King Ester is Issa Rae’s latest Color Creative show. King Ester tells the story of transgender woman Ester Pappion who is trying to become a breakout star and leave her New Orleans town. However, her dreams of stardom are threatened by many things outside of her control: the financial cost, her interpersonal relationship dynamics, and Hurricane Katrina which is days away from making landfall in New Orleans. Like the instant cult classic show Pose, King Ester is also showcasing the talent of transgender women. The cast of King Ester stars Rowin Amone as the show’s main protagonist alongside Afro-Cuban performance artist Lady Dane as Ester’s friend, Patra; and Pose and American Horror Story’s Angelica Cross as Denise.
The beauty of King Ester lies in its ability to tell a deeply human story in a way that many can relate to through gorgeous cinematography. Ester is a talented young woman that is committed to pursuing her goals of being a Hollywood star and sought after designer, all while having to navigate the complexities of being a financially poor Black trans woman in the south and coming into her own identity under the pressure of society.
However, King Ester isn’t just another tragic story about a transgender woman. Ester’s best friend Patra is often encouraging, supporting, and helping Ester take steps to get closer to her goals. Their honest conversations shared laughs, and moments of raw honesty create such a moment of deep sisterhood that everyone — especially Black trans women — deserve. Throughout the show, you see the ways in which Ester’s community deeply cares for her, even when they fail to show her, in the ways she always deserves. When asked about portraying Ester on-screen, Amone stated, “Ester’s character was so beautiful [because people get] to see a spectrum of an experience — being the trans experience — that shows her beauty and where she is. And it didn’t make it all about her transition. To me, being where I am in my personal life, I felt that I needed to portray this role to bring that representation and visibility to this part of the spectrum.”
Amone does a great job of portraying Ester’s insecurities and confidence all in one. When she goes out on auditions she is often abruptly kicked out or rudely ran off because she is Black and trans. This reality makes it difficult for many Black women trans women to find work that allows them to pursue their goals and make a living. This is why Ester engages in sex work. “Trans women, as we know, are at the bottom of the totem pole in society,” explains Amone.”So having the ability or the opportunity to go in for an interview or get seen for a certain job to allow them more financial stability and more status in society, it’s very difficult. So trans women oftentimes have to turn to sex work for survival.” She goes on to explain that Ester would much rather be in Hollywood making money, but that isn’t her reality at the present moment.
Episode 5 “Champagne” is especially tender because it shows the romantic ways in which Black men can and should love and care for Black trans women. One of the equally beautiful moments in the show comes when Ester’s mother embraces her while she cries. Both moments show that love — romantic and family — are possible and exist for trans women. Oftentimes the stories of trans women are only shared after they have been killed for their trans identity. King Ester isn’t that show. King Ester shows a young woman coming of age in a world that is refusing to allow her to pursue her goals but has a community of people who care, encourage, and love her.
King Ester has been selected for several awards and has been screened at New York’s LGBTQ Film Festival, San Francisco’s International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and the New Orleans Film Festival. You can currently watch all the episodes of King Ester on Color Creative’s YouTube channel.