Paris is Burning is a documentary film created by Jennie Livingston in 1990. The film takes place in Harlem New York and documents the ball culture of gays and transgenders. This film specifically focuses on Black and Latino individuals who are financially from the lower-class of society. In society people who are “different” often tend to be mistreated and looked upon negatively by the majority of people. The effect of this mistreatment or prejudice causes these minority groups to form close communities between one another who have the same lifestyle/beliefs. This community of gays and transgenders form a competitive ball gathering where they can express themselves freely without being misjudged or mistreated.
This documentary covers multilayers of discrimination. Pepper LaBeija explains how his father told him that in life you get three strikes but because Pepper is black and also gay he already has two strikes. Pepper’s father is explaining that Pepper already was going to be discriminated against because he is black but now that he is also gay it will make life even more difficult for Pepper. These structured ball competitions were created so people of the transgender community could be themselves and instead of being shunned by society for being different, at the balls they would be rewarded for it. Because they were poor most of the competitors were unable to afford ball attire. Many used whatever resources they had and would create the best outfit possible for their “walk”. These walks were judged based on creativity and realness. This made it an even playing field for competitors. Most of these individuals were subject to racism, poverty, discrimination and homophobia not only from a societal point of view but many shunned away from their own families. They considered these balls their home and their fellow gays as family. At these balls they would escape the harsh realities of discrimination and become their own celebrities. Dances such as voguing made people feel special and beautiful.
During a period when iconic figures such as Madonna were the standard of beauty (white, blonde, skinny, straight) the tansgender and gay community had their own idea of beauty. They created an environment where they could go and show off this beauty that the majority of others could not see nor understand. These balls gave both adults and children reasons to live and fight through the discrimination. The gay community found happiness, peace, love, acceptance and fun at these gatherings. Although this story has a tragic ending the documentary gives people insight on the lifestyle of others. It gives misinformed people a better insight on how people of a minority group can be mistreated and the effect it can have on their lives. I believe it is important to understand people and their way of life and not pass judgement. Although you may not have the same beliefs or lifestyle as somebody else you should still respect them and not discriminate. This film exemplifies a minority group of people who had to live in the dark because of their lifestyle. Thanks to Jennie Livingston they were given a voice so others could have insight on the ball lifestyle and a better understanding on how discrimination effected this small community.