Angelica Ross Tells Her Own American Horror Story Of Being Black & Trans In Hollywood


In the past week, celebrated actress Angelica Ross (POSE, American Horror Story) dropped many bombshells, ranging from sharing an incident in which her co-star Emma Roberts allegedly intentionally misgendered her on set of American Horror Story (AHS), to claiming (with receipts) that producer and showrunner Ryan Murphy left her on read after talks of an all-Black season of AHS in 2020, resulting in Ross getting stuck in a contract that barred her from obtaining work outside of the AHS franchise. Most recently, after Ross announced that she intends to leave Hollywood altogether, she gave an explosive interview to The Hollywood Reporter detailing exactly what happened on the set of AHS with Roberts and Murphy. As Ross continues to share what’s been happening to her behind the scenes, I can’t help but think of how she has been living in an American horror story of her own: being a Black trans woman in Hollywood. 

Ross’s breakout role was starring as Candy on another Murphy-helmed series, FX’s POSE. The show highlighted the lives of the Black transgender and queer community’s ballroom scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s. POSE would go on to launch the careers of Ross’s castmates, Indya Moore, Michaela Jae Rodriguez and make Billy Porter an Emmy Award winner. Ross was the first castmate to leave the series as her character was unceremoniously killed off (a move that angered fans). Then Ross moved over to Murphy’s AHS series, 1984. Ross starring in two popular series was still rare for a Black trans actor — especially a Black transgender woman. But since then, she’s starred on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago, hosted the 2020 Presidential Candidate Forum On LGBTQ Issues, garnered a Daytime Emmy nomination for her work in the web series King Ester, and launched the TransTech Summit for transgender people working in technology.  

Since July, Ross has begun to share the tumultuous relationship she has had with Hollywood. Through a series of tweets (or Xeets, whatever we’re calling them these days), Ross recounted an email exchange with her then boss, Murphy. Murphy allegedly sent Ross an email confirming his desire to create a series she’d proposed — an AHS series featuring a cast entirely made up of Black women. After Murphy confirmed interest, requesting names of actors that Ross felt would be great additions to the concept to star alongside her, there was no response from Murphy. Ross claims that she followed up multiple times to see when the project might come to fruition. Unfortunately, because of her contract holding with AHS and Murphy, she says was ineligible for other work opportunities, including an offer from the Marvel franchise. Underemployed and “left on read by Murphy,” Ross vented her frustrations navigating transphobia, racism and misogynoir in Hollywood. 

American Horror Story: Double Feature — Pictured: Angelica Ross as The Chemist. CR: Frank Ockenfels/FX.

“I thought that Ryan Murphy was going to be my champion. I thought he understood,” Ross spoke candidly to THR about feeling let down by Murphy. She also claimed there was a crew member on set of AHS wearing t-shirts with racist slogans on them, including “BUILD THAT WALL” and “I DON’T KNEEL.” When Ross confronted Murphy about the crew member, she felt silenced. 

“This is not my first time at the rodeo of dealing with that energy of white people who think that they are doing good but won’t check their own selves when someone Black or of the people they’re trying to help is telling them, ‘You have a blind spot.’” Ross told THR. Ross said after a heated phone call in which he was “cussing [her] out,” Murphy then apologized and promised to be her champion. In a statement to THR, AHS co-executive producer Tanase Popa claimed they didn’t hear Murphy cuss at Ross, but confirmed that the incident occurred. It’s clear that Ross had to deal with frustrations on set that no actor should. “It’s a shame that I do all this work out in the world on anti-Blackness and racism and have to come to a set and do the same work,” Ross tweeted at the time (it has since been tweeted).

Ross also recalled a transphobic encounter with co-star Emma Roberts, which has since gone viral. In the account, Ross recalled playfighting with Roberts in between filming. Ross claimed that when a director said, “Settle down, ladies,” Roberts responded, “Don’t you mean… lady?’” misgendering Ross. After the news was shared widely, with Roberts facing immense backlash, Ross shared that Roberts reached out to her and apologized over the phone. “It was a bumpy conversation,” Ross told THR, and stated that Roberts said, “I was really just referring to myself” in defense of the transphobic comment. “The truth of the matter is I know Emma’s got big balls. I’ve seen them on the set, so I’m not surprised that she called me. This girl is no damsel in distress, ever,” Ross continued to THR. Roberts  has yet to release a statement publicly and declined to comment for THR’s story. Murphy also did not comment.

