Mj Rodriguez's Emmy Nomination is a Vital Breakthrough, and We Need to Talk About it

Michaela Jaé “Mj” Rodriguez made history today as the first transgender performer nominated in a leading performance category at the Emmys. The actress, who stars as Blanca, Mother of the House of Evangelista, on FX’s Pose, is only the third transgender performer nominated in the history of the awards, across all categories.

Pose has been full of television breakthroughs, putting the stories of LGBTQ+ people of color in the spotlight. The series draws heavily from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, which details the unique ballroom culture in New York City in the late 1980s. Many of the characters in the series are based on real individuals from the documentary, giving it an added layer of, well, realness.

Like Mother Blanca says, “Our greatest asset is our authenticity.”

A Needed Step Forward for Representation

There have been numerous calls for better representation at awards shows in the past few years, and with good reason. There’s been some progress — Laverne Cox‘s nominations for her role as Sophia on Orange is the New Black signaled the beginning of nominations for transgender performers. The problem is that it’s taken this long in the first place, and we still have so far to go. After all, cisgendered, heterosexual white guy Jeffrey Tambor has won two Emmys for pretending to be a transgender woman on the Amazon series TransparentIt’s disappointing that a straight man has won awards for portraying the transgender experience when people who have actually lived it have not been afforded the same opportunities. Cox has been nominated four times and never won; the only other acting category nominee was Rain Valdez for Razor Tongue, who also did not win.

In an interview with Variety, Rodriguez said:

“I do believe this is a pivotal moment. There’s never been a trans woman who has been nominated as a leading outstanding actress and I feel like that pushes the needle forward so much for now the door to be knocked down for so many people — whether they be male or trans female, gender nonconforming, LGBTQIA+, it does not matter. A moment like this extends and opens and elongates the possibilities of what’s going to happen and I believe the Academy is definitely making it possible and their eyes are more than open. Yes, I do believe they’re going to continue, and I also feel like we’re going to keep speaking and encouraging and informing and educating people around the world. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Rodriguez’s character, Blanca, gives many women a chance to see themselves represented in a way they never have before. After all, how many HIV-positive, transgender, Afro-Latina characters have you seen on TV, besides as tragic tropes on crime shows? Blanca goes through her share of tragedies, but she’s also given a chance to shine in a way few characters like hers have before. She’s the heart and soul of the series, and I’m hopeful Rodriguez makes history again in September as the first transgender performer to ever take home an Emmy.

You can catch the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards and root for Rodriguez (along with me) on September 19 on CBS and Paramount Plus.

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