Friday, June 25, 2010
Paris is Burning!
"Paris is Burning" Changed My Life. Yes, I can admit that this declaration sounds a tad bit dramatic, but I mean every word. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African American, Latino gay and transgender community involved in it. I equate this movie as a love letter to the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls that shows the no hold barred reality of a transgender person: in the midst of dying to get out of a body that doesn't belong to you and all the bullshit that comes with it - LIVE, WALK, TALK, and MOVE FABULOUSLY.
Before the fabulous Leiomy Mizrahi graced the staged and slayed the competition, there was Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija, Willi Ninja, Anji Xtravaganza, the renowned Paris DuPree - names that are synonymous with the ball culture: elaborately-structured competitions in which contestants, in several different categories including runway style walking as they're judged on criteria including "realness," (in which contestants compete on who looks more womanly than the other), their fashion and swag. And of course their voguing ability - If you're familiar with terms like "suicide dip," "duck walk," "soft and cunt," - then you KNOW what I'm talking back. If not, get familiar! So, sit back and get you some history!
Most of the film alternates between footage of balls and interviews with prominent members of the scene. Many of the contestants vying for trophies are representatives of "Houses" (each equipped with a 'mother' and 'father' ) that serve as intentional families, social groups, and performance teams. Houses and ball contestants who consistently won in their walks eventually earned a "legendary" status. This movie is so much more than that. It tackles prostitution, poverty, addiction, racism, gender identity, classism - but admist the harsh barriers placed against them, it essentially shows the family structure of the ball scene : young ball-walkers who aren't accepted anywhere else, including their OWN homes and the realization that these "houses" saved lives - a platform to express themselves freely without regard to any naysayers or non-believers. It's empowering seeing a large array of people from all walks of live daring to love themselves as openly as possible. Cowards WISH they had the balls to be as fabulous as they were and still are.
Netflix this movie, buy this movie, watch this movie online. Sit back and pay attention to the story. Get a feel for it. Sympathize but don't feel sorry for these innovators. They've made their mark in history.
Portia M. Walker
Information courtesy of Wikipedia