Ever since Indya Moore’s work on the FX series “Pose” was paused in the midst of COVID-19, the actor has taken on a new project: “being OK with being an unproductive Indya.”
Moore, who is nonbinary and uses “they/them” pronouns, was rocketed to fame with the launch of “Pose,” playing the pure-hearted aspiring model Angel Evangelista. With Season 3 delayed indefinitely, Moore, quarantining in Chicago, said in April they were “playing video games and bingeing ‘Westworld,’ guilt- and drama-free.” (This conversation took place before tensions over police brutality erupted in late May and early June; Moore has recently been using social media to bring attention to anti-racist causes.)
“I’m wary of the general, internalized expectation of artists and other working folks to constantly be busy, being creative always,” adds Moore. “Because sometimes not achieving that expectation makes me feel less worthy and valuable. The shame and guilt of not being productive or creative at any given time leverages us to exist in service to capitalism.”
That’s Moore: Even in a moment of self-enforced relaxation, they’re thinking about where they fit in socioeconomically, and how both self and system can be improved.
“Indya is, by nature, a really inquisitive person and someone who genuinely wants to see the world be better,” says Steven Canals, the co-creator of “Pose.” “That’s clear in all of their activism and in the way they use their platform. And Indya’s approach to the character of Angel is always to empathize with her and to really do the work and investigate what this experience would feel like for a human.” Little wonder they are taking this time to refresh. “I would imagine that would be really exhausting,” he adds.
“Pose,” set at the height of the AIDS crisis in the queer community, depicts a moment of radical change that often finds expression in its radical breakout star, an activist whose following has grown wildly since the series began. On the show, Angel’s gift for physical expression breaks through barriers of prejudice. In real life, Moore (who, like Angel, is trans) is celebrated both as a model and actor and as a thought leader, honored in last year’s Time 100 list while booking magazine covers.
That all of that has — for Moore, as for all of their peers — come to a pause offers time for reflection. Perhaps that’s nothing new. At work on “Pose,” even in otherwise sunny and optimistic episodes, fear of death stalks the show’s characters. The second season opens at Hart Island, the New York City mass grave for AIDS victims that now houses the bodies of those killed by COVID too.
That epidemic and this pandemic both had the practical effect of playing up certain intractable social realities of race, class and sexuality, ones that Moore discusses frankly. “The general public is receiving economic assistance, and it makes me think about how when the AIDS crisis gained visibility, there was a deathly silence. We were ignored, and we were left to die alone in hospital beds. It’s so much about identity politics; it’s so much about white supremacy. If this was a virus that was only harming black and brown queer people, that was only harming queer and trans folk, we would be that much more ignored.”
It is a small irony, but an irony nonetheless, that a TV series that depicts a moment in which inequalities were laid bare is among the countless halted by the pandemic. “When production paused, I wasn’t shocked — I knew it would happen — but it was a bittersweet moment for me,” Moore says. “On the one hand, if anyone had gotten sick, it surely would have spread fast. On the other hand, most folks working on a production are living paycheck to paycheck. So I was worried about how they are going to survive.”
Some members of the cast are “going through a really rough time,” says Moore, who is quick to add: “The ‘Pose’ family is hanging in there, trying to take care of ourselves — some of us trying to find different ways to stay busy, some of us, like myself, trying to find different ways not to be.” It’s a complicated mix: Moore admits they are “feeling a little bit paranoid about returning to set too soon and frightened about what we will return to.”
What that will be remains uncertain. Canals indicates that the set will look a bit different in ways that may shift how the story is told. “Things like kissing — we will likely forgo those moments. The place on our show where the biggest impact will be felt will be the ball scenes: Those scenes have 125 to 150 background actors. That’s tricky, because that’s such an important and critical part of our show and the narrative. We’re just, only now, having conversations of ‘Is there a world where we forgo these things?’”
But it’s early days. Canals says that though the season was not fully written when production was halted, “I haven’t had anybody reach out asking for those scripts. It’s all been about family and really caring for each other’s well-being.”
There is to be a “Pose” on the other side of this health crisis, and one that’s able to comment on this moment as well as the one it depicts. “The politics of ‘Pose’ have always been upfront and center,” says Canals, “so in terms of the narrative of Season 3 and the way we’re moving forward, I think it will inherently address what’s happening currently with COVID-19. All of that was already baked into the DNA of the show.”
Moore’s activism since the crisis began, and production was paused, has included accepting and redistributing donations through mobile payment service CashApp. Promoting the plan on Instagram, they wrote: “Emergencies like this lift a veil and reveal how inhumane this system has always been. No one of us can fix it.”
It’s not for lack of trying: Moore’s work has included sending donations to people with disabilities, sex workers and trans people of color in need of support. “Queer trans folk don’t have family networks,” Moore tells Variety. “Queer trans folk seldom have community outreach and Middle America, you know. Queer trans folk are always the last to receive any help. And that’s why it’s really important for me to put a focal point on it.”
Canals sees Moore’s activism as having deep roots in the Bronx, where the “Pose” creator and star both grew up. “When I think about who they are and how they navigate the world,” he says, “in my mind, it has everything to do with growing up in that environment, where expectations for someone who looks like us are extremely low. There’s something about having to be persistent and resilient and really fight for what you want.”
“Pose” and Moore alike know that that fight is for systemic change, against diseases that do not affect all equally. Moore’s vision of American ills, delivered from quarantine, is expansive and begins long before the present moment. “Up until Donald Trump became president, nobody was concerned about the way that the system harms women, black and brown people. It’s interesting to see how people don’t particularly care about certain things until it affects them too.” Moore, whose mother was a nurse, remarks that most frontline workers are people of color: “I’m thinking about how much weight black and brown people are constantly having to hold alone. There’s just not really a conscious conversation around that up until anyone else is impacted by the same thing in some capacity.”
How does one emerge better on the other side? For Moore, it’s by acknowledging that there is no other side. “This isn’t going to be the last thing. We’re going to see and experience global catastrophe in ways we never have,” the actor says. “This is just something that’s going to continue. It’s going to continue with global warming. And we need to find a way to completely reform, to completely transform in a revolutionary way.”
Moore sees such possibilities beginning with personal effort: “The silver lining is that everyone who isn’t suffering as much as other folks seems to be giving, and loaning, and leveraging so much help and resource. And I think if we can do that, we can build infrastructure that actually services everyone indiscriminately, with or without tragedy.”
Pride, for Moore, seems to exist in thought and in service rather than entirely in celebration. Even during a moment of supposed rest and renewal, Moore can be drawn out on anything from the state of the world to the future of Pride.
Moore sees this moment as potentially a strengthening one for queer people as a group. “I think the LGBTQ movement focuses on the liberation of creatives and transmits as valid and legitimate human experience. And I don’t think this pandemic has changed that. I think it can only bring us closer.”
In response to the cancellation of Pride festivities in New York City this year, for instance, Moore says, “The removal of the police would be helpful. How can we ever fully celebrate the history and future of trans and queer liberation if it’s policed by the police who work to dismantle our freedom in the first place, who actively cause us so much harm, and are literally the reason Pride exists today? Pride was a protest against the police.”
It seems possible that, as Moore says this, the actor is considering a number of things. One of them, naturally, is the surreality of Pride ever happening again without being reenvisioned along a totally new axis. Another is Moore’s own passion, and the manner in which they find a sort of optimism in a moment that would seem to suggest anything but. “It’s just really beautiful,” Moore says, “to see such wealth distribution happening, and I just hope that this continues, or that we at least learn from it when this is over.
“I just hope I’ll come out of this a better person. I hope all of us do.”