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“Paris is Burning” Review

“Paris is Burning” is based on the lives of gay and transgender minorities living in New York City. PHOTO/ MoMA

By Carmen Saffioti

Published: October 31st, 2018

Paris is Burning is an artistic documentary film based on the lives of gay and transgender minorities living in New York City. I enjoyed how the director focused more on the emotional lives of the subjects of the film, rather than focusing on facts regarding the topic. I personally think that this is an excellent choice for this type of film, breeding a lot of empathy for the subjects of the film, who we may find to be outliers. I found that the way that the people featured in the film celebrate and compete in “balls” inspiring. And although I cannot necessarily relate to the experience firsthand, I can relate to the feelings of the subjects that are well documented in this film.  

What I found most inspiring in this film was the absolute dedication the people of the film had, to simply being themselves. All of these people were unapologetically genuine even though it caused social rejection, made them leave their families, and sometimes even caused them to be killed. It is telling of how much they embrace themselves despite the immense hardships that lie ahead. For example, the older transgender woman, whose interview was woven throughout the film, talked about the time she has dedicated to the balls, even sewing her own outfits. She has stuck with this LGBT+ tradition even as it changed throughout the decades because, as she puts it, there is nowhere else she can express herself like she can at the balls.

I found the story of Venus Xtravaganza to be very intriguing and moving. Her tragic story contrasted with her beautiful and idealistic personality. The ending of the film was definitely a gut punch to viewers who were interested in her life and wanted her to achieve her goals. Her death, although tragic, did not shock or surprise any of the members of her house or anyone else in the NYC LGBT+ community. Rather, her death was seen as a sad yet predictable occurrence for them. This speaks to the levels of tragedy that people of this community face in their day to day lives. 

The vocabulary used in the film, such as “shade,” is very familiar in today’s mainstream culture. I was surprised to learn that this cultural term was founded by this community here in NYC.  This speaks to the level of influence oppressed and underground communities have even though they are often ridiculed by larger society. The New York City gay community differs from other communities in NYC, in that they were not given it by their parents. Rather, the community formed in order to empower vulnerable individuals and to protect them from others in larger society.

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