Angelica Ross Deserved Protection in the Workplace; All Black Women Do.
By Toni A. Wilson, Director of Culture & Narrative Shift
There are so many hurdles Black women have to jump over and so many hills they have to climb when it comes to being a Black woman in the workplace. Black women are demonized in so many aspects of society, so it isn’t surprising that we tend to face some of our most painful and difficult experiences in the workplace. Day in and day out, Black women are reminded that we have to be our own fierce protectors and even fiercer advocates. This is far too common, and as Angelica Ross shared last week, this has been much of her experience in Hollywood.
Job Inequity and Transphobia
Last week Angelica Ross, singer and star of POSE and American Horror Story, took to X, formerly Twitter, to share her experiences of transphobia, misogynoir, and racism in the workplace. Over the span of just two days, Angelica called out American Horror Story creator, Ryan Murphy, and her castmate for AHS 1984, Emma Roberts. Angelica Ross shared her story and email exchange with Ryan Murphy agreeing to and engaging Angelica Ross with an idea to film a more Black woman-centered season of American Horror Story, based on the book The Other Black Girl, with more Black women behind and in front of the camera.
The email exchange showed him being super into the idea — until one day when Angelica followed up. She was met with no answer; he ghosted her. Angelica Ross gave us further context for the conversation and her frustrations, detailing that Marvel Studios had reached out to her and expressed interest in casting her for a film. She had previously auditioned for Marvel over the span of 3 years, and so to her excitement when she finally received her Marvel callback, she of course wanted to be sure all of her ducks were in a row. Ryan Murphy’s choice to not only leave her hanging in the wind without a decision or confirmation if she would be coming back for the new season of American Horror Story, or if he was still considering her pitched idea altogether, shows the complete and utter lack of respect, regard, and professionalism he showed towards her. This is an example of the complete disregard often shown towards Black women in the workforce.
In sharing her story about Ryan Murphy ghosting her, Ross is also sharing the pain of a missed opportunity. All too often Black women are subjected to pay inequity, lack of or no opportunities, and hostile work environments. It is difficult for Black women to navigate the workplace and gain equitable access to salaries and job opportunities and it’s even more difficult for trans Black women and gender expansive people. Black trans people experience a rate of 26% unemployment and 34% of Black trans people experience poverty and homelessness. Ross’ story is not only about Ryan Murphy leaving her “on read,” but it’s also about the opportunity that he stole right from under her: an opportunity she worked three years for. It’s about the food he snatched from her mouth and it’s about her work being flushed down the drain due to his white privilege and failure to see her worth.
Emma Roberts & White Women Fragility
Angelica Ross also went into detail about the transphobia she experienced from her co-star Emma Roberts. While they were on set, Ross shared that Roberts told the director Ross was being “mean” to her, which we all know as code for “this Black woman is not treating me as the white delicate flower that I am.” The director then turned to both women and said, “that’s enough ladies. Let’s get back to work.” Roberts looked at Angelica and said, “Don’t you mean lady?” Angelica Ross is a Black trans woman, so when Emma Roberts looked at her and said lady — as to make it known that she was the only “real woman” in the space — it was an explicitly violent and transphobic remark. Angelica Ross said her next step was to walk away as her blood was boiling and she had to talk herself down from reacting. Ross exclaimed that the next few days on set, Emma Roberts told her she could feel that something was “different”. There was a second transphobic encounter that Ross experienced with Roberts, which involved Roberts imitating another cast member’s voice at a table read and then insisting on imitating Ross’s voice. Angelica explained that that specific incident shifted how she spoke on set ever since, as she was already insecure about her voice.
I would say this was a microaggression and explain how much harm they cause, but anyone who has been the victim of a microaggression knows and understands that these are more than small comments that hurt us; they are digs at our humanity, personhood, and attacks on our identities. They are not well-intentioned and they are hardly ever innocent. They are terrorizing and should be thought of as such. When the director heard Emma refer to herself as the only lady insinuating that Angelica wasn’t, it was his duty to speak up in her defense. In that moment, he had a moral and legal obligation to be an ally to Angelica Ross; to ensure she was in a safe workplace and to call out Emma Roberts on her gender bias and transphobia. He did neither. When Emma made fun of Angelica’s voice at the table read, someone should have intervened. Someone should have stood for creating a safe work environment for Angelica Ross and everyone else on set, but instead, the day went on and Angelica lost a bit of her voice and her confidence to get her job done. Angelica said she was self-conscious of her voice on set every day from then on and even spoke less. As a society, we have to work towards a place where Black women and people of all gender experiences and spectrums are heard, safe, and treated with dignity in their workplaces.
Emma Roberts has since reached out to Angelica and apologized following Ross’ sharing of her story. Angelica informed us through a recent tweet that she has accepted Emma’s apology and is keeping the lines of communication open with her as Roberts learns how to be an ally.
Angelica Ross’ Advocacy
At Girls for Gender Equity, we honored Angelica Ross last year for our 20th anniversary with our Spotlight Award. That award is specifically designed to recognize and amplify the advocacy work of community leaders across fields and sectors whose work centers on the lived experience of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive young people. This award is presented to Black girls, women, and femmes who GGE recognizes as co-conspirators in our organizing, policy, and culture shift work and those helping to change the material conditions of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth across the country. We recognized Angelica Ross as a co-conspirator within a network of cultural change-makers and philanthropists for her groundbreaking work and belief in the power of storytelling, fundraising for Black trans people, her powerful role as Candy in the hit show POSE, and her transformative work as Founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, a program that helps people lift themselves out of poverty through technical training, digital work creating a social impact, and bringing economic empowerment to marginalized communities. As an organization that believes in the power and organizing of young people, we were and are still moved by Angelica’s dedication and work to mobilize trans young people against gender-based violence faced by trans Black girls and women.
We even see how deep Angelica’s advocacy for other Black women goes through her email exchange with Ryan Murphy when she was pitching her idea for a Black woman-centered season of American Horror Story. In those emails, Angelica Ross spoke the names of so many Black women actresses in Hollywood, including OG’s like Lynn Whitfield and Debbi Morgan to other seasoned actresses including Adina Porter, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, and her trans sister and fellow actress Amiyah Scott. She advocated for those women even when she didn’t have to and even when no cameras were watching because she understands how doubly hard Black women have to work in Hollywood for opportunities on all fronts. That’s what separates Angelica Ross from many others. She is so important to her field, to the projects she works on, to her community, and to Black women.
Ross has since informed us via X, formerly known as Twitter, that she is “leaving Hollywood” — but not completely in the way we think.
“For the folks who haven’t put it together yet, I’m “leaving Hollywood’’. There are multiple articles that will be coming out detailing this. So I suggest you and your faves play nice, cuz I’m a Black trans woman with nothing to lose. Candy was born from my body. IYKYK. IYDYD.” — Ross
She doubled back and informed us that this will look like working on her own projects and a potential run for office. I stand in solidarity with Angelica Ross because no matter what your field is or what the job is, Black women, especially trans Black women, deserve a work environment that is safe, inclusive, and just and she should not have to leave Hollywood or a field where she has made a name for herself for this to happen.
Toni Wilson is the Director of Culture & Narrative Shift at Girls for Gender Equity. She is also a social worker, organizer, cultural critic, plus size influencer, fat liberationist and BlackFeminist from Brooklyn with roots in Jamaica. She can be found @ FatBlackLuxury.