DID YOU KNOW? This 1991 documentary introduced the world to vogueing and ball culture. – American Film Institute

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DID YOU KNOW? This 1991 documentary introduced the world to vogueing and ball culture.

Documentary filmmaker Jennie Livingston spent over five years making PARIS IS BURNING on a shoestring budget of grant funding. A recent college graduate, Livingston moved to New York City as a photojournalist and discovered young black men “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Although Livingston was an outsider, she was able to document the significance of “drag balls” to the trans and people of color community—a thriving culture that was relatively unknown to mainstream American movie-goers at that time.

The film was a critical and box-office success, shining new light on an important aspect of American life, but it sparked controversy. Scholars questioned Livingston’s voyeuristic perspective as a white woman, turning her camera on a part of black and brown society that had been traditionally silenced. Defying claims of cultural appropriation, Livingston insisted on distributing the film’s earnings among its thirteen subjects, an untraditional step in documentary filmmaking. Today, LBGTQ audiences continue to champion PARIS IS BURNING as one of the first cinematic celebrations of queer culture, as well as a provocation to unpack complicated issues of inclusion, representation and human rights.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

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