Angelica Ross in a scene from FX's 'Pose.' She is a Black trans woman styled to look like Madonna in her 'Vogue' era. She's standing in a room full of people.

Angelica Ross Spills All the Tea on Ryan Murphy and Emma Roberts

Pose and American Horror Story‘s Angelica Ross is one of the best actresses on TV. She should be leading a series or fronting a movie by now, but she’s not. Why? Probably because of racist and transphobic industry shenanigans designed to keep Black trans women in their place. “Their place” being close enough that you get cookies for their inclusion, but not so close that they can expect too much career mobility.

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This week, Ross decided to shed light on some of those shenanigans, and she’s provided receipts. First, she publicly criticized Pose and AHS executive producer Ryan Murphy, who’d apparently discussed doing a season of AHS featuring a cast led entirely by Black women only to change his mind, not get back to her, and prevent her from taking other work. Ross presented the screenshots with quotes from The Other Black Girl:

Murphy approached Ross in 2020 with the idea for an all-Black-women season of AHS and asked for her input on other actors to approach. Sounds awesome, right? Ross followed up several times in the two years following that initial exchange, even suggesting herself on the writer/producer side of the still-unknown (to her) 11th season, with her final email on the subject being sent in February 2022.

During that time, Ross had other career prospects. Specifically, she’d auditioned for Marvel Studios several times. While she doesn’t say what the auditions were for, she does say that Marvel was interested in working with her, but she was unable to accept because of her contractual obligation to AHS. Ross was held in “first position” on AHS, meaning that according to her contract, AHS was her primary obligation, so any other jobs had to be worked around that.

However, it’s difficult to schedule other jobs around your primary job when you don’t know what your primary job is, the length of the time commitment, or the depth of your involvement. Ross was clearly prioritizing AHS, possibly turning down awesome roles in Marvel films or series, but Murphy couldn’t even be bothered to let her know that he’d decided not to move forward with what they’d discussed.

When The Wrap reported on Ross’ tweets, they also interviewed “[a]n individual familiar with the matter,” who told them that “Murphy’s FX anthologies often contemplate multiple ideas before moving forward with a premise to develop for an upcoming season.” The Wrap goes on to explain:

For example, the second season of American Crime Story was originally supposed to be about Hurricane Katrina before it became The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Likewise Season 10 of American Horror Story (“Double Feature”) was at risk of having its theme changed due to weather conditions and COVID-19 delays.

However, this doesn’t explain why no one reached out to Ross to let her know what was going on. Ross is a professional. She knows that things change in Hollywood all the time. But as she says in her tweet above, she reached out not only to Murphy, but to FX business affairs for months trying to clarify her situation so that she could plan around it. No one gave her answers, and she missed out on opportunities because of it.

Hollywood has a bad habit of treating most actors like chattel in the best of times, but one has to wonder if Ross would’ve received the same dismissive treatment had she been a white, blonde, cis actor rather than a Black trans woman.

Speaking of white, blonde, cis actors…

Image of Emma Roberts in a scene from FX's 'American Horror Story.' She is a blonde white cis woman with long straight hair sitting at the top of a staircase in a house. She's wearing a black off-the-shoulder dress and a black choker. Her legs are crossed and she's holding a lit cigarette as she looks straight ahead.
(FX)

Ross also spoke out this week about transphobia she allegedly experienced at the hands of AHS co-star Emma Roberts. The Hollywood Reporter detailed an Instagram story Ross posted in which she told the story of an incident she experienced on the set of AHS. She said:

I’m standing in front of Emma, talking to her like this, and she’s in front of me, her back against the mirror. She goes, ‘John [crew member], Angelica’s being mean.’ John is like, ‘OK, ladies, that’s enough. Let’s get back to work.’ And she then looks at me, and she goes, ‘Don’t you mean lady?’ And she turns around like this and covers her mouth. I’m staring at her looking her dead ass in the [camera] and I’m like trying to process the f*ck she just said.

Apparently, Ross isn’t the only person who’s had to deal with Roberts’ unprofessional behavior, but she decided not to report Roberts at the time precisely because of what happened to others who tried:

My blood is boiling because I’m like, if I say something, it’s gonna be me that’s the problem. I know this because there was someone who spoke up about what she was doing, and they got repercussions from it.

When Ross decided to handle the situation by not speaking to her outside of the scenes they had together, Roberts noticed and approached her:

I was just like, ‘I’m done.’ We had scenes together, and I never spoke to her. She said to me, she could feel the energy coming off of me. She was like, ‘Are you OK? You haven’t been talking.’ I’m like, ‘Mmmhmm.’

Imagine saying something like what Roberts said to Ross and having the audacity to “wonder why” and be like, “Are you okay?” Oh, to be young, white, entitled, and a Roberts (she’s actor Eric Roberts’ daughter and Julia Roberts’ niece).

In Hollywood, there are plenty of white people who will make a show of being “inclusive” while being the exact opposite in practice. In the case of Murphy, while there’s no denying that he’s put marginalized folks on screen in a way that few creators have (not only Black and brown women, but disabled folks, and of course LGBTQIA+ folks), he’s done so in a way that reserves most of the reward for himself.

Let’s check the record, shall we?

  • On Glee, Murphy includes a character in a wheelchair (Artie), but casts a non-disabled actor (Kevin McHale) in the role, denying an actual disabled person of a professional opportunity. Murphy gets the inclusion points without making anything better for an actual disabled person. Glee was rife with questionable representation of various communities throughout its six seasons.
  • Nearly a year after Glee‘s Naya Rivera died tragically in a boating accident in 2020, her father took to social media to criticize Murphy not only for “not following through” on his promise to set up a college fund for Rivera’s son, but for not calling him or the family after Rivera’s death. Murphy insisted that he and fellow Glee producers Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan had been in constant communication with Rivera’s estate through the Naya Rivera Estate Trust, and were committed to setting up the fund. However, Refinery29 points out that Murphy didn’t address the criticism that he never called Rivera’s family, seemingly doing the showy nice thing for a Latine family, but not the genuinely kind thing one might do privately.
  • Murphy received lots of criticism for the sloppy approach to race and the stories of the victims in the series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Even just typing out the series’ full, unwieldy title makes some of its problems apparent. Originally just called Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story when written about in industry trades, “Dahmer” was clumsily added to the front of the title when it was released to, I don’t know, make sure we know who it’s really about, I guess? In any case, none of the criticism seemed to land for Murphy, and he was pretty dismissive when addressing it at all.
  • And then there’s Pose executive producer and director (and Black trans woman) Janet Mock’s scathing remarks at the premiere of Pose‘s final season. In a 15-minute speech, Mock covered a lot of ground (not all of it industry-related) about injustice in Hollywood. More specifically, she talked about being paid less for her work as an EP or director than others at a comparable level, and complained about the quality of the material in Pose‘s first two seasons from the show’s mostly-male writers’ room, saying that Murphy had to “bring the girls in” to help. Meaning herself and Our Lady J, the two trans women who collectively wrote or co-wrote 19 of the series’ 26 episodes.

It’s disheartening that rather than become more sympathetic to the struggles of those more marginalized than they are, too many marginalized white people (LGBTQIA+, cis women, etc.) are capable of going only so far to “raise all boats” in their communities, ensuring that their own boats remain the highest.

(featured image: FX)


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Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.