Filmed in 1990, Paris is Burning offers a provocative and unflinching view of New York City drag nights. Starting in the 1980s, the New York drag scene began to embrace certain levels of class, style, and wealth, all made evident by the various drag events such as glamour balls and vogue events. In later years, the practice of “voguing” evolved as a symbol of personal and gay pride.
Featuring a collection of interviews and documentary footage, Paris is Burning welcomes the audience to this niche within a niche, where drag queen embrace high fashion in some of New York’s toughest neighbourhoods. The film features many gay black and Hispanic performers, all of whom have been looked down upon within society. Inspired and dedicated to their craft, these men show great strength of will and character as their larger than life personas break out at a time when society isn’t quite prepared for it.
“What I saw was a successful attempt by the outsiders to dramatize how success and status in the world often depend on props you can buy, or steal, almost anywhere – assuming you have the style to know how to use them.”
“Style is the weapon of these self-styled queens, their consorts and their entourages. Style is all-pervasive in speech, vocabulary, manner, dress and attitude.”
— Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“If all you know about “Voguing” comes from Madonna, this spirited and heartbreaking documentary from first-time filmmaker Jennie Livingston will be an eyeopener.”
— Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Did You Know?
Referenced a handful of times for her stage presence in the hit series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, performer Pepper LaBeija is featured in the film Paris is Burning. However, this was not Pepper’s first appearance in cinema. The famous drag queen also makes a brief appearance in the 1968 documentary The Queen.