The 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning” chronicles Harlem’s disenfranchised black, Latino, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities who come together to “battle” on runways. It also changed the lives of some of today’s most innovative musicians.
NPR’s Julianne Escobedo says the balls featured in “Paris is Burning” were a “safe space for disenfranchised, often poor, gay and transgendered Blacks and Latinos in a time when it could be deadly just to walk down the street as such, the vogue ball of the late ’80s and ’90s was a site of transformative glamour, beauty, and empowerment — a tradition that continues to this day.”
While the film didn’t quite hit mainstream success it did rack up film prizes everywhere it played including the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Best Documentary awards from the Los Angeles, New York, and National Film Critics’ Circles. It also was named as one of the 1991’s best films by the LA Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, Time Magazine and the list goes on.
At NPR.org Escobedo has a collection of statements from musicians who were influenced by the ball scene and explain how the film, and its music, affected them.
The Queen Diva herself, Big Freedia on “Paris is Burning:” > “When Paris is Burning came out I was just a kid in the local choir in my church in New Orleans. I remember how much I loved everything about it — the characters, the costumes, the music. I couldn’t believe there were gay Black and Latino men being portrayed like that on screen. It meant a lot to me and in many ways inspired me to do something different and follow my dream, no matter what others said. In many ways, Bounce is the new ball culture. We’re making a film called Bounce Queen about Bounce music — Katey Red, Sissy Nobby and I can only hope that our film does for others what Paris is Burning did for me.”
Shannon Funchess, one half of the industrial-dance duo Light Asylum, on “Paris is Burning:”
The reality or disparity and rawness of living the ‘American Dream’ in the movie really spoke to me as a young, gifted, gay, black female youth. To live this ‘American Dream,’ one usually makes sacrifices. The ‘Mothers’ of the houses, the balls, the real drama of ‘living the life,’ the forming of gay family, the AIDS epidemic — all that was exposed to the public in Paris is Burning if you watched it and paid attention or cared. The dancing and sense of working together as a community was essential. Everyone seeks a sense of belonging no matter how dysfunctional the group or community.”
Light Asylum released debut full-length on May 1st. Check out the sample below.
Prince Language, The Rapture’s Gabriel Andruzzi, Scissor Sisters’ Del Marquis, Vjuan Allure and Zebra Kats are also included in the story. To read their statements visit NPR.org.