Paris is Burning (1990)

Paris is Burning (1990)

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Paris is Burning (1990)


Paris is Burning (1990) is a documentary that centers on the drag scene of New York in the 1980s with a focus on voguing, balls, and the dreams and ambitions of people that gave the era vitality and warmth. Specifically, the film details the ball culture of the gay, transgender, Latino, and African-American communities of the time. The film’s characters include Venus Xtravaganza, Will Ninja, Octavia St. Laurent, Freddie Pendavis, and Sol Paendavis Williams, with the main characters being Dorian Correy, Pepper LaBeija, and Angie Xtravaganza. Pepper LaBeija is an American fashion designer from the Bronx. Pepper is also a drag queen, and she details her experience with competitions and balls. Angie Xtravaganza is a renowned drag performer in the city. Alongside Hector Xtravaganza, she founded the House of Xtravaganza. Additionally, Dorian Corey is also a fashion designer and drag queen from New York. She had performed as a drag queen for many years before creating a clothing label. She succumbed to AIDS at 56 years.

Paris is Burning does not have a specific plot. Instead, the three main characters remember and narrate their lives as they attempt to expound more on the subculture of balls and its significance to the LGBT pantheon. The film explores gender roles and the semantics of ball culture (Feldman & Hakim, 2020). The competitors in the featured ball walk on the runways like fashion models. The decision is based on various criteria. They must have a talent for dancing and must wear the finest fashion. Most importantly, the winner must look as much as possible as the gender they purport to be. Essentially, they are judged on if they could pass as their purported gender in the real world or not. The documentary’s director interviews numerous leading people in the ball scene. Angie Xtravaganza changes her last name to Xtravaganza. She is a transgender dancer and singer in the ball scene. She adopted numerous street children that later became superstars in their own capacity. Pepper is the fashion designer majority of the costumes work by the contestants. She is the only remaining member of the ball scene, as most of them have passed on. The majority of her performances are Egyptian-themed. Angie has over two hundred and fifty trophies.

Various themes are addressed in Paris is Burning, such as sexuality, race, and gender. Sexuality is the most evident theme as the film centers mostly on the LGBTQ movement of the 1990s. Despite the hate and discrimination, they go through, these individuals still proudly represent themselves in ball competitions. Some of the performances depicted gay men dressing up like their heterosexual counterparts to fit in a society that is against them. LGBTQ individuals express their inner struggles they otherwise could not showcase in the normal world (Parrine, 2017). The theme of race is also evident. Most characters in the film were Latino and African-American. Initially, these people were most discriminated against for being minorities. Their involvement in the drag scene and ball culture made them even bigger targets of racial discrimination. Some were disowned by their loved ones and kicked out the society for challenging norms. In African-American communities, gay, queer, and transgender people were discriminated against and isolated, exposing them to violence (Schweitzer, 2017). The theme of gender arises during the competitions. The competitors were mostly men who dressed up and performed as women or women performing as men. All their actions purported the idea that gender does not exist, so they can be who they want. Their performances depicted their rebellion for social norms that mainstream media showcased to the masses.


Feldman, Z., & Hakim, J. (2020). From Paris is Burning to# dragrace: social media and the celebrification of drag culture. Celebrity Studies, 11(4), 386-401.

Parrine, R. (2017). Gender Construction, Kinship and Mourning in Paris Is Burning. Revista Estudos Feministas, 25(3), 1419-1436.

Schweitzer, D. (2017). Having a Moment and a Dream: Precious, Paris Is Burning, and the Necessity of Fantasy in Everyday Life. Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 34(3), 243-258.

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