“I don’t want Pose to just be a moment. I want Pose to be a movement,” says Steven Canals. We’re speaking with the co-creator and executive producer about the legacy of the breakout LGBTQ+ drama, which has revolutionised inclusivity and diversity on television with the largest transgender cast in history. Since Pose premiered in 2018, the show has received unanimous praise and various accolades including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor, which made Billy Porter the first openly gay Black man to be nominated for and win in an Emmy leading category.
Although Pose is arguably at its peak in acclaim and – with a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes – popularity, it was announced earlier this year that the third season, which debuted in the US in May, would be its last. As one of the only shows on television dedicated to authentically telling the stories of Black and Brown queer and trans people, the news left Pose viewers across the world in a state of mourning.
“We always knew that the end of the series was going to be 1995/96 when HIV/AIDS stops being a clear death sentence,” Steven explains. “We didn’t necessarily know how long it would take us to get there, but I think once we went into the writer’s room for season three, it just became abundantly clear to me that the end goal was in our eyeline.”
Here, we speak with Steven about his and co-creator Ryan Murphy’s decision to conclude the beloved drama, the impact he wants Pose to have on the industry moving forward, and why he’s so desperate to direct and write the X-Men reboot for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Steven, I think I speak on behalf of every single Pose fan out there when I say that Blanca getting into nursing school was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
[Laughs] I love that! I know. Her getting into school is similar to Damon applying and getting into dance school. You root for these characters and want to see them do well. I had the same reaction. I got really teary watching the premiere and I wrote it! Watching that moment of her going in and getting the application, it’s like, ‘Oh, Blanca!’
Season three is the end for Pose. Was it always intended to end after three?
Ryan Murphy was always really vocal about what we saw as the endgame. That was something Ryan and I discussed when we first met. We always knew that the end of the series was going to be 1995/96 when HIV/AIDS stops being a clear death sentence. As much as our show is a family drama, it’s an investigation into HIV/AIDS and the ways that it impacted Black and Brown queer and trans people living in New York. We didn’t necessarily know how long it would take us to get there, but I think once we went into the writer’s room for season three, it just became abundantly clear to me that the end goal was in our eyeline. I didn’t want to be that person who stays at the party too long where everybody’s like, ‘You’re still here? What are you doing?’ I just feel like, ‘There’s the ending. I see it. It’s right in arm’s reach, so why pivot and make a right turn as opposed to going straight into it?’ We have a very discerning, loyal and faithful audience who I love to call our “Pose fam”, and I felt like they would be able to tell that we gave you a season just for the sake of giving you a season, and that we were avoiding the inevitable. The other thing is that intention is so important when it comes to narrative; what the show is about, what the show is and who these characters are. This is gonna sound very writerly, but the characters talk to you. Here’s the truth, let me say it plainly and clearly: two of our main characters, being Blanca and Pray Tell, are HIV positive. A large part of storytelling is drama, is your characters being in conflict. We’ve seen both of our characters get ill and be in the hospital. So, there’s only so many times you can make that narrative choice before the audience is like, ‘That again?’ Knowing what we were barrelling towards in terms of our endgame, it felt like, ‘We can’t keep telling the same story beats over and over again.’
Do you have an affinity to a specific Pose character when you’re writing?
I absolutely have a favourite, and that is without a doubt Blanca. In our writer’s room, we each have a character that we track, if you will. We may not necessarily always write every scene for that character, but at least in the writer’s room, we’re the encyclopaedia for that particular character. I’m very much invested in her success, happiness and safety. I’m always thinking about her and her journey and who she is as a person.
Would you move a trunk with a dead body in for Blanca?
I literally tweeted this after the episode aired! I was like, ‘Everyone needs a Blanca in their life because this sis will take a risk for you!’ I would not. I love my best friends but I do not know if I will be moving a dead body for them! She is truly a ride or die. The only person I would maybe do that for is my sister. Even that I’m like… It’ll be a long conversation. I love that Blanca is down for her people. She is gonna show up for the people who matter the most to her. I aspire to be as good a human as she is.