Thursday, December 30, 2010
Required Gay Viewing: Paris Is Burning
Being that 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of this iconic documentary I thought it'd be as good a time to talk about my love for Paris Is Burning. For those who don't know (and shame on you gurls who don't!) Paris Is Burning provides a crash course on the black/latino gay ballroom scene of late 80's New York. Legendary house mothers such as Pepper Lebeija, Dorian Corey, Angie Xtravaganza and Willi Ninja--whose vogueing style inspired Madonna's "Vogue" video--as well as ballroom luminaries such as the late Octavia Saint Laurent are profiled about the deeper meaning of the grand balls, homophobia, transsexualism, gender identity and racism.
While the fact that many of the films' subjects have passed since its 1990 release makes it a little sad to watch, I believe this film is invaluable for the way it shows an oppressed minority within a minority finding a way to flourish in a culture that openly despises them. Like other oppressed groups, the participants in the ballroom scene create a safe space to celebrate their differences and provide support, taking the abusive language hurled at them from the dominant culture and refashioning it in way that is empowering. The colorful characters courage to be themselves in an era of AIDS-induced fear is inspiring and a slice of LGBT history that should never be forgotten. Not to mention the litany of classic lines. Here are a few of my favorites:
Pepper Labeija: "Having a vagina, that doesn't mean you're going to have a fabulous life. It might in fact be worse!"
Dorian Corey on reading: "If I'm a black queen and you're a black queen we can't call each other black queens. That's not a read it's a fact!"
Octavia Saint Laurent: "Five hundred dollars for a simple dress."
The ballroom announcer: "God help you, you know how the children are!"
Watch the documentary below:
 Paris Is Burning [J] from japanesesuperhero on Vimeo.