allyship to the trans community or, at the very least, some allegiance to his co-stars. I think Billy wanted a moment to revel in his win after 30 years in the business instead of immediately reflecting on his costars, most of whom were working their first major gig on Pose. But that doesn’t excuse what he said. And the next year, when he was nominated again and none of his co-stars were, he had to rethink telling them to wait their turn. In an Instagram post, he admitted that as Black gay man who struggled in the entertainment industry for three decades, he knows the pain of being overlooked and understands that this show means more to them than he could ever imagine.
This year, Pose wrapped its final season and started campaigning hard for their trans players in the Emmy race — specifically Mj Rodriguez, who’s emerged as the linchpin and heart of the series. I’m happy she’s getting her moment. This is the perfect sendoff for a show that’s done so much for LGBTQ+ and specifically trans representation, not only on screen but across all media. These Black and Brown trans women are appearing on mainstream magazine covers, walking high fashion runways and using their platforms to advocate for trans rights. The show made Emmys history in their first season with Billy Porter and they’re book-ending the final season with the first trans woman to be nominated in a lead role. The show is leaving a legacy on and off screen.
Most importantly Pose, with the largest transgender cast in scripted TV history, has proved that trans actors deserve top billing and queer stories of love and loss are relatable. I know, shocking. It’s incredibly sad to see Pose ending after only three seasons but we get to follow the careers of these rising stars, like Mj, who’s already booked a gig opposite Maya Rudolph. How many people have working with Maya on their bucket list? Per Deadline, the untitled half-hour comedy series for Apple TV+ follows Rudolph’s character Molly, who’s seemingly perfect life is upended after her husband leaves her with nothing but $87 billion and Rodriguez’s character Sofia is a hard-working executive director of a non-profit funded by her absentee billionaire boss – Molly, obviously.
If anyone else wants to book Mj, they better send her their scripts now because her rate is going UP.