Jason Rodriguez (also known as ballroom impresario Slim Ninja) has found his sweet spot. Coming up in the ballroom scene as a voguer, he suddenly finds himself in high professional demand. From his work on Pose(he portrays Lamar Abundance) to possibly upcoming big-screen opportunities, this native New Yorker is diving headfirst into projects that he is beyond passionate about. Off screen, his passions are more about his family, and the children that he is able to call his own, setting examples and laying groundwork for them to chase their own passions. As World Pride weekend converges on Manhattan, Jason was privileged enough to be asked to participate in the Absolut Pride campaign this year along with a number of other LGBTQ luminaries. Jason and I sat down to talk about being part of a massive brand’s landmark campaign, working on Pose and its influence on the community, and what gives him the most pride off screen.
Michael Cook: What is it like to be part of this year’s Absolut Pride campaign? While corporate pride sponsorships are looked at very closely by the LGBT community, Absolut is truly putting their money where their mouth is and supporting the community as well.
Jason Rodriguez: First, I am humbled to be a part of the campaign with Absolut. I am a rising New Yorker and was a freelance voguer, and was then chosen to be part of the cast of Pose,then chosen to be in this campaign. To even be a part of it, with the other members of the campaign, I am so humbled and grateful for it. I am thankful because it allows me a voice, as a queer hispanic person of color from Washington Heights, just to have a moment to be on a platform and to really be seen. I hope to be seen by other young Latino people of color, who can now see more representations of themselves that they can actually reflect upon. I am super excited for all of the things that we are going to be doing together.
MC: Why do you think that it is crucial that we as a community make an effort to speak out all year round and not just during Pride month, when the focus is on us the most?
JR: We are celebrating World Pride this year and recognizing the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, but the issues and problems that our community faced back then are still existing now. To celebrate and also create these platforms and a true education and knowledge system for people to both see and embrace, that is something that should be done throughout the year, rather than just one during month. We need to find the solutions for issues surrounding our own rights, trans rights, things like that. We need both power and influence to work towards those solutions.
MC: Pose is the show that absolutely everyone is talking about right now. What it is about to be a part of a program that is completely revolutionizing television as we know it, as well as giving a community a voice that truly needs to be heard?
JR:Pose is allowing the accessibility to have a knowledge of ballroom culture. Where it comes from, understanding where “Vogue” truly comes from, and actually seeing trans women on television. People that identify as trans can see themselves, be uplifted and can reflect upon seeing their identities truly reflected on television. They can know that they do matter and that they can then propel forward. We still have the darker portions of the world that drag our community down, but moments like these are times that our community can shine and really drive us all forward. To be part of this is so epic, it is so inspiring for me. I am inspired every day, by my cast especially. Dominique Jackson (Elektra) is my gay mother and being around her is like spending time with a true book of knowledge. This is her life; this is not just Dominique just playing a trans woman, It is Dominique imbuing her trans identity and all of the experiences that have come with it and sharing them with the world. I think each of us fit a piece of the puzzle that make Pose.
It’s about much more than the fact that “Vogue” comes from Madonna, it’s about solidifying what our knowledge and what our experiences are about, what our culture is really about. We are a sub-culture, but we are still a culture and people should be educated about it; that way our identities become normalcy. The ideal for me is to find the normalcy. We are having to hold onto these identities of trans man, cis female, etc in an effort to educate people about them; once people don’t have education, it’s a fear thing. If people are not comfortable with something it’s most of the time, because of things like limited experience, environment and background. It’s all about giving the knowledge and education about these identities, that is the way we hope we can find that normalcy.
MC: Pose may be set in a world and era from twenty years ago, but the themes are so relevant now. What would you tell a younger person who might ask why they should watch the show?
JR: The youth gaining knowledge is how we are going to move forward. The generation of the youth right now is all about convenience, everything is available to them on their phone, at their fingertips. I feel that moving forward, feeding the youth with knowledge is how we are going to find those solutions. As elders, we hold the knowledge and we hold the solutions, but sometimes we don’t know everything. I feel that providing the youth with that empowerment and that education will hopefully prevent them from having to go through the same struggles that we did. Then in turn, they can hopefully find solutions for our generation and for our culture. Pose is about that knowledge and I think that is so important; they need to watch the show so they have knowledge about their culture or a culture that they are not aware of, and they can have respect for it.
MC: You are also on Season Three of The Deuce, which conversely, is a departure for you in terms of projects you have chosen. How do you select the projects you work on?
JR: I look at it this way; Pose is about ballroom culture, and I am attracted to that. The Deuce for me, has the interest coming from how the porn industry changed in New York City and how that followed that timeline in the way that the show laid it out, that really attracted me. Or course, the talent of Maggie Gyllenhaal of course; I love her. For me to have a moment to go to that casting, I jumped at the chance. I was watching the show before the casting, so there was some connection there already. If I feel that I can bring value to a show and if I think I have value to share, I am in there. If I can find a role that connects to the elements, experience, and skill sets that I have, I am definitely in there.
MC: What gives you pride?
JR: I would say my kids; my chosen kids. I have become a father figure to my two gay sons and my daughter. I reflect on all of the work that I want to do also. First, it was about honoring my parens and making them happy and try to find myself on the same level as my family and friends. My kids though, they give me pride and inspire me. I have these three individuals looking up to me and I really want to do my best so they can find their best. They are young, they are aged nineteen to around twenty three, and I just want to be an amazing dad that they can look up to. I want to nurture them and everything that I do makes me reflect on the fact that I have people watching me so I need to be on my game, in the best way possible. It’s not really a pressure, it’s a presence. I feel present to be this figure and be the absolutely best figure that I can be for my kids.
Art Courtesy of FX/ Featured Art Courtesy of Jason Rodriguez