Janet Mock’s directorial debut is one for the history books.
The writer, TV host, and transgender rights advocate directed the most recent episode of FX’s Pose, titled “Love Is The Message,” and it marks the first time a transgender woman of color has ever directed a television show. Mock has also been the first trans woman of color to write for a major television show.
Set in the late 1980s, Pose focuses on life and society in New York City’s ballroom culture. Even before the series premiered the show already made headlines for assembling the largest cast of transgender actors or color on screen during a project. At its core, Pose works because it’s one of the few examples of trans and queer people feeling joy and celebrating themselves, despite the hardships that come with identifying as LGBTQ.
Mock was a writer and producer, but directing was never an ambition for her.
“Steven [Canals] and I were having intense conversations with Ryan [Murphy] about making sure that the people directing the episodes represented, in some capacity, an intersection of the identities that were onscreen. [Ryan] directed episodes one and two, which he usually does for every single one of his shows [to] set the tone for the series,” she says in an interview with them. “We wanted to make sure that women of color, women, queer people, and trans folk are actually directors, because directors set the tone for everything!”
There was also intentionality in taking care to present race as an important aspect of the show and the characters’ identities. As Mock says: “The ballroom is a black and brown space before it’s a trans and queer space. So you can’t just say we have this great trans and queer show, you have to add in the layer of the race stuff… had to be very clear that a white trans girl’s experience is very different than a black trans girl’s experience — especially a black trans girl that’s struggling with economic resources in 1980’s New York City.”
“So we gave Elektra (Dominique Jackson’s character) more pointed lines about whiteness, or Angel (Indya Moore) started calling Stan (Evan Peters) a white suburban boy. We had to put that stuff in there.”
In his speech at this year’s VH1 Trailblazer Honors, Ryan Murphy spoke about working with Mock, and how he pushed her towards the director’s chair. “I said, ’No, Janet, you have to direct. You have to!’ And she wasn’t sure, and I pushed her and pushed her. She did it… And I’m so honored and thrilled to say that it [her episode] is perhaps the best hour of television in my entire career that I have been associated with.”
“And I say, to Janet, thank you and I’m in awe of you.”