Interview: Thomas Stitchbury; pictures: Adam Washington
Pose star Angel Bismark Curiel has opened up about challenging real-life transphobia since taking on the role of Lil Papi on the hit FX series, revealing he was forced to challenge a driver who made transphobic remarks on a film set.
Appearing on the cover of Attitude's Summer issue – out now to download and to order globally - the 25-year-old actor reflects on the importance of standing up for trans people in all parts of your life, even when difficult conversations might be required.
Angel wears tank top by Versace, trousers by Fear of God, watch by Cartier (Photography: Adam Washington; Styling: Jason Bolden at JSN Studio)
"This was a make-it-or-break-it moment"
"There was an instance when I was on a set having shot, I think, the first or second season of Pose, where I was in a car with a driver and the driver said something extremely transphobic", Curiel recalls.
"I knew that this was a make-it-or-break-it moment, this was do or die, you had to check this."
The star goes on: "It’s because of gentlemen like this that trans women end up dead; it’s because of that remark you just said that trans women end up dead. I had to check that, and the way I checked that, I had to hold space with his boss, I had to hold space with him.
"I had to hold space with my boss, because that was the only way we were gonna say, 'Hey, it doesn’t matter what show I’m on, it doesn’t matter if I’m Lil Papi on Pose or not, this s**t is not OK and here’s why it’s not OK and how are we going to fix it, what are we going to do to make sure this gentleman knows that this is not OK?'
"Those are the hard conversations that need to be had", he adds.
"When you find yourself in a position of privilege, much [like] how I found myself in a position of privilege in that scenario, in that space, you have to say, OK, it’s on me, it’s on me to do this work right now because I can, I can hold that plate and that’s what it’s all about.
He adds: "I’ve had plenty of conversations back home with my own friends. I very much put it out on the table and say, 'All right, y’all, we gotta have a conversation, let’s talk, ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer them, and we can go from there. I don’t have all the answers, but I can share what I know'."
Curiel, who began dating Pose writer and director Janet Mock in 2018, says his relationship with the trailblazing producer helped inform his performance as Lil Papi, who is also a cisgender straight man in a relationship with a trans woman (Angel, played by Indya Moore).
Angel wears shirt by BODE, trousers by Versace, necklace by Mateo New York (Photography: Adam Washington; Styling: Jason Bolden at JSN Studio)
"My relationship with Janet, you know, I came home to this amazing Black trans woman who was so open and so vulnerable on so many levels, and so willing to share her experiences and open herself up to me so that I can really, really see her in all her colours and all her emotions," says Bismark.
He says that also carried over into his relationships with the rest of the cast, who he says is like a family.
"All that ever did was make me want to take better care and more care of the Black trans women on set, because I had this amazing woman that I want to love on, that I want to take care of, that I want to see grow and see prosper and keep protected and safe in this world that often does not take care of and protect Black trans women."
Read the full interview in the Attitude Summer issue, out now.