What I’m Watching: Pose

Yep, another instance of being among the last to catch onto something. Not long ago I talked here about It’s a Sin, which reflects life for the LGBT+ community at the end of the 80s in London. When I mentioned watching it, someone suggested I check out Pose. So I did, originally on Netflix, then on Disney+ when it moved, and now via BBC for the final series.

If you haven’t watched it yet, definitely change that. Pose is beautiful, and heart wrenching, and powerful, and infuriating. It’s set in late 80s/early 90s New York, focused on the ball culture and the gay and trans community who created Ballroom, and the evolution during the AIDs crisis and the consumer capitalist culture that really took hold over this period.

More specifically, the series focuses on the House of Evangelista, as Blanca starts her own House, breaking away from Mother Elektra. This is a series about family as much as anything else, as Blanca urges her children to reach higher than they even thought possible. Through the three series, we see their highs and lows, and we see the various barriers holding them back for being Black, Latino, gay, trans, uneducated, poor, or HIV positive.

Pose puts these stories front and centre, tackling the issues they faced as well as the rise of Ballroom, the way ‘tourists’ appeared almost overnight and disappeared just as quickly. We see various characters get diagnosed with HIV, and we see the constant stream of memorial services, the exhaustion, the disregard, the difficulty at all stages with just being treated with dignity and respect.

It’s constantly made clear this is a community, in every sense of the word. When one falls down, the others rally around to help them get back up. They fight and squabble, and compete against each other for trophies, but at the end of the day, they also look out for each other, and join ranks when needed.

I have to admit, there was a part of the first series that really annoyed me. At the end of every episode, when the credits come up, the first name is Evan Peters. And that’s the same if you look at the cast on Wikipedia, even though he’s only in the first series, and he’s more a part of Angel’s arc than having his own – we don’t even, ultimately, get to see what happens to him!

She deserves much, much better, anyway…

Thankfully by the time we get to season 2, Evan Peters is gone – an actor who I usually like, but honestly was just so annoying and whiny in this – and the true star of the series is the first name in the credits. Honestly, across the board the acting here is bloody fantastic, allowing the viewer to get completely caught up in the characters and storylines.

The costumes are gorgeous, the women are stunning, and it really plays with the contrast with in and outside the Ballroom. But where this really succeeds is in its honest, unflinching depiction of AIDs, of discussions around having sex while positive, to showing scenes in the ward of men at various stages. It shows the nastiness of the disease, while also portraying how many people lived with it and carried on with life as normal.

It’s also really honest in the way it deals with families – both biological and not. Their community is made up of families, and the community is, in itself, a large family, but the series also shows characters falling out with their blood relatives, being kicked out of homes, struggling with wanting to reconnect and being unable to, or having that reconnection come too late. It doesn’t shy away from the more nasty, gritty actions of parents and siblings, but it isn’t all in a bad light either, as some relatives admit their mistakes but know they’ll never get a chance again.

I have to admit, since I’ve started season three, I’ve slowed down in my watching. Pose remains as excellent as always, but I’ve cried on and off enough through the first two seasons to think I won’t cry during the last and also, I kind of don’t want it to end. But if you haven’t checked this out yet, remedy that – it’s heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time, with important, powerful, real stories at the centre.

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