As Ross stands firm in her decision to leave Hollywood and run for office, I can’t help but think about the paradox of transgender visibility. As the founder of The Transgender District, I know how much has changed in the past nine years since the release of TIME Magazine’s “The Transgender Tipping Point” cover story. We’ve seen the emergence of trans celebrities, actors, models, and thought leaders in media, and whilst that representation has expanded, we’ve also seen the political regression of progress, in which over 500 anti-transgender laws have been put forward into legislation across the United States. We’ve seen more transgender stars embraced during fashion weeks around the world, but we’ve also seen the rising death toll of Black transgender women, murdered in the United States at alarming rates. We’ve watched the evolution and breakouts of stars like Laverne Cox, Billy Porter, Michaela Jae Rodriguez, and, yes, Angelica Ross. But based on her accounts, this visibility hasn’t translated to safety in Hollywood. And I can’t help but worry that their presence is only temporary. 

These are just the stories of trans folks in Hollywood that we know of. For many of the trailblazing transgender women of color we’ve seen on our television screens, I can imagine that there are so many stories and traumatizing moments still left unsaid. 

Ross’s experiences seem like a culmination of the obstacle course that I imagine many of the transgender women of color in the media industry are having to also navigate. Even with the veneer of designer gowns and red carpet invitations, many of the celebrated Black trans women actors have also lamented publicly on how “brutal” the industry is for transgender actors. Laverne Cox, the trailblazing actress that helped usher more transgender creatives into Hollywood, expressed frustration at the very limited roles she is offered, citing that her identity has limited her severely in Hollywood, and that it was only recently that she was able to play non-transgender characters in films and television. She also had to receive an apology after Universal Pictures used a male actor to dub her voice in European translations of Promising Young Woman. Writer and filmmaker Janet Mock called out the industry in 2019, screaming “fuck Hollywood!” from the stage at an event for POSE’s final season. Mock ranted about the exploitation of the transgender cast, how the writers’ room was mostly men writing for Black trans and queer characters, and how as an executive producer of the show, she was compensated the least of her peers. Mock pretty much disappeared from the public eye after her rant went viral. (Ross references this rant in her THR interview and says she was one of the few to support Mock). And these are just the stories and lived experiences of trans folks in Hollywood that we know of. For many of the trailblazing transgender women of color we’ve seen on our television screens, I can imagine that there are so many stories and traumatizing moments still left unsaid. 

As the world reverses the tiniest bits of progress made to protect transgender people —- specifically Black transgender women —  the regression is happening in Hollywood, too. As a Black transgender woman, I know my identity can be a double edged sword in everyday life. I can only imagine what it is like for actors like Ross. Now that her contract with AHS and Ryan Murphy has presumably come to an end, if she were to stay in Hollywood, what work options will she have? She’s a Black trans woman, so we know Tyler Perry isn’t coming to save the day, and we know that most studios, including Black media outlets, don’t intentionally feature or hire transgender talent. Ross has other odds she has to beat in Hollywood: as a dark-skinned woman, she knows all too well that colorism also exists for transgender women. While her fairer-skinned castmates Indya Moore and Michaela Jae Rodriguez have been more openly embraced (Moore is a darling to the fashion world, and Rodriuguez won a Golden Globe and has since gone on to star in other hit shows, like Apple TV’s Loot)  it doesn’t appear that Ross has been presented with the same opportunities to shine her incredible talent. 

When one of the most talented Black transgender woman actors shares she’s leaving Hollywood after a tumultuous relationship with Hollywood’s gatekeepers, it’s symptomatic of the larger cultural shift.

While women like Angelica Ross are having to navigate the abrasive realities of being a visibly Black transgender woman in the Hollywood space, the rest of us are also feeling the shift in our everyday lives. Through my work, I can attest that philanthropy has shifted its support away from transgender economic empowerment efforts, citing reproductive justice as a more pressing concern, even as trans folks and women are losing our rights to body autonomy, too. For transgender creatives, things are also getting worse. Diamond Stylz, one of the hosts of the Marsha’s Plate podcast, shared with me that “since the transphobic backlash against Dylan Mulvaney’s Budweiser ad, many sponsors won’t touch any transgender talent or work with transgender platforms”. We’ve seen the Black women heads of DEI initiatives for tech companies and Fortune 500 companies leave their jobs in droves, and as a result, many of the transgender thought leaders I know are struggling to gain work for diversity and inclusion in these spaces. 

All of this leads me to believe that the intention in Hollywood (or any space for that matter) was never to have Black transgender women as mainstays but rather as ornaments that can be displayed and then put away in storage at the season’s end. Hollywood and brands overall have assumed they’ve gotten their social justice cookies for including a transgender person or two in their campaigns, movies, television shows, and advertisements. But now they’ve grown bored and are ready to move on to the next “trendy” thing. 

But being trans is not a trend. We shouldn’t have to be activists in every space to do the work we wish to do. And when one of the most talented Black transgender woman actors shares she’s leaving Hollywood after a tumultuous relationship with Hollywood’s gatekeepers, it’s symptomatic of the larger cultural shift in which “The Transgender Tipping Point” has tipped. What happens when we’re no longer fascinating to the white, cisgender gaze? Just ask Angelica Ross. 

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

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