'I felt seen': First trans actress nominated for Emmy

Mj Rodriguez stars in “Pose,” a period drama about New York City’s drag ballroom culture. Critics say she has raised the bar for trans representation in media, while LGBTQ rights activists say her historic Emmy nomination is “long overdue.”

Eric Liebowitz/FX/AP
Mj Rodriguez plays Blanca (right) and Billy Porter plays Pray Tell (foreground left) in a scene from "Pose" in an image released by FX shows. Ms. Rodriguez says her Emmy nomination can open doors to more authentic stories of trans people in the media.

Learning of her historic Emmy nomination, Mj Rodriguez of “Pose” had one overwhelming feeling: “I felt so seen.”

“I felt represented, and I felt seen,” said Ms. Rodriguez, who scored the first major acting Emmy nod for a trans performer. “And [...] more accepted than I have felt in a long time. I felt like my colleagues now see me, my acting colleagues see me, and the people who are surrounded by the arts see me, and how much I want to give the world the love to my craft and my art.”

The nomination for Ms. Rodriguez, who plays house mother and nurse Blanca in the FX show about ballroom culture in the 1980s and ’90s that recently ended its third and final season, was one of several nods for the show, including best actor for Billy Porter and best drama. The series from Steven Canals and Ryan Murphy broke ground with the casting of transgender actors as trans characters.

Ms. Rodriguez spoke in an interview on Zoom Tuesday from Cannes, France, where she’s attending the film festival. It had been a long night: She hadn’t been able to sleep, in anticipation. “I had a lot looming through my mind,” she said. “I was up until 8 o’clock in the morning.”

When the news came, “My mom and my godmother [were] sitting at the dining table. And the moment my name was announced, I just screamed and I broke. And my mom grabbed me. She kind of like flung me around. I gave her a hug. She swung me around a little bit. And I just remember falling into my boyfriend’s arms and just crying. Tears of joy, tears of happiness.”

Ms. Rodriguez and her family were not alone in their joy or recognition of the enormity of the moment. Sarah Kate Ellis of GLAAD, the LGBTQ organization, called her nomination “a breakthrough for transgender women in Hollywood, and a long-overdue recognition for her groundbreaking performance over the past three seasons of ‘Pose’” – a show that, Ms. Ellis said, “undoubtedly raised the bar for trans representation on television and changed the way viewers around the world understand the trans community.”

The group had joined with dozens of other organizations in an open letter urging Emmy voters to show their support for the show and especially for its transgender and nonbinary actors.

Ms. Rodriguez said she was grateful to know “that we are finally being seen the way we need to be seen, and that our stories can now be seen as human stories. It just opens the diaspora, opens everything even more. There are limitless amounts of stories that can now be told, simply because of this happening.”

She said she was specifically thinking of young people, “who can look to us and see that we are human and that we have so much to offer and that we can be looked up to and that there are dreams that are obtainable, because we can make them happen.”

Of her fellow castmates and crew members, she said, “We gave as a team. I always say teamwork makes the dream work, and that is exactly what we did. The family on that show is what we built.”

Ms. Rodriguez is working on her next project, a comedy for Apple TV+ with Maya Rudolph, with a working title of “Loot.”

“I just feel like the sky is limitless,” she said of her professional future. “I feel like there’s so much more opportunity out there. The world – it’s opened, and I can’t even express how happy I am to know that I’ll be able to be a part of more amazing pieces of work […] and just put out good products. I know that’s what the future looks like.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. “Pose,” which depicts drag ballroom culture in the 1980s and '90s, is available on FX. It is rated TV-MA, for ages 15 and above.

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