Rodriguez is nominated as lead actress in the drama category for her powerful portrayal of house mother and nurse Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista in the ballroom culture period drama “Pose.”
“I do believe this is a pivotal moment. There’s never been a trans woman who has been nominated as a leading outstanding actress, and I feel like that pushes the needle forward so much, for now, the door to be knocked down for so many people — whether they be male or trans female, gender nonconforming, LGBTQIA+, it does not matter,” Rodriguez told Variety. “A moment like this extends and opens and elongates the possibilities of what’s going to happen, and I believe the Academy is definitely making it possible, and their eyes are more than open. Yes, I do believe they’re going to continue, and I also feel like we’re going to keep speaking and encouraging and informing, and educating people around the world. I think that’s the most important thing.”
MJ Rodriguez was born in Newark, New Jersey, to an African-American mother and an Afro-Puerto Rican father. Her family’s support led her to train in the performing arts at a young age in youth theaters and to embrace her gender identity at age 14.
After training at Berklee College of Music, where she received a Star-Ledger Scholarship in 2009 and a top-tier Young Arts Scholarship the same year, the young artist eventually adopted the stage name “Mj” Rodriguez.
Her first major role was as Angel Dumott Schunard in the off-Broadway production of the musical Rent. After a short hiatus to carry out her transition, between 2012 and 2016, Rodriguez landed small television roles in “Nurse Jackie,” “The Carrie Diaries,” and “Luke Cage.”
Following her comeback, Rodriguez uploaded a video of herself to Facebook singing the number “Satisfied” from the Broadway musical Hamilton. The video received a positive response and earned her an invitation to audition for the role of Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds in “Hamilton.”
Finally, in 2017, Rodriguez was cast in the lead role of Blanca Evangelista in the FX series Pose. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, the series made history by featuring five transgender actresses in lead roles.
A year later, “Pose” became the series with the largest cast of transgender actors and actresses as series regulars in a scripted series.
The series is set in New York City during the 1980s and explores the lives of queer people of color (specifically Black trans women) involved with the underground dance scene as part of the Ballroom culture. Blanca, played by Rodriguez, is a young woman who forms her own “house” — the Evangelista House — after receiving a positive HIV diagnosis. As head of the Evangelista House, she becomes a surrogate mother to several abandoned young people of color.
The series just wrapped its third and final season and closed on a high note with Rodriguez’s Emmy nomination.
Sarah Kate Ellis of GLAAD, the LGBTQIA+ organization, called her nomination “a breakthrough for transgender women in Hollywood, and a long-overdue recognition for her groundbreaking performance over the past three seasons of ‘Pose'” — a show that, Ellis said, “undoubtedly raised the bar for trans representation on television and changed the way viewers around the world understand the trans community.”
For Rodriguez, this is just the beginning.
“I just feel like the sky is limitless,” she told Variety of her professional future. “I feel like there’s so much more opportunity out there. The world — it’s opened, and I can’t even express how happy I am to know that I’ll be able to be a part of more amazing pieces of work … and just put out good products. I know that’s what the future looks like.”