Janet Mock Demands More Pay for ‘Pose’ in Fiery Speech at Premiere: ‘You Have Stomped on Us’
At the emotional in-person event, Mock demanded to know why she wasn’t paid more for her work and celebrated her undervalued trans sisters: “You all have stomped on us.”
At the emotional New York City premiere for the third and final season of Pose on Thursday night, there were tears and there were truths. In the case of executive producer and director Janet Mock, who delivered a remarkable, at times uncomfortable and messy, and possibly industry-changing speech, there were dramatic examples of both.
“Fuck Hollywood,” she said early on in her address to the audience, which lasted about 15 minutes. “This makes you uncomfortable? It should. It should make you fucking shake in your motherfucking boots. This is speaking the truth. This is what Pose is.”
The socially distanced, COVID-safe event took place at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It was one of the first major in-person premieres of its kind this year in New York and the first that FX, which will premiere the new season of Pose on Sunday, has hosted in well over a year.
Attendees included the show’s cast—each dressed in jaw-dropping red carpet wear—and creative team, FX executives, and a few dozen critics and journalists, all individually escorted to seats dotted across the auditorium. A theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center has never looked so sparsely occupied. But also, after these last 15 months, so full.
There is no better show than Pose to usher the industry into a cautious new normal at this point in the pandemic. It is a series about survival, about the power of family and community, and about confronting the harsh realities that too often get overlooked, because it’s easier or makes people more comfortable.
For Mock, that meant departing from the show’s party line about its trans talent being given what they’re worth. Instead, she called out those who capitalized on their stories without paying them what they’re owed.
For co-creators Ryan Murphy and Steven Canals, that meant acknowledging the impact of a revolutionary show.
“In my career that has now lasted for 25 years, It is the most important thing that I’ve been a part of,” Murphy said about Pose. “And it is the thing I think that I’m the most proud to consider myself a part of.”
Canals recounted how he took 166 meetings in Los Angeles trying to get Pose made. On the 167th meeting, he met executive producer Sherry Marsh, who introduced him to Ryan Murphy, who not only agreed to make the show but to make it with Canals.
He ended his remarks with a heartfelt thank you to Mock for her support, concluding, “It is not lost on me that, as a cis man, my career and this story is built on the backs of Black and Afro-Latinx trans women who have told the best story of all. So thank you, especially, to the women of our show.”
When Mock took the mic, it’s fair to assume that most of the 100 people in the audience expected the love fest and the message of progress and appreciation to continue. But it quickly became clear that she had things to get off her chest.
She demanded to know why she was only paid $40,000 an episode for her work on the show. She made an ovation to her boyfriend, Angel Bismark Curiel, who plays Lil Papi, seeming to ask for forgiveness after cheating on him.
A series of call and responses were meant to uplift trans cast members who she felt were underestimated. And she noted that the first two episodes of the series didn’t live up to the quality of the rest of the run because they were written by men. She then called to Murphy in the audience, asking him to repeat several times what he did to make the show better: “I wanted to bring in the girls,” he said, referring to Mock and Our Lady J, who joined the writers' room.
The speech began in tears at a podium with Mock barely able to speak, before it exploded across the stage, with the star grabbing the handheld mic and pacing back and forth as if delivering a sermon.
“This is what Pose taught me,” she began. “I stand up taller in the world because of this show. I know that I matter because of this show. I have a voice because of this show.”
She said that the bright attitude she previously projected was a responsibility: “I was happy because I had to be happy. Because if I wasn’t happy the girls wouldn’t know that happiness is possible.” But it was masking the truth, she said. “I’m hurting y’all. I see injustice and it hurts me inside.”
“When a talent asks you for a suite, you give them a suite because they need it,” she said. She singled out cast members Hailie Sahar, Dominique Jackson, Angelica Ross, and Mj Rodriguez, toasting their talent and shaming everyone who undervalued or underestimated them because they were pretty or inexperienced.
