I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s Queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV.
Happy Pride! In years past, I’ve celebrated Pride by reminiscing on the rainbow characters that have inspired me; in fact, my very first article for Awards Circuit was my ultimate Top Ten list of LGBTQIA+ characters on TV (R.I.P., “Sense8” and “Orphan Black”). But instead of re-watching my old faves, I have two queer TV loves catching my attention and my screen-time this glorious June. FX’s “Pose” and Netflix’s “Tales of the City,” though set in different cities, time periods and circumstances, both have reminded me of the strength, resilience and fierceness of our rainbow communities. Here’s why “Pose” and “Tales of the City” are great examples of LGBTQIA+ stories done right, and why you should be watching them this Pride season.
How “Tales of the City” Still Resonates With Viewers
Based on the novel series from Amistead Maupin, the first “Tales of the City” followed a group of apartment-mates turned family of choice as they struggled to find love and community in the big city. Netflix’s new reboot picks up 23 years later, with Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) returning to San Francisco for Anna Madrigal’s (Olympia Dukakis) 90th birthday. 28 Barbary Lane has continued to thrive in Mary Ann’s long absence, with a mishmash of new and some familiar faces. This includes Mary Ann’s ex Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross) and her daughter, Shawna (Ellen Page), all of whom see the apartment building as their only true home. So what will happen when Anna announces her plan to sell 28 Barbary Lane?
Historically, “Tales of the City” has always given tribute to the many queer families of choice in San Francisco. Its original 1993 miniseries run on PBS was groundbreaking in its portrayal of LGBTQIA+ people on screen, causing an absolute uproar for straight audiences (read more from Vulture about it here). Netflix’s new reboot has continued in this vein, with most of the cast being LGBTQIA+ and people of color, with trans matriarch Anna providing sage advice and a home to all. However, “Tales of the City” does offer some new treasures of its own. Garcia (who plays Jake) does a brilliant job with portraying the Latinx trans man, who’s come quite far in his transition only to be blindsided with a new attraction to men; Garcia portrayed Jake’s internal struggle with grace and believable vulnerability. I was also impressed by Charlie Barnett, whose dramatic acting in a dinner scene with the Old Rich White Gays was one of the best moments in “Tales of the City,” highlighting the transphobia and racism still rampant in our community. And that scene was definitely felt like the gay version of “Get Out.”
But the real crowning jewel in this series, the one most likely to earn an Emmy nomination is “Days of Small Surrenders.” It is the episodic flashback to 1960s San Francisco where a young Anna Madrigal finds love and disturbing violence during her most formative years. Jen Richards and Daniela Vega completely draw you into the lives of Ysela and young Anna as they struggle to survive police brutality, discrimination and a pressing sense of doom. Just what happened between these two, and what terrible secret will Anna hide for over 50 years?
The episode is a heartbreaking reminder of why Pride exists in the first place. This month is part remembrance, part celebration, and part activism. It was made with the blood, sweat and tears of our queer and trans ancestors, who stood up against police brutality, homophobia, transphobia, and general hatred to carve out a place for us in the world. For that alone, “Tales of the City” definitely deserves a spot on your watchlist.
Act Up, Fight AIDS: “Pose” Season 2 is Better Than Ever
“Pose” is finally back, and fans, myself included, have so missed the House of Evangelista. Season 2 returned Tuesday night screaming gay and trans rights with the premiere episode “Acting Up,” which spells more glitz, glamour and fierce activism than the show’s freshman season. We’ve fast-forwarded to 1990, two years later than Season 1, to find the LGBTQIA+ community in the thick of the AIDS epidemic. A crushing memorial scene opens the episode, where Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) tearfully place a rock with Pray Tell’s ex-boyfriend’s name among a secret shrine to HIV/AIDS victims, whose bodies have been dumped in a common grave. Madonna’s “Vogue” may be taking over the airwaves, but it’s clear that the LGBTQIA+ community is dying en masse, and straight, cisgender people still don’t care.
This opener sets the tone for the rest of “Acting Up,” which is pointing Season 2 towards a more historically-based, fired up arc than “Pose’s” character-driven Season 1. There’s still gorgeous gowns and stunning tableaus, but the shine is tempered by overwhelming pain and anger. We still see the House of Evangelista slaying for the gods on the runway, but they’re also attending ACT UP die-ins in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (which really happened, by the way). The scene, which gave me goosebumps, reminds us of what Pride Month is for: resistance, resilience, action, anger, grief, and community. It’s rare for TV shows to portray our history in such a visceral, empowered way, and its to “Pose’s” credit that they’re calling us to act up like those who came before us.
There’s a constant push and pull for these characters in “Acting Up,” with some angry and desperate to save their friends, and others, like Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson) still too self-involved to join the fight. I think this will become both the struggle of Season 2 and a not-so-subtle message to viewers to go out and act up, to advocate and give back to our community during Pride Month and beyond. That’s what many good stories do: make their audience want to be better, to do more, to fight against injustice and become our own heroes. So celebrate with some “Tales of the City” and “Pose,” and then go volunteer, or call your senator, or find a way to help others in your community. Act up!