Hollywood films and television shows have always been openly criticized for the lack of racial and gender diversity throughout the years. Recently, we are seeing that gains are being made for women and people of color on-screen. But according to a study conducted by UCLA, the numbers are still far from the level that is ideal—and this greatly affects audience ratings. The annual Hollywood diversity report’s evidence suggests that “America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content,” and that “diversity is essential for Hollywood’s bottom line.” I believe this statement also applies on a global scale, as different races, genders, and other minority groups seek representation on the big screen. Which is why Billy Porter’s nomination is a big fat punch on the glass ceiling.
Porter was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and earned his certification in screenwriting at the Pittsburg Creative and Performing Arts school in UCLA. He has previously won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and a Drama Desk & Outer Critics Award for outstanding actor in a musical for playing Lola in Kinky Boots in 2013. Now the highlight of his career: his portrayal of the deliciously brazen and audacious master of ceremonies, Pray Tell, for FX’s Pose (which is also nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama series) is his most influential work yet.
Pose premiered back in 2018 under FX, and is the most transgender populated cast in all of TV history. It is set in the world of 1987 and looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in New York: the rise and luxury universe, the downtown social and literary scene, and the ballroom culture world. The show conveys shameless truth, expertly portraying the fascinating culture of the 80s ballroom scene, and is groundbreaking with how they tell stories of the LGBTQ+ community. At its heart is the issue of family—it’s enduring position as a safe harbor and moral compass, and the human tendency to create our own families to uphold and sustain us when the traditional model has failed.
“It’s about representation,” Porter tells Deadline, “It really opens up and creates a different kind of conversation in a different space. It’s about all people’s stories being told. It’s about the art. We, creative people, have the power to transform hearts and minds doing the work that we do and I am just thrilled to be able to do that. It feels like a calling.”
For Porter, it was not about dreaming the impossible, but dreaming about something that did not exist. The thought of an LGBTQ+ counterculture like Pose to be widely received by American television was unimaginable even for the cast and crew, which now proves that we really are in an age of constant evolution, with rapid growth and development as the only constants. Porter is an iconic example of the resistance that fuels and empowers the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups today.
Aside from the theatre and television scene, his reign encompasses the fashion industry and is known for his red carpet expeditions: his tuxedo gown that came with a blossomed velvet full skirt worn at the Golden Globes, a stunning bejewelled gold catsuit with 10-foot wings and an elaborate headpiece for the MET Gala (which he paraded on top of a golden litter carried by six shirtless men and described his inspiration on Instagram: “The Category Is: Old Testament Realness”), and of course, his iconic rainbow gown–designed by Christian Siriano—for the 2019 Pride march in New York.
“If I’m over here wearing a dress, why does it matter?” Porter says too PinkNews. “I want to be a walking piece of political art when I show up. Just living inside of my truth.”
Now almost 30 years in the industry, Porter’s daring flare and unapologetic sense of self never halted his ambitions. Which is probably why he is who he is today, sweeping awards, and working on socially relevant projects—being true to his belief that “‘public’ is a political act.”
The 71st Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be held at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California on September 15, 2019. And we are all looking forward, not just for the revelation of winners, but also or the next sartorial masterpiece that Billy Porter will parade at the red carpet.