The category is: making history. Mj Rodriguez has become the first transgender performer to pick up an Emmy nomination in a major acting category.
Rodriguez is nominated in the lead drama actress category for her fierce and formidable portrayal of house mother and nurse Blanca Rodriguez on FX’s ballroom culture period drama “Pose.” It is her first-ever attention from the Television Academy.
“I do believe this is a pivotal moment. There’s never been a trans woman who has been nominated as a leading outstanding actress and I feel like that pushes the needle forward so much for now the door to be knocked down for so many people — whether they be male or trans female, gender nonconforming, LGBTQIA+, it does not matter,” Rodriguez told Variety. “A moment like this extends and opens and elongates the possibilities of what’s going to happen and I believe the Academy is definitely making it possible and their eyes are more than open. Yes, I do believe they’re going to continue, and I also feel like we’re going to keep speaking and encouraging and informing and educating people around the world. I think that’s the most important thing.”
This nomination marks a significant step for LGBTQIA-plus representation — and specifically trans representation — at the Emmys. Prior to Rodriguez, only two openly trans performers received Emmy attention: Laverne Cox was the first, picking up her first nomination in the guest drama actress category for her work as former inmate Sophia on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” in 2014 (and later receiving three more, all in the same category, in 2017, 2019 and 2020); meanwhile, Rain Valdez of “Razor Tongue” scored a short form comedy or drama actress nom just last year.
In contrast, Jeffrey Tambor, who is a cisgender, heterosexual man, received three Emmy nominations for his performance as a transgender woman on Amazon Prime Video’s “Transparent.” (He won twice, in 2015 and 2016.)
“Michaela Jaé (Mj) Rodriguez’s Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series is a breakthrough for transgender women in Hollywood, and a long-overdue recognition for her groundbreaking performance over the past three seasons of ‘Pose,’” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
“Pose” offered the Television Academy the most opportunities to celebrate LGBTQIA-plus performers out of any series, but only Rodriguez and Billy Porter received noms. Porter is back on the lead drama actor ballot for the third consecutive time for his role of Pray Tell, ballroom emcee and mentor; he won in 2019, for the show’s first season. The show was also nominated in the drama series race (this marks its second nomination there), as well as in drama writing, drama directing, contemporary costumes, contemporary hairstyling, contemporary makeup (non-prosthetic) and prosthetic makeup.
“The show’s nomination for outstanding drama series, as well as Billy Porter’s third nomination for outstanding lead actor in a drama series, mark a historic show that undoubtedly raised the bar for trans representation on television and changed the way viewers around the world understand the trans community. As over 40 leading LGBTQ organizations pointed out in our open letter about ‘Pose’ to Emmy Award voters, representation matters. Congratulations, Michaela Jaé, Billy Porter, and the entire ‘Pose’ team — the world is standing with you and applauding your talents,” said Ellis.
If Rodriguez wins in September, she will make history again as the first-ever trans performer to take home an Emmy statue.
Haley Bosselman contributed to this report.