I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV!
This week we raised some tear-soaked Kleenex to FX’s “Pose,” which aired one of the most emotional, vital episodes of queer television ever made. Candy Ferocity, played by Angelica Ross, is found murdered in a shocking blow to her friends and family. But instead of falling back into “bury your gays” stereotypes, producer/writer Janet Mock and showrunner Ryan Murphy created a narrative that allowed the dead to speak and even dance while her family– made by community and by blood– laid her to rest. Mark my words, this is the hour of television that will propel Ross into the Hollywood stratosphere, and with a surprise casting announcement from Murphy, she’s already on her next step to superstardom.
“Pose” Says Goodbye To Candy Johnson Without Resorting to Harmful Queer TV Clichés
Tuesday’s episode, aptly titled “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” opens on another one of Candy’s terrible walks at the local ball. Sporting a Madonna-inspired look, complete with a bad blonde ponytail, Candy tries to strut her stuff as Pray Tell mocks her. In her own defense, Candy delivers an impassioned speech to the supportive crowd about her inner shining light. “I am a star. I know who I am. I am somebody,” she declares, despite being given low scores and some more blistering reads from Pray Tell. And though we never see Candy show the world her specialness, her words are proven true.
Candy is found murdered soon after that final ball, killed by a john in a seedy motel room. Her body is found by the maid after two days, in a chilling nod to the murder of Venus Xtravaganza, one of the stars of “Paris is Burning.” A single shot of her bruised, strangled corpse is shown, as Candy’s chosen family weeps for her. In many other shows, Candy’s horrifying death could have been swept into a Bury Your Gays disaster, serving only to further a cisgender, straight person’s storyline. But “Pose” gives Candy her voice back, choosing to focus on her story, her life and the community that loved her.
Despite previous squabbles between the houses of Ferocity, Evangelista and Wintour, Lulu, Blanca and Elektra go down to the morgue and claim Candy’s body for a proper funeral. When the mortician botches Candy’s funeral look, her friends touch up her face and fix her hair before throwing a wake to honor her. Even Candy’s biological parents, despite estrangement, come to the funeral. Throughout this long goodbye, Candy’s ghost, replete in a red dress, has a final conversation with every single friend and family member, settling old wounds and giving Candy a chance to say her piece. We close Candy’s story with the dedication of a lip sync category to her name, and a final, dream dance sequence of Candy lip syncing to Stephanie Mills’ “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” showing us that Candy Ferocity, co-mother of the House of Ferocity, is a star, and is somebody. It was as beautiful and heartbreaking as it sounds.
Why “I’ve Never Loved Like This Before” Deserves All The Primetime Emmys
While the “Pose” writers’ room purposefully avoided gratuitous violence in order for fans to become invested in the series, Season 2 has been used to speak the truth about the persistence siege of violence against trans women, in 1990 and in 2019. Thirteen trans women– Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle “Tamika” Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, Layleen Polanco and Brooklyn Lindsey— have been killed in the U.S. since January, yet their stories are often forgotten and ignored.
In an interview with Deadline, the pair recalled how they carefully planned out Season 2 with Candy’s death in mind, working closely with Ross, a black trans woman herself, to tell this story with care for Candy and every girl she represents. Instead of a dramatic blow that propels the other characters forward, the community stops and grieves in a realistic way, giving Candy back her dignity after a brutal death. She is claimed, dressed, eulogized and remembered by her chosen (and biological) family, almost loved back to life in a way, with Candy returning in spirit form to say her piece and give a final twirl on the dance floor. And that’s not even taking into account Ross’ performance, which was one of the most memorable I’ve seen in some time. Those scenes at the funeral? None of it was rehearsed, and the scene with Candy’s parents was a first take. That alone should earn Ross a Supporting Actress Primetime Emmy nomination. This amount of earnest, caring storytelling is unprecedented for a trans character on TV, and deserves a Primetime Emmy nod for its writing, star, and execution of a powerful story.
But the crowning achievement of this episode is – as it always is with “Pose” – its message to viewers. This was a rallying cry to protect trans women from the epidemic of violence that’s killing them, and a reminder to, as Ross told Out, “give [trans women] our flowers while we’re living.” “Never Knew Love Like This Before” is a reminder to love one another while we’re here to feel it, and an ode to a character who represents far too many taken before their time. And for that, it deserves every damn trophy in the Hollywood ballroom.
What’s Next For Angelica Ross? Some Groundbreaking Work on “American Horror Story”
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Last night’s episode of Pose required us all to dig deep — @janetmock as writer, myself as writer and director, but most of all our incredible leading ladies. I must applaud @angelicaross for her tour de force of a performance as Candy Abundance Ferocity. It has been a gift to watch her blossom as a true star and undeniable talent. Though she will always be our Candy, and our show suffers this incredible loss, I am elated that the world will get much more Angelica. She is joining the American Horror Story family in another unforgettable role. Congrats Angelica for making history, leaping from #PoseFX to #AHS1984. Welcome to the #AHS family!
Just a day after “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” Murphy revealed some exciting news after the devastating episode: Ross has a new gig. Murphy announced on Wednesday that the “Pose” alum will be joining the cast of “American Horror Story,” alongside Gus Kenworthy, Billie Lourd, Emma Roberts, Matthew Morrison, Leslie Grossman and more. Ross will be joining the show for its latest chapter, “American Horror Story: 1984,” which is taking inspiration from delightfully terrifying ’80s slasher films.
The move is a huge step for trans folx in the entertainment industry, as Ross becomes one of the first trans actors to secure a series regular role on two different network TV shows. As Out points out, Laverne Cox also booked two series regular TV roles, but her first role was on streaming show “Orange Is The New Black.” Ross tweeted about her excitement to join the series, noting the historic moment as thanking Murphy for creating her new character. Details on Ross’ role have, thus far, been slim, though newly released screen tests show Ross sporting a stethoscope, so perhaps she’ll be playing a doctor? With the season’s theme heading straight for guts and gore, there’s sure to be a call for a doctor, especially in that super creepy backwoods cabin. Check out the screen tests below, and let me know your guesses about her new character in the comments. One thing, however, is certain: Angelica Ross is a powerhouse performer, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the years to come.
“Pose” airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on FX. “American Horror Story: 1984” is set to premiere Sept. 18 at 10 p.m. on the same network. Check out a few first looks at the cast of characters (including Ross) above.