Friday Feature: Paris is Burning on Kanopy

“Those balls are more or less like our fantasy of being a superstar. You know, like the Oscars or whatever. Or being on a runway as a model. You know, a lot of those kids that are in the balls, they don’t have two of nothing. Some of them don’t even eat. They come to balls starving. And they sleep in the under 21, or they sleep on the pier or whatever. They don’t have a a home to go to. But they’ll go out and they’ll steal something and get dressed up and come to a ball for that one night and live the fantasy.”
“A ball is, the very word, whatever you want to be, you be. So, at a ball, you have a chance to display your arrogance, your seductiveness, your beauty, your wit, your charm, your knowledge. You can become anything and do anything right here, right now, and it won’t be questioned.”
The 1999 documentary Paris Is Burning is the first film ever to explore and show the lives of Harlem’s underground ballroom scene. It paved the way for ballroom to become an international sensation—being studied and appreciated (and sometimes appropriated) across the world, inspiring many TV shows and movies, and generally influencing popular culture in the way we speak, dress, and dance. The documentary explores ballroom’s history and its aim to create an inclusive space for the community’s most marginalized. It explores questions of trans identity (even though the word ‘transgender’ did not exist at the time), systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty and drug addiction. Key figures of the time are interviewed and tell their stories of how they found ballroom, and how it helps them to survive in their day-to-day life–some of these figures include Venus Xtravaganza, Willi Ninja, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija, and Dorian Corey. Ballroom is a space where they can reclaim signifiers of white privilege and cis/het passability and empower themselves. It is also a space where they subvert these oppressive systems, and find joy and comfort in being with members of their own community in a safe space.
(Alexis Uribe)
Access Information:
Paris is Burning is available on Kanopy with your CC log-in. Just go to the library homepage and then search paris is burning in the catalog, then click view online.
Here are also some more resources to learn more about Paris Is Burning, and ways you can support trans youth of color:
“Paris Is Burning Deleted Scenes Outtakes:”
“Pose FX Characters Based on Real People:”
Report an issue - Last updated: 04/23/2021