The gaps in representation within film and television can take years to be filled. If you want to see your story on the big screen or on television, you have to create that space. This is something POZ ROZ creator, Carlton Jordan felt compelled to do.
Carlton has made it a priority to unapologetically share stories of marginalized communities. Through comedy, POZ ROZ seeks to have an open conversation about how the Black and Brown LGBTQIAP+ communities are living with HIV & AIDS. While changes are slowly being made in sharing these stories on the big screen and television, there is still so much work to be done. Carlton Jordan wants to be a part of this charge across all platforms—television, film and digital. We caught up with the creative powerhouse to discuss his inspiration behind POZ ROZ, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, and much more.
Cliche: What was your initial inspiration behind the creation of POZ ROZ?
Carlton Jordan: POZ ROZ is an idea that came to me back in 2013, but there are a few reasons I decided to finally put the idea into a script in 2018 and shoot the damn thing. One reason was, I was in a situation where I found out someone I was connected with romantically was HIV+. So I took inspiration from the story of how we ultimately did not date but became friends. Secondly, a sign or a confirmation that I need to tell this story happened when I came across an article on blogger xoNecole’s site. It was about a young woman who found out she was HIV positive at a young age and ends up living a wonderful, healthy and happy life with a husband and kids. She is thriving. This is not a story you usually hear around the topic of HIV. Also, as someone who is in the Black LGBTQIAP+ community, the topic of HIV is something that is ever-present but still, scrutinized. I wanted to have a new conversation.
Tell us about POZ ROZ.
POZ ROZ is a 13 episode provocative digital series I created that chronicles the life of Rozzlyn Mayweather, a millennial Black woman who finds out she’s HIV+ and how she tries to navigate love, life and lust, while at the same time fighting the stigma associated with her disease. It is a tramedy that goes beyond Roz and her disease as we also learn about her friends and acquaintances’ sexual health. POZ ROZ, which is on YouTube, opens up the secret door to a front-row seat in how young Black millennials discuss their sexual health. This is NOT a PSA. It is a wild and zany ride with a lot of surprise twists and turns in every episode.
Check out POZ ROZ on Youtube!
How important was it for you to have a cast and crew of primarily black people?
It was essential for me to give opportunities to people that Hollywood usually ignores and marginalizes. Even when they do hire Black and Brown people they label it as a “diversity hire” for decoration. I also think it is important to work with friends and people in my circle that are hungry and dedicated to the project. It is beyond a great script, but because they support my dreams, and I, in return, support theirs. The best people for the job on POZ ROZ just happened to be majority Black and specifically Black Women. However, it was a very satisfying and rare experience to look around and see everyone from the Investors to the Production Assistants were all mainly Black. It is very rare in Hollywood that there are more than a handful of Black people on a production. I think the cast and crew appreciated the representation. It enhanced the perspective in every department.
This show is very timely and important, now more than ever. How does the current cultural shift and awakening, brought on by the Black Lives Matter movement, inspire you as a writer?
I love that we are in the middle of a cultural shift/reset because of BLM. The circumstances are horrible with Black deaths from police brutality, but unlike before, the extent of the shift in everyone’s thinking is so massive that this feels like this is THE MOMENT rather than A MOMENT. So, with the sadness and trauma also comes inspiration and change. As a writer, this inspires me because now there is renewed interest in Black stories and Black storytelling. I am cautious because there does seem to be a call for Black stories centered around police brutality and social justice. But not ALL Black stories, like a love story, deal with those things. I hope the change in how Hollywood sees the importance of Black content results in telling all types of stories. Not just the ones centered on trauma porn or the topic of the day. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot to be seen in how we move forward with this cultural shift.
The Black LGBTQ+ community is very underrepresented in the media. How important was it for you to unapologetically have open conversations regarding sexuality within the black community?
Sexual health in the Black community is the latest taboo that needs to be tackled. I love the way that creators like Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You) and Numa Perrier (Jezebel) are bringing back these conversations in new, exciting, and interesting ways. I want to be a part of that conversation. We cannot have that conversation without the LGBTQIAP+ Community involved. I do not EVER want to sound like a PSA when writing about these topics. Which is why I feel raw and unapologetic is the only way for people to stop and pay attention. No more kid gloves. You lose an audience as soon as you start preaching to them. I feel like the Black community is ready to embrace conversations about the spectrum of sexuality within our community, because the stories are coming from authentic voices.
POZ ROZ does a great job of dismantling stigmas around HIV & AIDS. What prompted you to create a character that is HIV positive?
I think the concept of navigating life and love with a stigma like HIV is something that needs to be reexamined. While I feel like the conversation has somewhat advanced in the LGBTQIAP+ community (although still taboo and looked down upon in many circles), the conversation has paused in the cishet world. Many people with HIV have been living healthy and thriving lives. Getting full-blown AIDS is not something you hear about often so the conversation has stopped. When I talk to my Black hetero- friends, they find it surprising that it is still an issue. Meanwhile, with a new generation of millennials and Zoomers coming up, they are not as educated on the disease. However, the numbers show HIV is rising in their age groups. While the conversation now is not HIV being a death sentence, it is something that I feel people are still hesitant to discuss openly and honestly with their friends and partners. I wanted POZ ROZ to be that gateway conversation about sexual health, specifically in the Black community across sexualities and genders. Rozzlyn Mayweather, a corky girl next door, seems to be the perfect entry point.
What do you hope for viewers to get out of POZ ROZ?
My main priority is for viewers to be thrust into this world and to engage in each character’s journey. I want to entertain people and show that there is room for all types of stories to be made. When you watch the series, you will see that it is not a sermon on STDs. The tone is very free-spirited and sometimes absurd. I feel every viewer will get something different. I have received so many messages from fans of POZ ROZ explaining how it has helped them reveal their status to their friends and family. They have also expressed how it educated them on discussing the disease, or even how it just made them laugh. My job is to tell the story so hopefully everyone walks away with a different takeaway. I’d like to hear all about them!
What’s next for you?
I have several projects coming down the pipeline for sure. I am writing Season 2 of POZ ROZ, of course. We are in development with a major cable network on a one-hour dramedy that I can hopefully reveal soon. Along with scripted projects, I am also an unscripted producer. Be on the lookout for my new show “Unfiltered: Paris Jackson and Gabriel Glenn” on Facebook Watch. I have several unscripted projects in development. I am excited about the future, and hopefully, y’all can continue to follow my journey. Thank you!
POZ ROZ highlights a story that is rarely told. AIDS & HIV have disproportionately affected Black Americans for years. Hollywood has only recently begun to pull back the layers of the associated stigmas of LGBTQ communities and individuals living with AIDS & HIV. The story of Rozzlyn Mayweather is not a PSA on AIDS and HIV. Rather, it is about the importance of reclaiming your power in love and in life. It’s clear that Carlton Jordan is using his power to create dynamic and expansive spaces in the world of entertainment.
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