Before Pose, there was Saturday Church

By now many of you have probably seen or at least heard of Ryan Murphy’s newest FX series Pose. The show–which premiered on June 3rd–is a musical drama set in the ’80s ballroom underground subculture of Harlem. It’s also notable in that it stars a cast of trans women of color–faces rarely seen on television. In fact, the show boasts the largest cast of transgender actors in television history.

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Flyer from recent screening of Saturday Church at the LGBT Center.

Before Pose, many of the actors’ first exposure to the camera came from Saturday Church, a film written and directed by Damon Cardasis in 2017.

The film centers on the story of Ulysses (Luka Cain), a gender queer youth who is coming-of-age in New York City in a conservative, religious family. Ulysses’ name–a reference to the James Joyce classic–symbolizes the character’s personal journey of self-discovery after fleeing an abusive home to live on the streets and being adopted by a family trans women.

Ulysses meets this chosen family at Saturday Church, a real-life program based out of Saint’s Luke’s Church near Christopher Street that serves homeless LGBTQ youth to this day.

The film is notable in that it highlights issues facing the LGBTQ community, particularly the struggles faced by trans and queer people of color. Some of the musical numbers don’t quite land, but the fantasy sequences are beautifully shot and reminiscent of A Fantastic Woman–the Chilean film featuring a trans woman that won this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

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Cast of Pose–many of whom appear in Saturday Church.

While the parallels to Pose are obvious, Saturday Church manages a more subtle and intimate portrayal of one young person’s journey to find community, family, love, and sense of belonging in the world.

I recently caught it during a screening and Q&A with the director and lead actor at New York’s LGBT Center and highly recommend it! It’s now streaming here on Amazon Prime.

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