#48 - Paris is Burning(Jennie Livingston, 1990) - REWATCH
“My father once said, you have three strikes against you: you’re male, black, and gay. You’re gonna have a hard fucking time. If you’re gonna do this you’re gonna have to be stronger than you ever imagined.”
Following a group of gay black men around New York City, Jennie Livingston shows the underground Ball scene of the mid-80s. A Ball is a competition where gay men compete against each other in special categories all dealing with fashion. The categories range from drag queen to a persons ability to be “real”. The film focuses on the prominent members of the Ball scene, alternating footage of the Ball and interviews. What makes this a great documentary is the super interesting characters and subject matter and also the way Livingston was able to capture great moments. Every person in the film is so real and confident; the personalities are hilarious and also motivational. Most of the men and boys are runaways who live day-to-day in the poverty stricken corners of NYC. The groups that compete in the Ball’s are families who each have their own name and style. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a documentary with so many different characters that all create an impact.
The film is rich with culture and cultural struggles. Some of the men talk about certain slang used to describe a way of doing things. The ever so popular term “vogue” was popularized because of this film. In the Ball scene, voguing is a way of dancing that is done by striking different poses over and over again to try and out pose another person. The clips in the film showing voguing are incredibly interesting because the people doing it literally made up the dance. Some normal words that use a different definition are house, mother, and reading. This group of gays, lesbians and transgender flourish when they are around each other and have created an amazing scene. Other topics discussed in the film are the violence against gays, aids and racism. As mentioned in the quote above, the characters all discuss how they have everything going against them because they are black and gay.
Paris is Burning took 7 years to make and came out in the early 90s becoming apart of the New Queer Cinema movement. New Queer Cinema is a group of films that attempt to show homosexuals in a different light. Mostly focused on AIDS and violence, NQC portrayed gays as they wanted to be seen. Being created by mostly gay directors, films such as Poison by Todd Haynesand The Living End by Gregg Araki gained attention at film festivals and eventually brought gay cinema into the mainstream.
I could talk about this film (and New Queer Cinema) all day and how incredibly important it is. It presents a lot more material than I discussed here and is just really entertaining and interesting to watch. If you are at all interested in subcultures, watch this film. Paris is Burning will inspire you to be who you are and to not be afraid of what people think of you. There are scenes in this film where a bunch of the gay guys are hanging out in public and they will just act however they want. Each of them describe the ways they were either beaten, verbally abused or driven out of their homes but they all became stronger from that and are not afraid to be who they are.