The Human Factor
Silas Howard wants people to see the human in us all
There is an episode in FX's Pose when the transgender character Blanca Rodriguez attends her mother's wake, despite her siblings' callous attempts to block her.
Transgender actor Mj Rodriguez plays Blanca. The episode was directed by Silas Howard, who also transitioned years ago. Howard, in fact, happened to come out at his father's funeral. So, he could relate on many levels.
"That's the biggest experience…" Howard says, "to watch the power of all of us who have lived lives that are maybe different from the usual suspects getting to participate in this new wave of storytelling. It's exciting."
In addition to Pose, Howard has directed other shows that offer greater diversity and less conventional narratives. They include Amazon's Transparent, which originally highlighted a trans mom; Freeform's The Fosters, which features same-sex parents; MTV's Faking It, which boasts the first intersex main character on a TV show; and HBO's High Maintenance, which hasn't a stereotypical character in sight.
Growing up, Howard didn't see himself or his family depicted in the programs he watched. He felt like a boy in a girl's body. His parents, who had run away together as teenagers, were younger than most.
"We were kind of growing up together," he says. But his parents manifested a do-it-yourself attitude, which nudged him in the direction of indie filmmaking. When his 2001 queer buddy film, By Hook or by Crook, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, it won a spate of awards and launched his career.
His recent film, A Kid Like Jake, starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons, shows society's reaction to a little boy who likes to wear dresses.
Not to be pigeonholed, however, Howard directed an episode of NBC's This Is Us, that focused on neither sexual orientation nor gender identity. Rather, it plumbed the emotional complexities of obesity. When Kate (Chrissy Metz) buys a pitiful box of gas station donuts after weeks of dieting, Howard lets viewers see her struggle.
Instead of having her take an uncontrolled bite, Howard directed a sustained scene in which Kate quietly struggles to not give into her cravings. You feel for her.
"I think that's where I thrive," Howard says, "in stories that don't explain people's otherness but just let them connect to their humanity."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2019