Docu: Paris Is Burning (1990)

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.”

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:

Burning Down The House

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.


Brooke Xtravaganza Brooke Xtravaganza
André Christian André Christian
Dorian Corey Dorian Corey
Paris Duprée Paris Duprée
Pepper LaBeija Pepper LaBeija
Junior Labeija Junior Labeija
Willi Ninja Willi Ninja
Sandy Ninja Sandy Ninja
Kim Pendavis Kim Pendavis
Freddie Pendavis Freddie Pendavis
Sol Pendavis Sol Pendavis
Avis Pendavis Avis Pendavis
Octavia St. Laurent Octavia St. Laurent
Stevie Saint Laurent Stevie Saint Laurent
Anji Xtravaganza Anji Xtravaganza
Bianca Xtravaganza Bianca Xtravaganza
Danny Xtravaganza Danny Xtravaganza
David Ian Xtravaganza David Ian Xtravaganza
David The Father Xtravaganza David The Father Xtravaganza
Venus Xtravaganza Venus Xtravaganza
David Xtravaganza David Xtravaganza
Eileen Ford Eileen Ford
Shari Headley Shari Headley
Geoffrey Holder Geoffrey Holder
Fran Lebowitz Fran Lebowitz
Gwen Verdon Gwen Verdon
Hector Xtravaganza Hector Xtravaganza

Director: Jennie Livingston



Movie Reviews:

Specs:  Release date: August 1991 (USA) / Runtime: 71 minutes / Budget: $500k

IMDB Trivia:

  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.