At her most passionate, she demanded to know why she wasn’t paid more for her work. “Why am I making $40,000 a motherfucking episode? Huh? Do you know who the fuck I am? Do you know what I fucking mean? Huh? I am angry. This is truth. This is motherfucking truth.”
She apologized to co-executive producer Our Lady J, saying, “I tried to shrink you to make myself bigger. Why couldn’t I just love you?”
The speech ended on a note of accountability, and that meant piercing through the talking points, the ones tied up in a bow about inclusivity, opportunity, and progress that have been served to the media over the last three seasons. She mocked the standard line in a sing-song voice: “It means so much to everyone to ensure that we enable Black and brown trans women to make it…”
“That sounds good, right?” she said. “It makes you comfortable, me talking like that. Because then I don't scare you into facing the fucking truth: You all have stomped on us.”
It was a brave, unexpected speech—one that certainly caught its audience by surprise, all of whom were nervously at an event for the first time in over a year and rendered breathless and, occasionally, uneasy by Mock’s passion and candor.
It’s the kind of scorched-earth truth-telling that you might hear the executives and industry figures Mock called out publicly praise for its honesty in pursuit of change. Then you wonder what they actually are going to say about it, or about Mock, behind closed doors. Historically, that’s what happens when marginalized people demand their worth.
At the very least, we can ask for some bravery from these people with the suits, the purse strings, and the power: This time don’t do the two-faced whispering. This time listen, process, and act.
Mock repeatedly acknowledged that what she was saying was making people uncomfortable. That’s what the truth does, especially when it sets off a grenade to expectations, like the ones 100 people had when filing into the premiere of Pose, the first “post-pandemic event,” on Thursday night. It scratches at you, until you finally address the itch. It’s how you treat it that matters.
The most moving moment came when Mock openly wondered if by saying all this she may have just ruined her career. “As I stand here, I’m shaking and quaking, afraid that what I said I cannot put back in.”
In the silence that followed, her trans sisters in the audience—including co-stars Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angelica Ross, and Hailie Sahar—all started to speak up: “You are safe.” “We love you, Janet.” “Thank you for saying it.”
“My sisters, right?” Mock responded. “What did they say when I almost fell down just now?”
Suffice it to say that Mock’s electric, at times imperious, at times caustic, but impressively sincere and consequential remarks overshadowed the screening of the episode, which she directed, that followed. It certainly added context to it, too.
Pose season three started filming in March 2020, and, because of the pandemic, just finished work on its episodes, with Mock and her Pose community seeing it through to the end amidst those circumstances.
Like the best of Pose’s episodes, the premiere meets the moment in uncanny ways, while casting light on the Black, trans, and LGBT communities whose stories for too long lived in the shadows.
In the episode, Blanca (Rodriguez) is struggling, missing the connection with her family, each of whom has moved on with their own pursuits. But in two kinetic scenes in which they all come together, each so comfortable in their own skin, their shared history, and their love, the ease of it all lands like an emotional anvil to an audience starved for that very thing today.
At a time when there is heated discourse surrounding art about the Black community that exploits Black trauma and pain, no show does a better job of celebrating the joy radiating through the community in spite of the struggles and the horrors.
That pain exists in Pose, on which characters are losing their battle with AIDS. And when the community comes together, grappling with how to memorialize those lives and process the immense loss, as it’s happening at a scale that’s almost too much to process, you feel that, too, especially now.
This is a show that finally gave lives to trans people on screen. It’s a show that lent brightness—and so much glamour—to a world that had only been shown in darkness. It spoke a history that was silenced.
In astonishing ways, it connected dots from then to now in almost every episode; season two’s premiere educated viewers about Hart Island, the municipal potter's field off the east coast of the Bronx where unclaimed bodies were buried in mass unmarked graves during the AIDS crisis. This past year, the island made headlines again when the bodies of those who died of the coronavirus were sent there after New York funeral homes became overwhelmed.
And now, thanks to Mock, it’s ushering in a new conversation. Yes, Pose gave the trans community in Hollywood a voice. Now what happens when they use it to speak the truth?