Essential Cultural References You May Have Missed in “Pose” Season One

Written by | Entertainment

Billy Porter

Did you pick up on references to Paris is Burning, the House of Labeija, Donald Trump and others in our favorite new show of 2018?

Ryan Murphy’s Pose may be the crown jewel in a career already bedazzled with countless successes. We give its divine debut season (which recently aired its finale) tens across the board, and while we anxiously wait for Season Two, we wanted to offer a look back at some impressive facts and important cultural references that helped shape the world of FX’s latest daring drama.

Pose May Be Most Diverse Production Ever

If you already haven’t run into the buzz surrounding the cast of Pose, then you are missing half the story. Pose has more transgender cast members than any other show currently on television, and it is at the forefront of modeling that way film and television can more authentically represent trans people of color on screen. Even as other studios get tangled up in casting issues related to trans characters (Jeffrey Tambor, anyone?), Pose is doing it with grace and makes it look easy. The success of the show not only proves that Pose knows how to tell a great story about the LGBTQ community but also how genuine casting (e.g casting trans people of color to play trans people of color) can improve a production. This commitment to diversity extends behind the scenes, as well: for example, director Janet Mock has been recognized as the first trans woman of color credited with directing for television.

Paris Is Still Burning

The story of Pose might be fictional, but the world in which it is set was a very real community in 1980s New York City. From the first glimpse, it was apparent that Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning — was a jumping off point for the project, and in many ways the film has helped provide a framework for the show. You can find references to the documentary all over the first season — from Pray Tell’s its excellent soundtrack to the vogueing executed on the floor. From Willie Ninja’s iconic shoulder moves to the central presence of Diana Ross playing in the hall, Pose recreates the culture of Paris is Burning in a way that pays tribute to our LGBTQ family who came before us. (By the way, if you’re dying to strike your own poses to the show’s soundtrack, you can now find it on Spotfiy.) But it’s also worth noting that the ballroom scene did not end with the era portrayed in either Pose or Paris Burning; it is still active on an international level to the present day.

Ballroom Royalty and Legendary Houses

The world of Pose is heavily decorated with people, references, and names that are still iconic to the ballroom scene. While the show’s runway competitions were giving you life, you may have missed a few familiar faces in the background. That’s because — in order to make the show more authentic — Ryan Murphy enlisted many people from the actual ballroom scene to help with the show’s production. On the judges panel through the season, you can find Hector Xtravaganza, Freddie Pendavis, Twiggy Pucci Garcon, Michael Roberson, and Sol Williams (among many others). You might even have recognized some of the names mentioned in the show such as the houses of Xtravaganza, Pendavis, Mugler, Labejia — and some of their current house members were also working the floor.

The Presence of Donald Trump

This one isn’t too hidden if you’ve been paying attention to the show, but the presence of Donald Trump permeates the show’s eight episodes in both evident and more subtle ways. Angel Evangelista’s love interest Stan (Evan Peters) not only works for Trump, but the culture surrounding that organization (and the dramatic irony of knowing where it will eventually lead in 2016) often feels foreboding. Of course, the era of Pose was a time when Donald Trump was merely a New York real estate tycoon — envied for his apparent wealth and influence, certainly, but it was long before anyone dreamed it would one day lead to a seat in the Oval Office. The tension between Angel and Stan trying to maintain a relationship at the intersection of queer and yuppie culture foreshadows a socio-political divide that would continue to deepen into the chasm that exists here and now.

Want more Pose? Here’s what we think the show has to say to the youth of today.
Five Things We Want to See in “Pose” Season Two

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Last modified: August 1, 2018