I was a toddler when Paris Is Burning was released. I didn’t see it then, I’m not sure any of my family saw it, though they remained born and bred Black New Yorkers, adjacent to the scene that was on display throughout the film. It would be years before it was re-released and let out into the world. A world in which Black New York City kids of the 90s would connect with it in a way one connects with something they didn’t experience, but in many ways feel rumbling beneath the city’s concrete.
A history ignored and unignored at once. Or maybe, after it’s rerelease, it is that it was only catered and available to a specific group that didn’t represent the poor and marginalized New Yorkers that needed this film at their fingertips.
This PRIDE month, I’m particularly interested in the stories of the Black and Latino LGBTQ community that remained (and still do) at the forefront of liberation.
Here’s how The Guardian describes the film:
“Seven years in the making, this stylish, poignant film followed African American and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women as they compete in simultaneously fierce and fun competitions involving fashion runways and vogue dancing battles, while sporting styles like Butch Queen, Town and Country and Luscious Body. Many of the contestants vying for trophies represent “Houses” (Pendavis, Extravaganza, LaBeija) which serve as surrogate families and social groups for a predominantly youthful community largely ostracised from mainstream society.
The film alternates between colourful ballroom sequences – an acknowledged influence on current hit show RuPaul’s Drag Race – and candid interviews with key scene figures, who address an off-camera Livingston on complex subjects including class; race and racism; wealth; gender orientation; and beauty standards.”
The issue with consumption is still one that leaves me tethered to anger. Over the years, the kids and I have sat in parks for free summer movies with Black films, in spaces created under the guise that it was for Brooklynites and New Yorkers. In Between blades of grass, stretched arms, and mosquito bitten ankles, in their effort to hold onto a piece of legendary art woven into scans of film, there was the sound reality that the hundreds of white people in attendance would walk away with nothing but a good night out in rapidly gentrified Brooklyn.
In an effort to have real dialogue and not be the platter of consumption, but of true dynamic change that represents the vast spectrum of brown and black bodies that have lived and created, forged and celebrated, may I suggest this film? And in addition, the controversy of erasure that insued years after it’s making from it’s white genderqueer director, is of equal importance.
Today, I’m donating what I can to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute (thank you Erika Hart via Sunwink) , The Black Trans Protesters Fund and the personal medical fund for Iyanna Dior in protest, care and celebration of our stories, stories we don’t know or experience, film and PRIDE.
You can watch the film right here.