“Sometimes, I feel like I’m still not doing enough,” says actress Mj Rodriguez. If you’ve followed her breakout year, then this comment might make you raise an eyebrow. From starring in the second season of FX’s Pose and a L.A. production of Little Shop of Horrors to the TIME 100 Next list and her first beauty campaign, the newcomer is not only busy, but she’s rapidly securing her spot as an esteemed actress. All of this is on top of her advocacy work for the LGBTQ+ community and her mission to increase visibility for transgender individuals.
In her latest step towards this goal, Rodriguez recently partnered with Olay Body for the brand’s #FearlessMoment campaign. Along with her excitement in committing to softer skin by using the brand’s Ultra Moisture Body Wash for two weeks, the transgender actress is also eager to shed light on a more profound and inclusive message with this partnership. “Not a lot of women like myself get an opportunity to show themselves in a way that they’re comfortable and feel included,” she says. “It’s important to see us as human beings. Skin is an organ for all of us, it’s what ties us together. We all have skin.”
Rodriguez grew up in a Afro-Latinx home in Newark, New Jersey — her mother is African-American and her father is Puerto Rican — and distinctly remembers playing in her mom and grandmother’s skin-care stash, which often included Olay products. She calls this opportunity a full-circle moment.
Still, it’s just a start. For Rodriguez, increased representation for the LGBTQ+ community in films, on TV, and in advertising campaigns starts during the casting process. “We’re a marginalized community and a lot of stigmas are usually held over our heads,” she says. Her hopes for the future? “If [a casting director] sees a person that’s coming in, doing the work, and laying it down how they need to, whoever is on the casting chair should release any labels for a second and see what this person has to offer,” she says.
This openness to transgender actors is exactly how she landed the starring role of Audrey — played by a caucasian cis woman in the 1986 film — in Pasadena Playhouse’s production of Little Shop of Horrors, a moment that she’s calling one of her most fearless of the year.
Still, playing the part came with doubts to overcome. “I was very self-conscious as to what people would say,” Rodriquez says. “I have a very rich, lower [tone of voice] and I didn’t want people to equate that with masculinity.” (For the record, her performance got rave reviews.)
“Not a lot of women like myself get an opportunity to show themselves in a way that they’re comfortable and feel included…”Mj Rodriguez
At the end of the day, Rodriguez’s main focus is on increasing awareness and visibility as both an Afro-Latinx and trans woman, which is more than just fighting for screen time. As of last month, at least 22 trans and gender-nonconforming people had been killed in the U.S. It’s these scary realities that inspire Rodriguez to use her platform to make a difference. “I hope that I’m doing my best to make sure that we lay down the foundation,” she says. “[I hope] we can release a lot of this tension when it comes to our existence.”
As audiences anticipate the return of Rodriguez’s role of Blanca in the next season of Pose, which is reportedly going to air in 2020, we’re also looking forward to her continued work serving her communities. “I want my voice to be heard like everyone else’s,” she says.
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