top of page

Dear Ally

Racism and Transphobia

on the set of

"American Horror Story"

Image: Photo of Angelica Ross by Steven Simione for FilmMagic

"Now, to give some credit, some of the White people were uncomfortable too; to give some credit."

(Angelica Ross)

Words by Ariel Maccarone

September 28, 2023

If you haven’t seen actor Angelica Ross’s recent Instagram reel describing her experience on the set of FX's "American Horror Story," I screengrabbed the video and transcribed it for you. I think her words are that important.

The transphobia and racism Ross called out on Ryan Murphy's set is not unique to Ryan Murphy Productions. If her Instagram reel serves only t

Transphobia and racism cannot be simplified to "occurrences." They are part of the ether. 

They are part of the spiritual and political lifeblood of this country (and many others) and the greater part of Western history. Consider in whose hands wealth and political privilege have historically been held: those of White men; often straight White men; often straight, cisgender, heterosexual White men. 


I expected more. I expected more because I have the luxury of expecting more; "more" reflects my experience.



assumed the apple would have fallen farther from the tree by now. I expected "us" to be better than this. I expected right action to be taken immediately in the face of such bigotry and oppression so blatant. But I have that luxury. I have the luxury of assuming someone would have stepped in -- because that reflects my experience. I assumed Ross's co-star Emma Roberts "knew better." 



They wrote the system in which all of society operates. Unless that is dismantled (whatever that even means now) 

The personal is always political because politics are the literal policies that govern persons. How different resources are apportioned to different classes of people. 

the literal text on which the U.S. government was built and whose needs it was built to serve. Though the description has become a joke, Wealthy White men designed this country to serve their needs, often at the experience of the needs and rights of others.





written to serve its authors and their friends -- wealthy White men. 

founding of this country and many others. Why would it be suprising that 

They are part of the heartbeat of this country (and many others) because 

always in existence; always at work. They are systemic, not incidental. 

; they are systemic. Regardless of whether we notice the instances in which they are expressed  



his is what "systemic oppression" looks like. Neither the United States government nor the foreign invaders that built it prioritized the human rights of anyone outside of the ruling class -- those endowed with the ability to own property. 






respected (philosophically and politically) the human rights 

ose who arrived in ships to invade native land




 homeland land that became known as the United States,





It is part of the lifeblood of the industry because it is part of the lifeblood of this country, and many others. What shocked me, what made me write this, was that it was so blatant. I made assumptions that I have the luxury to make -- 

The industry was built to privilege wealthy White men because wealthy White 

When the phrase "systemic oppression" is used




To expect that an institution -- or industry -- would fall so 

I was enraged when I learned of Ross's experience. It was a young rage -- the kind of remember on playgrounds The rage reminded 

because it was so blatant. I have that privilege though -- the expectation that it would not happen this way; that "we" (all of us, but especially those in positions of power) 

, but I was not suprised. What did suprised me was how blatant it was; how much I undeservedly assumed co-star Emma Roberts 

It is part of the industry's DNA because it is part of our country's DNA. 



 the language in which it was written; whom it gave power to and whom it did not  in which our country was written our ruling culture the lifeblood

; it was built into the system


When academics mention "systemic oppression," her experience was such a clear example of it. So blatant. It was the blatancy that enraged me. 

It is built into the system. 

she experienced 

it was such a clear and concise reflection of what systemic oppression is. Her experience is significant because it is not 

Ross describes a particular scene she refused to continue filming after a crew member continued to wear racist t-shirts on set. What made it especially ____ was that this crew member needed to be positioned directly in front of her for the scene.

In another instance, Ross's co-star, Emma Roberts, muttered a transphobic statement under her breath and no one did anything.  


I am generally hesitant to judge situations I was not present for and others with whom I do not have a personal experience. However, some things that are just wrong and no extenuating circumstances will mitigate it. Someone in a position of power on that set should have booted Racist T-shirt Guy from set and called out Emma Roberts, informing her that bigotry (intentional or not) would not be permitted on that set. That this did not occur is evidence of the work We need to do. The industry has covered up institutional abuse. It can cope with a bigoted crew member’s twitter rant about freedom of speech.  

Unless you prefer reading over watching, I recommend seeing Ross's video for yourself. You can find the video's transcript below.

Credit: Angelica Ross / Instagram

The first day it was a t-shirt that said “Build That Wall.” The second day it was a t-shirt that had praying hands in front of a flag, an American flag, that said “I Don't Kneel.” The next day it was like “America First.”  


It was like all these t-shirts, but what made it worse was the scene where Emma Roberts and I are driving in the car away from the killer. What's really happening is they have a crew outside my car that is operating my car, like doing certain things before they say “action” or whatever the case is. So it's the man outside my window operating my car wearing the racist t-shirts. So someone [on set] ... was wearing these racist t-shirts and everybody recognized it; and everybody was uncomfortable. So, mind you, mind you what I'm telling you is all these people recognized what was happening. …  

So, I go to the car where the AC is because it's hot as hell. We’re somewhere in the desert. It's really, really hot, so I go to the car, and I'm like, “I'm not leaving this vehicle until that man either turns his shirt inside out, he turns it inside out and we can all get back to work, or he changes or something. I can't focus. They're saying “action” and I'm reading this guy's t-shirt, and I'm mad that he gets to do all this bullshit. ...  


