Pari Dukovic /FX
I have an amendment to make.
In 2019, I wrote an article giving a defense of Candy’s (Angelica Ross) death in Pose‘s second season. At the time, I wrote that while it was troubling to see Candy die, her death was meant as an education for an audience who might not be aware of the staggering rate at which transgender women of color are exposed to violence. I do believe that the writing crew had the best of intentions. Case in point: they sought to make Candy’s death as meaningful as her life was by keeping her ghost present throughout the rest of the season.
BUT. The thing that I felt would make my final opinion about Candy’s death complete is how the show would treat everyone else, particularly since, without Candy, the show features a majority of characters who are lighter-skinned. So you probably know where I’m going with this. How much did colorism play into Candy dying?
Towards the end of the year, we’ve seen how intense the debate over colorism in entertainment can be, what with Kenya Barris’ upcoming Netflix show #blackexcellence getting slammed for colorism before it’s even aired. Colorism is present in a lot of media, signifying which characters are treated in a more whole capacity–which ones are deemed as more relatable–than others. Looking back, I think the only reason Pose wasn’t called out as much as it was by the mainstream media is because there was a hesitance to ridicule a show that was making history by featuring trans characters played by trans actors.
That’s not to say there wasn’t any pushback at all. I was particularly inspired to write this after reading Brandon Lamar’s Shadow And Act article critiquing Pose’s decision to kill Candy. He wrote of the episode:
“Killing off one of the two dark-skinned women in the cast will present a unique void that will be difficult to fill…It would…be great to see Candy be replaced by another dark-skinned transwoman, one who would be championed in the story in the likes of Blanca or Angel. To have the only dark-skinned characters foiled against the light-skinned characters is colorism that doesn’t belong on such a progressive and revolutionary show.”
Indeed, Candy is the only trans person of color to receive such harsh treatment, and her skintone shouldn’t be looked over as a possible factor in that decision. Candy’s character was a fan favorite, and she of all people should have been given a chance to finally fulfill her destiny and become the star she’s always wanted to be. Angel was given that chance, as well as the assurance from the writers that her Season 1 storyline of prostitution wasn’t going to end in tragedy. As executive producer Ryan Murphy told Deadline:
“We all were sort of floored when the show aired last season, and so many people who loved the show would go on social media and say, ‘Oh, Stan is going to kill Angel. I don’t know if I can watch this. It’s going to kill me.’ It became such an epidemic online that we actually went on and said, ‘We’re not killing anybody. We’re not killing Angel, so you can relax into the storytelling.”
How come the writers didn’t give Candy that kind of life insurance? Let’s go with the writers’ assertion that they wanted to go into the second season highlighting the plight of trans women with a character death. Why was her life the one that was deemed as the one that could be easily taken?
In various interviews, both Murphy and executive producer/writer Janet Mock state that they wanted the victim to be someone we loved and identified with, someone whose absence would be shocking after they were gone. Mock specifically told Deadline in the aforementioned interview how she felt like Candy’s death hit home because so many trans women aren’t allowed to fully live their lives, just like how Candy never reached her potential. That kind of death is hard to swallow, and I did write in my original article about how the manner of her death and the truncated life she left behind made me think even harder about the issues facing trans women.
However, the explanation for her death still doesn’t feel like enough. I feel like if her characterization was developed even further, then her death might make more sense. As it stands, Candy wasn’t just cut down in her prime; she was a character that had barely been fleshed out beyond being a frenemy. I don’t know how fair that is to Candy as a character. Either we saw her making snide remarks about somebody or hashing it out with Pray Tell. The absolute extreme of this dichotomy is seeing Pray Tell literally bully her simply for being original in the ballroom, a trait he would have welcomed from anyone else in the House of Evangelista, a house that is, coincidentally, comprised of lighter-skinned people. We never got to see a full arc with Candy; the only time we had a show dedicated to her was when she died. Meanwhile, the other lighter-skinned characters have had entire seasons dedicated to their growth.
Also, the lighter-skinned characters have not only survived into 1990, but have thrived. Angel (Indya Moore) is now a working model thanks to her* new fiancé, Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel), who has taken it upon himself to start his own modeling agency to help Angel and other trans models. Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), who was near death in the final episode, was able to make a full recovery and show off her newfound health at the Christmas ball. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) has bounced back from his heartbreak over Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and Ricky’s (Dyllon Burnside) relationship. He’s not only become a full-fledged career dancer, but a house father in Paris, expanding the Evangelista name abroad. Even Lulu (Hailie Sahar), who was just as mean and ornery as Candy, gets to have a new life by announcing her decision to go back to school to be an accountant. Literally everyone who is the shade of a paper bag or lighter gets the happy ending of their dreams.
“But what about Pray Tell and Elektra?” You might be asking. They also received good endings, too, so does that mean Pose isn’t as colorist as I’m suggesting? Let’s look at the issue in shades of gray. A show can still engage in colorist tendencies while trying to keep a few of its darker-skinned characters progressing forward. But even with that, there are character traits that are innately left to the darker-skinned characters that have a basis in colorism. Pray Tell, for all of his wisdom, still has elements of the “sassy Black gay man.” Elektra, for all of her epic reads and killer fashion sense, has elements of the “angry Black woman.” Even though Ricky has grown up a little since Damon, he’s still saddled with the stereotype of being hypersexual, so much so that the show has him contract the HIV virus from unprotected sex.
Also, why does Candy have to be in Hell after she dies? What message is that sending people, particularly young trans viewers, about their spiritual place in life? Personally I feel the message that can be gained from Candy, and other popular LGBT superstars residing in Hell is a dangerous one, since it could be interpreted as people on the LGBT spectrum not being deserving of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I don’t think that’s a message a show like Pose wants to send to its Christian LGBT audience. Candy wasn’t the nicest person, but I doubt she deserved to be in Hell.
So, for all of the good Pose is doing, there’s still a lot it could do in terms of how it represents its characters as well-rounded people.
But does this mean I hate Pose now? Absolutely not. I still love the show, and I’m still waiting with bated breath for the third season, when we see the next generation of the Evangelista house emerge. Now that the show has gotten past its second season stumbles, I hope the writing room will come back stronger than ever, reassess where they went right and where they can improve, and give us characters that go beyond the colorism binary. At the very least, I hope they can keep Candy’s character alive even in spirit, because she deserved to be a star.
*Within the show, Angel goes by she/her pronouns, whereas Indya Moore goes by they/them pronouns.