Mj Rodriguez, star of 'Pose,' works to bring hope despite violence against trans people

FX’s hit ballroom drama “Pose” — having recently concluded season two — notably took a shift in tone from its upbeat season one, as it dug even deeper into the harsh realities that many black trans women face living their truth.

(Spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet watched season two.)

In the fourth episode “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” fan favorite Candy Ferocity (Angelica Ross) is murdered in a motel room, mirroring the fact that this year alone, 16 trans people — mostly black trans women — have reportedly been murdered across the United States. For Mj Rodriguez, who plays Blanca Evangelista, this on-screen loss hit her hard.

“I won’t lie, this [storyline] hurt my f—ing heart. Even talking about it now makes me tear up because it hits so close. The week we shot these scenes with Candy, two black trans women had been murdered,” Rodriguez told NBC News.

Rodriguez, a black trans woman, was also heartbroken for Ross, not wanting to see her leave the show, but understood why this character’s demise was necessary.

“I kept saying, ‘Why my sister? Why her?’ But I eventually took Angelica out of it and made this about Candy the character. Once I did that, it became clear that her death would leave such a huge impact and make people care in ways that they might not have had it been someone else.”

While Rodriguez acknowledges that viewers, especially those of color and LGBTQ, may be fatigued with consuming “so much black pain,” she believes the show has a responsibility to “lay down the truth” for “girls like us.”

“I have always advocated the show’s producers to add more of the adversity we face into the show,” Rodriguez said. “By putting it out there, people cannot just brush the oppression and violence we face under the rug or pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

She added that “it’s also important for black and Latino families to see what we go through, especially the parents who have ostracized or kicked us out of their homes.”

But despite this season’s take on heavy issues, Blanca has always served as the show’s light and hope. She is undeniably the heartbeat and oxygen of this groundbreaking drama, giving birth to the “House of Evangelista” after receiving an HIV diagnosis, which in the ’80s and most of the ’90s was believed to be a death sentence.

In season two — crafted by writers Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, Janet Mock and Lady J to name a few — the Afro-Latina’s tenuous journey included receiving an AIDS diagnosis, battling a racist and transphobic real estate mogul (Patti Lupone) and being rushed to the hospital uncertain if she would live. To no one’s surprise, this fighter persisted.

MJ Rodriguez as Blanca and Dominique Jackson as Elektra.Michael Parmelee / FX

“Blanca went through a lot, but I loved seeing her grow up and grow into her power as a woman in the face of all this adversity,” Rodriguez said.

“In the first season, she was so bruised coming into her new house, but now she is 30 years old, more established and has grown children that are doing things in their lives,” she said. “That’s because of Blanca and that fact that she is a beacon in her community and is giving them light and strength.”

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