Candy Ferocity’s tragic death in Pose holds a mirror up to the real-life plight of trans women of colour in America - and we can’t look away.
Dana Martin. Jazzaline Ware. Ashanti Carmon. Claire Legato. Muhlaysia Booker. Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington. Paris Cameron. Chynal Lindsey. Chanel Scurlock. Zoe Spears. Brooklyn Lindsey.
Do the names of these women sound familiar? If not, there’s a good reason why. These are the 11 transgender women of colour that have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means in the U.S in 2019 so far. And despite the shocking statistics, the plight of the trans community has been all but neglected by the mainstream media, until news emerges of their untimely deaths.
That’s something the the groundbreaking FX series Pose centred around New York’s ballroom scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s has put firmly in the spotlight with its latest, heartbreaking episode, “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” in which beloved ballroom performer Candy Ferocity goes missing, before she is later discovered dead in a Manhattan motel room after participating in sex work to make a living.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Pose creator and director Ryan Murphy, and director and executive producer Janet Mock, explained that the episode was an essential reminder of the deadly violence transgender women of colour face on a daily basis.
“The idea that was important to me is that nothing has changed, and nothing is changing,” Murphy began. “At its best, Pose is advocacy. What we really want people to do is talk about it and ask the question: Why are the police not investigating? Candy’s death will go unsolved forever, which is a very heavy thing but that’s exactly what’s happening now.
“I think we’re at a tipping point in our culture — and it’s only getting worse under this current administration — where all you can do is ask people to get angry. What will it take? The show is asking that question.”
Mock, who recently became the first transgender woman to land an overall deal with a major content company when she signed a three year multi-million dollar deal with Netflix, explained that after consulting with the trans community, although it was decided that the storyline was harrowing, representation of the fatal violence trans women of colour suffer was sorely needed onscreen too.
“The feedback for us was that we had to go there. This is a part of their story — both the devastation and the resilience. It’s tough to put that truth on paper, but when you see it come to life onscreen it’s also very powerful. It’s power and pain. It was happening then, it’s happening now, and this felt necessary for the community and for us at the show.”
As difficult as it was to write Candy’s storyline in the face of such an adoring fandom, Murphy goes on to explain, her death was necessary to highlight the threat of fatal violence against the trans community, whose lives in 1990 were subject to the same brutality as those today.
“So many people that we talk to say, “Well, we just started to get to know her [Candy],” he said. “But that’s the point. Most of the women who are being killed in 2019 are in their 20s and 30s. As difficult as it may be, that’s the crux of this story about Candy’s death. These trans women of colour are at the beginning of their lives and they’re taken when there was still so much left to say. It has to stop. That’s our message and will continue to be.”
Despite Candy’s fate, it was especially important to Mock that as well as depicting the senseless tragedy that the trans community endures in the show, so too was it vital to show the women’s tireless resistance and defiant joy in the face of adversity, hence the memorial service thrown by her chosen sisters, Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Angel (Indya Moore) and Elektra (Dominique Jackson).
“Our tone has always been more aspirational and affirmative, but I think that it actually is a very affirming episode if you really look at the ways in which the women in this community band together,” she reflected. “From getting her body from the morgue, making sure she looks her best, making sure that they scrape up all their pennies to throw her a funeral, to reaching out to her parents who show up, to give everyone that great healing moment that we all wish that we had.”
At a time when the trans community is under attack with a discriminatory military ban, trans women of colour have a pitifully short life expectancy of 35, and efforts to narrowly define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth from the Trump administration are under way, real-life brutality against the trans community is alive and thriving. And while we may be hurt by the demise of one our favourite TV characters, we would do well to remember that there are trans women suffering in the real world that deserve our attention too.
Image: Macall Polay (FX)