The Black Kino Fist: Black life as depicted in film history

Paris is Burning (1990)

"In September of 1990, filmmaker Jennie Livingston released her landmark documentary, Paris is Burning, about New York City’s ballroom scene in the late 1980’s. In the ballroom, contestants — mostly black, Puerto Rican and poor — dressed up and competed for trophies in themed categories ranging from “High Fashion Eveningwear,” with sequined gowns and gowns and fur coats, to “Schoolboy/Schoolgirl Realness,” with sweaters, backpacks, and books. “Ball contestants” included both gay men and trans women. It was a revolutionary look at the LGBTQIA community of the era, one of the first to treat its subjects as [people].

The grievances surrounding Paris is Burning have been long-simmering. The film was criticized by feminist and social activist bell hooks for turning the hardships of queer people of color into a spectacle to be consumed by white audiences. The film’s subjects complained that Livingston herself was profiting off their lives and stories. Paris is Burning grossed $4 million at the box office, and launched Livingston into a successful filmmaking career, but most of its subjects died of AIDS or remained in poverty.
To understand why exactly it’s touched such a nerve, you have to go back to the original film. It is a poignant look at the ballroom scene against the backdrop of racism, poverty, homophobia, transphobia and AIDS. It is a multilayered and astute critique of American culture that still holds up today. 
-Collete Shade
Status: Currently unavailable in the US.

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