Katie Leigh on Mj Rodriguez
I first discovered Mj Rodriguez in 2019, when she was announced as playing Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors at the Pasadena Playhouse.
I remember this news being shared everywhere, because everyone was so excited for not only a black woman to be playing this iconic role, but for a black transgender woman to be stepping into this beloved character’s shoes.
From then, I discovered she had also played Angel in the Off-Broadway production of Rent. When playing Angel, she created more depth to the character than had ever been shown. MJ allowed the fluidity of the character to be explored, saying herself that in her eyes, ‘Angel Dumott Schunard was more genderqueer and gender-fluid’. But the importance of Mj playing Angel is perfectly summed up in another quote by her, saying ‘It wasn’t like being a character. I was in character, of course, but I was also living me and telling my story through Angel‘. This is ever more impactful since she played the role before she transitioned.
But Mj is far more than her ‘type cast’.
Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors has a staple image to her, one that is rarely broken. White, blonde, short, played by a cis woman with a meek voice. But with Mj coming in, she broke the expectations and brought in her own new rules to the role of Audrey, creating and allowing a new space for a different type of woman to play the character. Especially taking into account what Audrey experiences within the show, it creates more meaning to it due to Mj’s personal attributes, contributing more to the character than anyone has previously.
But for me, she became an inspiration through her role as Blanca in the TV show Pose. A show that highlights who she is, telling and embracing the story of her being Black and Trans, allowing her to once again tell her own story through a character. She represents the reality of generations, being embraced and recognised within her community, but shunned and discriminated against by society. But despite her societal differences, the character of Blanca continues to overcome her difficulties, providing support, love, and help to those who are in her community that are struggling, while also keeping true to herself and not allowing the world to dull her sparkle.
This is just like Mj.
Through her characters and herself, she is unapologetic in all that she does, allowing her personality to shine, but also knowing how important it is to speak up and fight for what is right. Through social media, you can see and hear what she does for both the Black and LGBTQ+ community, especially for the lives of fellow Black Trans women.
Through representing minorities on both stage and screen, while also using her platform to build awareness and unity, Mj Rodriguez is someone who has and will continue to inspire me, and deserves to be recognised this Black History Month.