Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paris is Burning

Just before Thanksgiving, The Boy and I spent a quiet night at home. It was my turn to pick a movie and I settled on a documentary I'd wanted to see for a long time, called Paris is Burning. A classic documentary about the birth of voguing, I expected amazing dancing and flashy costumes. I got plenty of that plus more; it brought me close to tears.

Paris is Burning focuses on the ball scene in New York. Balls are events where gay and transgender men, originally just black and Latino, came together to show off, whether it was dressed as Vegas showgirls or a high fashion male models. Men who'd been hiding most of their lives got the chance to be who they were with the help of costumes. People competed as part of "houses", kind of like gangs, to win trophies and prizes.

It's a beautiful spectacle until you realize the man competing in the fashion categories in an Armani suit was kicked out of his home as a teenager when his parents found out he was gay. The people featured in the documentary are all bravado when it comes to talking about their look. But then you realize how much their performance, their desire for fame, money and nice things (plenty of people in the ball scene steal their designer clothes) is about getting the acceptance they don't get at home or society at large and it's so disturbing. I had an even harder time watching when I sat there wondering how many of the people on my screen had since died of AIDS.

The one teeny tiny silver lining is that the documentary gives you insight into how Benny Ninja, judge and coach on America's Next Top Model, got his start. Willi Ninja was the original father of The House of Ninja and made a name for himself as a choreographer.

The entire documentary is available on YouTube, starting with part one here. I highly recommend it.

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