My Thoughts While Watching:
I watched the documentary after binge watching Season 1 of Pose. To be honest, I had never heard of NYC / Harlem Ball Culture. In reading articles and looking up old videos, I came across the inspiration for the program, Paris Is Burning. I watched it and I ran the gambit of emotions. I was left feeling as if those individuals in the docu were beautiful yet tragic. It was both heart wrenching and inspiring to see their strengths in the face of adversity and how they showed the world that “family” can be defined by your own terms. That is an easy thing to say for a person like me who never went through the struggles and adversities these women faced. I have read a number of articles since watching the documentary and the feeling of exploitative voyeurism is overwhelming and part of me feels ashamed that I watched it in the first place. Two of the people portrayed in the docu said they thought the film was good but that they are hurt by the actions of the director. I try, as best I can, to have informed decisions and a general understanding of topics which come up on a day-to-day basis. It was with great curiosity that I watched this documentary, hoping to understand to a greater degree about the people who inspired the creators of Pose.
Reading a Vanity Fair piece, this excerpt stands out: “At least one star has spoken out against the film over the years. “I love the movie. I watch it more than often, and I don’t agree that it exploits us,” said LaBeija, mother of the House of LaBeija, and one of the documentary’s most memorable storytellers, to the New York Times in 1993. “But I feel betrayed. When Jennie first came, we were at a ball, in our fantasy, and she threw papers at us. We didn’t read them, because we wanted the attention. We loved being filmed. Later, when she did the interviews, she gave us a couple hundred dollars. But she told us that when the film came out, we would be all right. There would be more coming.” The film went on to make $4 million, according to Miramax, and a battle raged between some of the featured performers and the distributor over compensation. In the end, about $55,000 was divided among 13 performers, based on screen time.” https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/paris-is-burning-documentary-drag-jennie-livingston-interview
When the documentary was schedule to show in Brooklyn in 2015, many in the TQPOC community fought to have the screening halted. You can read the petition HERE.
A few additional articles:
Some Interviews and Extra Video:
IMDB Synopsis: This is a documentary of ‘drag nights’ among New York’s underclass. Queens are interviewed and observed preparing for and competing in many ‘balls’. The people, the clothes, and the whole environment are outlandish.
Director: Jennie Livingston
Specs: Release date: August 1991 (USA) / Runtime: 71 minutes / Budget: $500k
- A young Pepper LaBeija can be seen very briefly as a contestant in the 1968 documentary The Queen, about a drag beauty pageant held in New York City. The legendary Crystal LaBeija, original mother and founder of the House of LaBeija, is also featured giving a fierce and shady reading.
Considered to be the first example of the now-common expression “throwing shade.”
- Picked by Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of the “50 Greatest Independent Films” in a special supplement devoted to independent films that was only distributed to subscribers in October 1997.