Without knowing it, I believe people neglect how lucky they truly are. Sometimes even the most painful parts of our lives pale in comparison to what others go through. However, I believe at those times, there are the most beautiful parades of elegance and grace that humanity could ever dream up. Even in those moments of darkness, there’s an inexplicable light that allows people less fortunate than we to feel and be as the royalty we could only deign to be.
Paris Is Burning is a film that explores those moments of elegance in the lives of a group of young men who want nothing more than to feel as though they are accepted, loved and appreciated. In the abandoned warehouses of New York City, there are elegant balls, shows of the grandeur an elite few manage to grasp with their own hands. And therein lay the beauty: these makeshift ballrooms are more than just means of escapism. They are worlds in which even the most unfortunate can be king (or queen) for a day.
From the streets of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem these future “legendary children” make names for themselves, setting up their lineage as the most beautiful, most elegant creatures on the face of the planet. Thrown out of their family homes and oftentimes stripped of their dignity, these teenagers find solace and love in the arms of one of the many Houses that make up this community of divas and empresses, queens and their royal subjects.
In Paris Is Burning, director Jennie Livingston looks into the lives of many of these youths and shows the work they go through to prepare to take part in these Balls, these galas that showcase the class and sophistication of a life these kids and their House Mothers may have never known otherwise. However, do not mistake the bright colours and sequins as make believe. This is a real world full of real people who put their hearts into becoming as glamorous as they should be. They see what the world has to offer, see that most of those who receive all this opulence, all this grandeur already have the money, the status and the societal acceptance to indulge in the sickening excesses of the bourgeoisie . But here, in these Paris Is Burning Balls, these kids and their Mothers are more than even the glossy pages of Vogue and People magazine have the audacity to advertise.