So, I go to the van. I’m sitting in the van. The set shuts down; because it’s the scene we need to film. So, I’m like, “I’m not filming. I’m not coming out of the trailer.”  


When I tell you that I felt like I had White privilege in that moment, for a second, because I was literally like, “I’m not coming out of my trailer!” It’s almost like I had watched Emma [Roberts] during the scene and was like, “Okay, let me try. Let me try a little somethin’.” So I was like, I was like, “Okay, I’m not coming out of my trailer.” So, they’re trying to figure out what to do.  

The director, John, comes into the van, [and says] “Angelica, um … I mean, I totally hear you, and I understand that, you know, that this is a difficult situation, but, um, I just, you just to, I need you to understand that we are in a difficult situation. And, um, you know, I just, we really need to get this scene shot and, um, you know, I don’t think there’s anything we can do. It’s a freedom of speech issue,” is what they told me; a freedom of speech issue.  


So they were trying to get me to go back to work and I was like, “I’m not coming out of this trailer until you change something.” So time was going by. Time. Hours passed. Hours were passing by on set and you know [point to wrist as if it was a wrist watch and someone was noting the time], that’s money. … So they’re telling me, you know, “Can you come out?” I said, “I’m not coming out.”  

So then, finally, I text message. You want to know who I text messaged? I text message Alex Martin Woodal, the president of Ryan Murphy Productions. I text her and tell her what’s going on. She says, “Give me a few minutes,” and she literally, she was like, “Oh, that’s not right,” you know, “That’s not cool. …"  


So, you know, she’s like, “Give me some time.” So she’s apparently [uses air-quotes hand gesure] “handling it.” I’m still sitting in the van. So as time is passing by and they’re still trying to get to come out of the trailer. … I then go tweet. And my tweet said something like this, something to to tune of, “... It’s a shame that I have to do all of this work fighting racism out in the world and have to come to work and still have to deal with the same, you know, fight racism,” or something along those lines.  


I get a call about two minutes later. You remember when I posted that? So I get a call, like maye two minutes later, and it’s one of the producers from Ryan Murphy Productions, Tenase [Popa]. …  


Let me run it back: So, what I’m telling you is not only was a man on set wearing racist t-shirts, he was wearing them multiple days; multiple times; and we had to be out in this place where we were like driving cars for the scenes.  


Now, to give some credit: Some of the White people were uncomfortable too; to give some credit. So there were a lot of White people who were on set who were like, [covers her mouth as if whispering or talking under her breath] “Oh my god, did you see that?” and [maybe] they just didn’t know what to say? Like I said, Emma was one of those people who recognized that this guy was wearing a racist t-shirt, and she asked me, “What did I think about it?”  

So, mind you, many many people who have a lot [of power], who have way more power than I have on that set did and said nothing to make the situation better. ... So it had to take the Black one [points to herself]; it had to take the Black trans one to speak up and say, “This is not cool.”  

… So I go to the van where the air conditioner is and I’m like, “I’m not coming out of this van until either he turns his shirt inside out or he changes or something.” They tried to get him to turn his shirt inside out. He basically told them to go fuck themselves. He said he would not … he said it was a freedom of speech issue and he was like, “You call whoever you need to call. I’m not changing my shirt.” So they couldn’t get him to change that shirt and they couldn’t get me to come out of my trailer.  


So, like I said, I messaged Alexis Martin Woodall. She’s like, “I got it. I’m gonna handle it.” But there I was, still sitting in a trailer waiting around like [motions looking around the room as if she’s waiting for something to happen] …” So then I tweet, “It’s a shame that I gotta do all this work against racism out in the world and I sill gotta come to a set and do the same thing.”  


[Gestures as if she’s holding a telephone that is ringing]  






“Um, Angelica Ross, this is Tenase Pope. Um, yeah, Ryan feels like, um, you know that tweet you just did, um that it just … You know, we’re family. You know, we see this as a family and, you know, he feels like, you know, whatever’s happening on set, you know, it’s, it’s being handled  

Credit: Ariel Maccarone phoographed by Graham John Bell

Ariel Maccarone is a Los Angeles-based author, musician ("Black Mouth"), and artist. She has been published in Boston Poetry Magazine, Argentina-based art magazine Apapacho Gallery, and FOTO MOFO Photography Magazine, where she was also Assistant Editor. She has also worked as a freelance social media consultant for clients such as Red Bull and PEN Center sponsored publishing house Unnamed Press. Ariel still handwrites letters to her first grade teacher, Miss Phyllis, who taught her how to write.

She can be found wandering the Santa Monica mountains with an overpriced cup of coffee and hiking shoes that have not been broken in. You can find more of her writing, music, and artwork at

Thanks! Message sent.

                                                                                      Article References


1. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) Presents Real Worlds: Brassaï, Arbus, Goldin. Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, 19 Dec. 2017. Web.


2. Wall text for Real Worlds: Brassaï, Arbus, Goldin, by Lanka Tattersall. 4 Mar.–3 Sept. 2018, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. 4 Mar.- Sept 3, 2018.


3. Kronenberger, Louis, and Marshall Lee. Quality; Its Image in the Arts. (1969) Atheneum, New York, pp. 169-210.


4. Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. Zeitgeist Films, 2012. Shapiro, Ben, director

bottom of page