When the FX series Pose premiered in June 2018, it seemed like a new era was arriving -- one in which diverse depictions of characters who also happened to be HIV positive would grace the screen. In addition to Pose, shows like How to Get Away With Murder, Transparent, Empire, and the now cancelled Looking had supporting characters who had HIV, but their number is still small, and most of them focused on members of the LGBT community. However, a digital contender is taking up the torch of more inclusive programming with POZ ROZ, a comedy about thriving, not just surviving, with HIV. And in contrast to the other shows, the main character is a young, black woman.
Poz Roz, or Rozzlyn Mayweather, played by Chauntae Pink, is a smart and quirky millennial living her best life when she is diagnosed with HIV. The show follows Roz as she returns to the world she left behind after finding out about her status.
Malachi Rivers, Thomas Hobson, Aisha Lomax, and Melissa L. Williams round out the cast.
The Show Creator Follows His Passion From Journalism to Screenwriter
The show was created by Carlton Jordan, from Charlotte, N.C., who went to Howard University and discovered his love of film via writing.
"I started off in journalism because I wanted to be a writer," said Jordan, adding that once he found out about the variety of jobs he could pursue as a writer, "I quickly switched to the film program."
But the road to digital was paved with celluloid -- and a lot of life lessons.
"Film is not what you think," Jordan said. "It's very technical. I wanted to be a writer. I didn't realize you had to learn how to load a camera reel."
When Jordan finally packed his bags and arrived in Los Angeles, the landscape was already changing.
"When I came to LA, everything shifted to digital," Jordan said. "I couldn't find a job. And I had to relearn everything."
To make matters worse, in late 2007 the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and the latest era of black films (à la Best Man and Brown Sugar) was thinning out, as were black shows on television. This strike is often credited (for better or for worse) with giving birth to the era of reality television, and it was in the world of unscripted television that Jordan was able to find work. This ultimately influenced his style to this day.
Working for shows like BET's Ink, Paper, Scissors, Freeform's Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings, and Bravo's upcoming Mexican Dynasties, Jordan said he learned how to shape a story out of no story.
"You literally have to take people who have no life and create a story," he said. "That really helped my story muscles."
Even though Jordan said the money in unscripted television was "good," he still kept writing.
How POZ ROZ Became a Series
The idea for POZ ROZ actually came from conversing with a longtime friend.
"I had a friend who came out to me that he was HIV positive like 10 years after his diagnosis," Jordan said. "Mind you, all this time we have been partying, living our best lives, and there was never any indication that he was HIV [positive]."
"I ignorantly was like, 'You were never sad or depressed.' And he said, 'Just because you're HIV positive doesn't mean you can't enjoy your life."
Jordan said it was like a classic cartoon lightbulb moment.
"That's obviously true," Jordan said he recalled thinking. "It makes sense, but why is that how the disease is presented to the world?"
From then on, Jordan knew that for his show he wanted to "tell the story of a person living their best life while living with HIV."
Jordan credits a post from blogger Necole Bitchie (now xoNecole) about a woman who was HIV positive who had a family and husband for inspiring his character. It opened his eyes to how vibrant and complex a character could be.
"I chose a heterosexual black woman because I felt like that story gets lost when we talk about HIV," Jordan said. "Maybe entering this world as a heterosexual black woman would be an entry point for a lot of different audiences."
Playing Poz Roz Challenges the Actor
For Chauntae Pink, who plays the lead role in the series, the character's complexity drew her in immediately.
"After I read it, I fell in love with it," Pink said. "Not only because it's a subject we haven't talked about, but also the otherness that I think [Jordan] presented -- the alternative black girl portrayed that doesn't mean goth or socially inept but quirky and full of life and heart."
Pink also said her ideas and notions around HIV were challenged as well.
"I realized just how big my misconceptions were personally about HIV and AIDS," Pink said, adding that while she was researching people's coming-out stories on YouTube and other places, she realized the story of people with the disease is not cut and dried. "So many of them were not sexually promiscuous or even sex-positive. A lot of them were your average, traditional people, especially the women, who sort of fell into these situations with people whom they trusted that didn't let them know they had the disease."
Both creator and actor urge you not to enter the world of POZ ROZ with a box of tissues.
"Carlton is hilarious," Pink said. "His style of writing is so funny, and I felt like it was beautifully written."
"Most people's reaction was that this is something I could laugh with somebody while watching," Jordan said. Before viewing the show, he said, "Most people thought it would be deep and dark."
Although the show is talking with several different distribution companies, Jordan promised that the show will debut sometime in the first or second quarter of the year.
Until then, we will have to settle for the trailer and send "pozitive" vibes their way.