Steven Canals talks ‘Pose,’ success and Afro-Latin identity

The 'Pose' creator is dishing on season three of the FX series and the importance of amplifying marginalized communities

Steven Canals attends the red carpet event for FX’s “Pose” at Pacific Design Center on August 09, 2019 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Steven Canals is still taking it all in.

The 39-year-old Bronx native became an overnight TV sensation when Pose, the series he originally created in graduate school at UCLA, debuted on FX in 2018. Since then, Canals has been nominated for an Emmy, signed a overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television and rubbed elbows with some of the industry’s top talent, including his all-star cast.

In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Canals said that he is still processing his Hollywood success.

“My dream was to tell stories to hopefully shine a light on the people and the community that matter most to me. To find a way to tell our story in a way that is honest and truthful,” he explained on Monday. “To have the opportunity to do that is one that I’m still processing, if I’m being honest. It’s still very early on. I’ve only been a working as a writer for, you know, four years going on five years. …So it’s hard to have a perspective on it at this point, it’s so early. I’m just very humbled that I get to do it, and I’m filled with a lot of gratitude.”

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This year, Canals has been submitted for Emmy consideration for not only Best Drama Series as an executive producer, but also individually in the Directing in a Drama Series category for the season 2 episode Revelations.

The TV showrunner explained that he is honored to even be considered and hopes the series will land both a nomination and a win–a moment that he says would be “historic and monumental.”

“Well, hopefully we receive a nomination for our second season. …To take it home would be incredible,” he gushed. “You know, it really would be a monumental for several reasons. I wrote the original draft of the show, as I’ve talked about in the past, in the very beginning of 2014. And then there were two and a half years of me pitching the show and being told it’s too much of everything. It’s too Black, too Brown, it’s too queer, too trans, a period piece, and just being told no over and over and over again. So I think about the long journey that it took to get to this place. …I would love for us to win.”

He continued, “But even if we don’t win, the nomination itself, to me is huge and historic in that if you were to go and review all of the nominees for Best Drama Series at the Emmys for the past 71 years. You know, we are, I think, we might be the only show that is explicitly about LGBTQ Black and Latin people. …If we were to win, it would be it would be huge because I think it would prove what we all have known, which is that our lives have value and our story is deserving of that kind of attention.”

Highlighting the diversity of both the queer space and Black and Brown communities is one the issues that Canals is most passionate about. The producer chose to showcase those complexities on Pose, giving a voice to Black and Brown trans women during the ballroom scene of the 1980s and ’90s. He plans to continue that work on developing projects with 20th Century Fox.

“I think what’s important for me is just to continue centering historically marginalized voices,” he explained. “I think if you look at the history, this is an example: the Oscars. You know, it’s like Black narratives seem to always be centered around slavery or the historical pieces. And, you know, I think that the messaging in that is that our current narratives don’t matter, our current narratives don’t hold importance and that’s not the truth. You know, like, we need to see present day stories.”

FX Network's "Pose" Season 2 Premiere
Jason A. Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Eric Schrier, Janet Mock, Brad Simpson, Dyllón Burnside, Alexis Martin Woodall, Steven Canals, Hailie Sahar, Dominique Jackson, Angel Bismark Curiel, Mj Rodriguez, Ryan Jamaal Swain, guest, Angelica Ross, Our Lady J, Sherry Marsh, and Billy Porter attend FX Network’s “Pose” season 2 premiere on June 05, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

He adds, “If you look back even just a year ago, you had this one-two punch of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, and most recently, like, Jennifer Lopez and Hustlers. So it’s like, there’s so many really interesting narratives that center Black and Brown people and women and LGBT people, and those stories they’re always considered niche. With my deal, what I want to do is I want to take those stories and I want to find those storytellers, who are often being told, ‘Your story is niche,’ and find a way to make it mainstream. Because the reality is our stories are our lives, and our lives are not niche.”

In many ways, Canals’ creativity and drive to amplify underrepresented voices comes from his own upbringing. The writer was raised in a Puerto Rican and Black household in New York City, and identifies as a proud member of the Afro-Latinx community.

His background has motivated him to fight for several social justice causes off-screen, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s important to me because I’m a human. What I have named to be black genocide is wildly problematic, and very concerning to me,” he explained. “I grew up in a mixed family. So my family is both black and Puerto Rican, and that division of identity didn’t exist in my family and doesn’t exist in my family, because the two are so closely interwoven.”

He continued, “You know, I’ve always taken issue with Latin people who ignore Black issues because the reality is there are Latin people who also identify as black. Whether they identify as Afro-Latin or not, like there black Puerto Ricans, for example. And so it’s really key for me to check Latin folks who may be white passing, who feel like because they don’t have any proximity to blackness, that they can push it away and ignore it. Because the reality is, if you’re saying that you’re pro Latin, that means that you would be standing up for Black lives because the reality is that there are people within your community who identify as both.”

As for Pose season 3? Canals revealed the upcoming season—which is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic—will highlight loyalty and love. He also plans to address some critiques the show has received about colorism, saying that Pose‘s creative team will “definitely make sure that we remedy that moving forward.”

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“Season one was about Blanca’s journey of forming the House of Evangelista and becoming Mother of the Year. Season two was significantly more political as a season. It was about seeing all of the individual aspirations of all of our characters and then, by the end, everyone sort of going in their own direction,” he said.

“I would say season three is about the individuals of all the houses, or the House of Evangelista members coming back together and really showing up for one another. I think the best way to articulate it is, who are your ride or die people? Who is it that really shows up for you? When the ish hits the fan, who shows up for you? And that, to me, is really what season three is all about.”

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