The Blackprint welcomes Michaela Jaé “Mj” Rodriguez during its “Women of Color Trailblazers” series
The “POSE” actress talks creative journey, representation and identity
The Blackprint welcomed Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, the critically acclaimed actress that initially made her name in the FX show “POSE” and the 2019 Pasadena Playhouse production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” on Wednesday as part of its “Women of Color Trailblazers” series. The session, hosted by The Blackprint’s Multimedia Editor Festicia Bovell and Michelle Strange, the assistant director of educational and support programs for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, focused both on Rodriguez’s extensive performance career and work within activism.
Rodriguez shared that her love of performance first stemmed from her love of music, which was initially ignited by her family. As of late, Rodriguez said that Justin Bieber’s “Peaches'' has been on repeat, and singers Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and SZA have all been inspirational to her. Out of love for both their strength and art, she’s been glad to see these women rewarded for their work.
Rodriguez spoke extensively about “POSE,” the TV show that has defined her career. As the show enters its final season, Rodriguez reflected on her character Blanca and revealed that she learned a lot about being a mother. She particularly felt impacted by the character’s leadership, despite not having a mothering “roadmap.”
“Even though I’m not a mother yet, I know I’m gonna be a great one,” Rodriguez said.
She believes that “POSE” has been influential in its ability to challenge stereotypes, especially those about trans women of color. She explained that this environment has also been powerful for her as a person, and said that working with writer and director Janet Mock was particularly impactful.
“What built me, and my womanhood most importantly, was the women around me — the strong trans women around me,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also shared her experience working on the role of Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Pasadena Playhouse — a role that has often been played by white, blonde actresses.
“Not a lot of girls of color have seen themselves in that role,” Rodriguez said. She shared that she hopes that this role, in addition to other roles in similar productions, will continue to be open to all actresses. For young women of color looking to enter the entertainment industry, Rodriguez stressed the importance of advocating for oneself.
“Never be afraid of your voice,” Rodriguez said. “Especially young Black girls, your voice is so key.”
Rodriguez explained that “communication is key” when talking about what colleges can do to create better environments for LGBTQ+ students.
“I think the most important thing when it comes to LGBTQIA youth, LGBTQIA young adults: have spaces for them,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said that she has been happy to see the progress of the LGBTQ+ community that has come with each generation. She believes that representation of this community is important within artistic media, and that it is crucial that the industry strives for even more. Particularly, she expressed her desire for an expansion in the narratives open to the community’s members.
“There needs to be more stories that aren’t just centered around their queerness,” Rodriguez said. “There are also regular aspects about our lives that people need to see.”
On coming out as trans as a young person, Rodriguez expressed the importance of standing her ground. While she said that her parents remained supportive of her, she explained her understanding of that not always being the case. She stressed how family can be found in the ballroom scene like in “POSE,” and explained that there are families that will understand you if your blood family doesn’t.
“Find that family, and create one for yourself,” Rodriguez said.
Speaking of her future, Rodriguez revealed that she’d love to be in an action-thriller film. She also said that she has plans to direct in the future — though she acknowledges that it may not happen until further down the road. She also mentioned that her boyfriend is a screenwriter, and that they’d been working on pieces together.
As for taking care of herself in the present, Rodriguez shared that she practices gratefulness and thankfulness, and stays grounded by surrounding herself with her family.
“Love is the main thing I promote,” Rodriguez said.